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Official comment of PRISMA Lab to the article
RoDyMan is a five-year project (2013-2018) funded by the European Research Council (ERC) with an Advanced Grant (AdG). AdG's are the most prestigious grants in Europe to fund blue-sky research. The selection is very competitive and is carried out on the basis of several peer reviews from international experts with a final panel consensus. RoDyMan was the only robotics project funded in the 2012 call.
The project aims at the development of a service robot able to manipulate elastic and soft objects, which change continuously density and shape, as well as to manipulate objects in a non-prehensile way, i.e. without grasping them. This kind of robots will be used not only in manufacturing but also as an aid to elderly or disabled people, for medical and surgical use, and in other manual activities. Preparing a pizza involves an extraordinary level of manual dexterity while the robot pizzaiolo is indeed a media expedient: anyone should be able to understand that if a robot is able to manipulate a pizza dough, it might be able to carry out other complex manipulation tasks.
Think for instance of RoboCup: the competition started a few years ago certainly not to replace the real soccer players, but rather to advance the state of the art while facing both gaming and difficult problems for robots. Along the same line, our goal is trying to mimic the artistic ability of a pizza chef: by solving this challenge, we are providing solutions to a number of problems involving modelling, perception and control of intelligent robotic systems.
About the financial aspects of the project, the mechatronic development of the robot has required some hundred thousands Euros, like for any new prototype typically. Yet, the platform is available to our students for their hands-on work using an advanced setup which is unique in its kind. Furthermore, the size of the grant has allowed the recruitment of several young talents. During these years, we have been humbly proud of having offered working opportunities to our most brilliant students as well as to a number of skilled postdocs from abroad, e.g., Japan, Mexico, France, Argentina, Algeria, Turkey, Iran, and South Korea, who chose the city of Naples, University of Naples Federico and PRISMA Lab for their professional and social experience. This information and a lot more would have been available for the article to the journalist if only he had duly contacted Prof. Bruno Siciliano, ERC grantee for the RoDyMan project.