Present position: Senior Systems Scientist, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University
Degrees: B.S.M.E., Stevens Institute of Technology; M.S.M.E., MIT; Ph.D., Mechanical and Oceanographic Engineering, MIT & Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Area of research: Robotics for dull, dirty, dangerous, and hazardous environments. I try to do things that have never been done before.
How you describe what you do at cocktail parties: I tell people I'm a garbage collector.
Biggest breakthrough: We're working on a recon robot for the Marines right now that pushes the envelope in terms of low cost and simplicity. You have to keep in mind that the people who are going to be operating this robot are 19-year-olds who grew up playing Nintendo.
Biggest obstacle: In a word, cost. If you ask me why we don't have toilet-cleaning robots today, it's because a technology for the mass market has to reach a level of reliability and a cost point that is equivalent to a toaster or a refrigerator. Humans can easily adapt to household tasks like vacuuming, but it's really complex and costly to ask a machine to do it.
How you measure success: Many things have to come together to be successful. It's very easy to make a robot complex. But it's very, very hard to make the appropriate trade-offs and come up with something simple that works well.
Robot that inspired you: I never read science fiction, but its influence is phenomenal. We're now building stuff that Asimov wrote about 50 years ago.
Why robotics? I started out being enamored by Jacques Cousteau. As fate and luck would have it, I worked with Robert Ballard on the Titanic project out of Woods Hole. If you can build technology for undersea use, you can do anything.
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