RAHA 2016, an International Conference on Robotics and Automation for Humanitarian Applications, was held December 18- 20, 2016, at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri campus. It was the world’s first conference dedicated to robotics solutions for social good. Speakers included Dr. Vijay Bhatkar, father of the Indian supercomputer; Ms. Meg Jones, Chief of Economic Empowerment at UN Women; rehabilitation robotics expert, Dr. Sunil Agrawal of Columbia University; founding co-chair of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society; Technical Committee of Ethics; Dr. Ronald Arkin of Georgia Tech and Dr. Hajime Asama, University of Tokyo, Vice President of Robotics Society, Japan. Dr. Asama was involved with the deployment of robotics technologies during the Fukushima disaster response. Highlights included talks, paper and poster presentations, robotics competitions, workshops and tutorials. Over 385 registrants included students, staff, and international delegates from all over the world.
In her role as Chancellor of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amma met with the invited experts and renowned scientists who had come to attend the conference. The wide-ranging conversation touched on Amma’s concern for those living in the radius of Fukushima and her appreciation for the role robots had played in the decommissioning of the plant; her observations on the state of technological innovation in India today and the potential for that innovation to improve the quality of life, especially for India’s rural poor. She also explained her view of the importance of maintaining an open, beginner’s mind in order to stay receptive to one another and engage in lifelong learning. The researchers and experts expressed their appreciation to Amma for having hosted the world’s first conference on robotics for humanitarian application, and requested her to deploy solutions innovated at Amrita throughout the developing world. Amma expressed a willingness to do so and also offered broader insights on the deeper spiritual significance of all the service-oriented work and research done by Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, and how a spiritual outlook can magnify both our will and ability to make a positive impact in the world.
World-renowned economist and leader in the fight against global poverty, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Earth Institute and University Professor at Columbia University, also shared his thoughts on Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham during his plenary talk. "I follow your work and innovative teaching methods that you’re developing, the haptic controlled teaching, the water projects and other sustainable development projects... And I just admire tremendously what you're doing and hope that I can be a good partner with you as you continue to expand your work and your reach.”
A special “Beyond RAHA” task force was formed to ensure that the progress made at the conference forms the foundation for an international research agenda geared towards the humanitarian applications of robotics technology while following appropriate ethical guidelines. Overall, RAHA inspired a powerful, creative spirit that transcended science and technology. Using robotics and automation solutions to help solve societal challenges is such a blessing, and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham is at the forefront of this pioneering work.