Know Your Roboticist : Heather Knight

heather knight

Heather & Nao - photo from Carnegie Mellon

Heather Knight is currently a PhD student at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute.  Before getting to Carnegie Mellon she studied at MIT and even worked at Aldebaran Robotics for a while.

She was kind enough to answer a few questions for us for National Robotics Week.

RL: When you were at MIT did you get a chance to work with Kismet or any of the other cool social robots?

HK: I actually have a playlist of some of my favorite social robot videos, including several I’ve worked on, here: YouTube/Marilyn Monrobot.

As a freshman at MIT, I became a student researcher at Dr. Cynthia Breazeal’s Personal Robotics Group.  She is the creator of Kismet , and founder of the field of social robots.  You can read her seminal book on the subject, Designing Social Robots.  That book is one of my favorites, right up there with Clifford Nass’s The Media Equation and Rosalind Picard’s Affective Computing.

Feel free to flip through some of the social robot, artistic and technical projects I’ve worked on on MarilynMonrobot.com’s project page.  Cyberflora and the Sensate Bear, part of the Huggable Project, were particularly seminal for me.


RL: Can you explain what you did at Aldebaran Robotics and did you get to work with Nao?

HK:  After finishing an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering, I leveraged my dual citizenship with Ireland to take a one-way flight to Europe, and after several months of traveling and a particularly lucky discovery when googling “Robotics” plus whatever country I happened to be in, I found Aldebaran Robotics in France.

At the time I first contacted them in October 2006, there were 12 people on the team and they had not yet released a robot.  By the time I stopped working for them the following summer, the team had almost doubled, the Nao robot had been selected as the standard platform for the Robocup competition, and the assembly line for the first shipment of robots was well underway across the desks of our Parisian office.

I had been working on on Nao’s sensors, predominantly on the first capacitive touch sensors in the head and a bit on the IR sensors in his eyes.  In that kind of startup environment, everyone knows a bit about everything else that’s going on in the company. As the only native English speaker on the team at the time, I occasionally participated in the business side of things too.  We even created a band from some of the co-workers that performed at the 2007 Fête de la Musique!

aldebaran robotics band

Aldebaran Robotics House Band

 

Along with Cynthia Breazeal, Aldebaran is a great source of inspiration for me.  It is great to witness how founder Bruno Maisonnier’s dream of enabling robotics in the home has grown into a successful company.  It helps me believe that anything is possible. Now with 100+ employees, Aldebaran Robotics has satellite offices in Shanghai and Boston, with an kickoff celebration for the latter coming up this April, during National Robotics week . (Aldebaran Robotics is having an open house in Boston & a presentation at the Chicago Museum of Science )

 

RL: Do you have anything special planned for this years National Robotics Week?
HK: This year, I have the honor to be presiding over a speaker/performer series and research symposium at RoboGames , which is something of an annual Robot Olympics in San Mateo, CA.
Robogames is in its eighth year and welcomes over 1000 robot builders from 25 countries to participate on 60 or so different robotics events over one 3 day weekend.  Their mission is to promote STEM education through the medium of robotics, promote robotics to all ages, abilities and angles, and have a lot of fun doing it.
I’m incredibly excited about the lineup at the stage events, which isn’t event posted on the main website yet!

Here’s a sneak peek!

Evan Ackerman – Botjunkie / IEEE Automaton
Shona Kitchen – Stanford Robotics
Patrick Flanagan – Jazari Music
James Kuffner – Cellbots/Google
Ryan Calo – Stanford Law
Victor Ng-Thow-Hing – Honda Research (to-be-confirmed)
Carol Reiley – John Hopkins University
Eric Singer – Lemurbots
Chair: Heather Knight – Marilyn Monrobot / CMU
Video Curator: Marek Michalowski – Beatbots
When the indominatable RoboGame founders David Calkins and Simone Davalos invited me to be Academic Chair this past fall, they suggested that the rich community of makers, hobbiests and professionals would be a hungry audience for rich, wacky and in-depth discussions of people whose life work is Robotics.  I think it will be a powerful opportunity for both researchers and the general public to connect and share ideas.

 

RL:  Are you working on any current projects you can share with us?
HK:  Stay tuned for an announcement of this summer’s first ever Robot Film Festival!  With this event, we at Marilyn Monrobot seek to celebrate robot culture and possibilities through storytelling, also exposing new memes and explorations for the development of technology.  The only rule is that robotics needs to play a key part in the narrative, whether as a character or framing device. We will be seeking short film submissions from researchers, film makers and anyone in the larger world that loves robots! The event will be July 9-10 in New York City,  at the Three Legged Dog Theater, and you can already follow us on twitter at twitter.com/robotfilmfest!

 

RL: Lastly, were do you see robotics in ten years?  Will we have humanoid helpers in our houses by then?
HK: That’s a good question, I think part of the answer depends on whether the readers of this article step up and start building!  Come on guys and gals, get to it, go!!
RL: Thanks again Heather, have a great time at the RoboGames!
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2 Responses to Know Your Roboticist : Heather Knight

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  2. James says:

    I had the pleasure to talk with Heather Knight as well regarding her work in social robotics for my education blog (OneDublin.org). Very cool scientist / engineer! Here is the interview: http://onedublin.org/2011/02/11/heather-knight-and-social-robotics-the-intersection-of-storytelling-and-technology/.

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