Not all of us are as lucky as Ada Brunstein, our Senior Acquisitions Editor in Computer Science and Linguistics. She goes to some very interesting locations for conferences. Recently she attended ICRA (International Conference on Robotics and Automation), which was held this year in Anchorage, Alaska. She was kind enough to tell (and show) us about it.
The city itself doesn’t have too much to recommend it but there were a few highlights. It has a couple of excellent restaurants, among them the Glacier Brew House for the seafood, homemade beer and homemade cream soda, and Snow City Café for the delicious Polar Bear Breakfast (among other goodies). There are a few good chocolatiers (apparently Alaska is big on booze and chocolate!). And the mother of all distractions: a fantastic shoe store with a fun name (ShuzyQ).
This conference is always more animated than most – the exhibit area is full of moving disembodied parts. Books look almost ancient in this context (though if we could get a robotic arm to turn the pages of a book one by one throughout the conference, that would be cool!). Gesticulating arms sit atop tables. Skinless (or in this case shell-less) robot bodies walk or stand on one leg to impress the crowd with their balance. Robo-critters often roam past the book exhibit – sometimes they’re boxes on wheels, other times they have arms or eyes emerging from wires … or even faces. Occasionally the machines talk to you though it’s not always clear what they’re saying. But sometimes that’s the case with roboticists too.
There were roughly 1200 people in attendance. It’s worth noting that one of the best things about robotics conferences is that there’s never ever a line for the ladies’ room, but I do hope that will change in the future.
The highlight of the conference was the reception which took place on a 5-hour scenic train ride through the mountains, ending at Spencer Glacier. The mountainous and marshy landscape is extraordinary especially as the light changes. There were no moose sightings (though apparently it’s not uncommon to see them wandering around). The Alaskan sunset this time of year is about at 10:30 at night and until then the sun is so bright that you really do need to wear sunglasses at night. On the train we ate appetizers and drank Alaskan beer (delicious), so the accompanying pictures were taken through beer goggles and dirty windows. Still pretty spectacular though!