2021’s Robotics Science and Systems Conference Ends on A High Note

July 16, 2021 by Kimber Wymore

The annual Robotics Science and Systems Conference (RSS) ends today. What is this conference and what are some of the highlights?

Since 2005, the Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) Conference has aimed to present bold ideas and create lively debates within the community. 

First hosted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), this conference has continued to happen year after year, moving from the US to Italy to Germany, all around the world. Even the events of 2020 couldn't cancel this event, with the conference going virtual for the first time, which continues as this year's host as well. 


2021's Robotics Science and Systems Conference kicked off on July 12th.

2021's Robotics Science and Systems Conference kicked off on July 12th. Screenshot used courtesy of Robotics: Science and Systems


Offering keynote and workshop topics from the future Mars technology to GPU-accelerated Learning and Control for Robotics, this conference hopes to have something to offer both robotics veterans and newcomers. However, before moving into what this year's conference held, let's take a look at the conference as a whole.


An Overview of the RSS Conference

Where: Virtually on its website through a PheedLoop, with videos uploaded to YouTube here.

When: July 12th-16th, 2021


Registration Cost:

  • Student: $20 USD
  • Non-student: $50 USD



  • Paper Awards
  • Keynote Talks
  • Early Career Talks
  • Workshops & Tutorials


Awards Offered:

  • Best Student Paper
  • Best Systems Paper in Memory of Seth Teller
  • Early-Career Spotlight
  • Best Reviewer Award
  • Best Student Presentation
  • Best Student Poster
  • Best Open Source Code


Offering a wide range of award categories for research papers, the RSS also archives each paper as open-source, thus allowing everyone to learn and read each accepted paper. Every year there is a call for papers, with this year's deadline being March 1st. If you think you've got a paper that could benefit this conference, be sure to look for next year's conference announcement to stay on top of submission deadlines. 


Some of the topics the RSS Foundation suggests submitting range from:

  • Mechanisms and design,
  • Robot learning,
  • Control and dynamics,
  • Human-robot interaction,
  • Robot perception,
  • Multi-robot systems,
  • Healthcare and medical robotics and many more

Now that an overview has been established, let's take a look at some interesting events from this year's conference.


2021's Points of Interest

With big-name sponsors ranging from Amazon and Toyota, all the way to Waymo and NVIDIA, this conference strives to inspire and take a deep dive into the field of robotics.



This year's conference only offered two keynotes: "Robotic Mars Exploration: Recent Results and Future Prospects" and "How Could a Robot be Sexist? Evaluating Bias in Artificial Intelligence."


Larry Matthies (left) and Ayanna Howard (right) are the two keynote speakers at this year's RSS conference. Screenshot used courtesy of Robotics: Science and Systems


The robotic Mars exploration keynote talks about the Perseverance Mars rover, what it has accomplished thus far, and its hopes to achieve in the future with its missions called the Mars Sample Return campaign. Getting the inside scoop directly from Larry Matthies, a Senior Research Scientist at NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, can be a rare opportunity to see the prospects of the Mars exploration missions. 

As for the evaluating bias keynote, Ayanna Howard talks about how AI machines aren't just things of Hollywood fantasies, that they have the potential to change humanity's daily lives. She explores the concept of biases and how they are affecting the next generation of robotics systems. To aid in this conversation, she also explores tools and techniques that researchers can use to create a more positive outcome, helping circumvent as much bias as possible. 


Workshops and Tutorials:

This year's conference offered a large range of workshops and tutorials. One workshop that garnered some interest is "Visual Learning and Reasoning for Robotics." This all-day workshop focused on how a robot's interaction within the physical world develops its visual perception and how, by better understanding, the physical world through visual learning and reasoning gives rise to more robust robotic control. 


An overview of the "3D Neural Scene Representations for Visuomotor Control" project which was covered in this workshop Image used courtesy of Li et al


Another point of interest was the tutorial called "End-to-end GPU-accelerated Learning and Control for Robotics with Isaac Gym." This tutorial, led by representatives from NVIDIA, covers reinforcement learning (RL). Namely, end-to-end GPU accelerated training by using Isaac Gym, a NIVIDIA simulation program. This tutorial dove into Isaac Gym's tensor Application Program Interface (API), which is what the GPU-accelerated training was built. From there, they demonstrated different use cases and had various university guest speakers talking about said case studies. 

Though these were just one example of a workshop and tutorial presented at this year's RSS conference, there were still many others that were interesting. 


Ending a Week-long Robotics Conference

The world of robotics is constantly growing and adapting, especially as machine learning and AI becomes more and more of a stable concept. By interacting and learning from conferences such as RSS, it's possible to create a diverse and open environment to share knowledge and talk with both peers and those interested in the field of robotics. 

Even though this conference is ending today, both papers and videos are available for those a bit late to the game or interested in further investigation. It will be interesting to see what next year's conference brings to the table.