Robots Need Bodies!
The Mechanical Side of Artificial Intelligence

Robert Wood (Harvard University)

Abstract: Artificial Intelligence research typically focuses on perception, learning, and control methods to enable autonomous agents, including robots, to make and act on decisions in real scenarios. However, even the most capable AI without a well-designed physical structure is of minimal use for canonical robotics tasks. Our research is focused on the design, mechanics, materials, and manufacturing of novel robot platforms that make perception, control, or action easier or more robust for natural, unstructured, and often unpredictable environments. Key principles in this pursuit include bioinspired designs, smart materials for novel sensors and actuators, and the development of multi-scale, multi-material manufacturing methods. This talk will illustrate this philosophy by highlighting the creation of three classes of robots with unique hardware challenges: bioinspired microrobots, soft-bodied robots for manipulation, and robots for interacting with delicate marine life.

Biography: Robert Wood is the Harry Lewis and Marlyn McGrath Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences in the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a National Geographic Explorer. Prof. Wood completed his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. He is founder of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab which houses expertise in multi-scale, multi-material fabrication for robots with features sizes ranging from sub-micrometer to meter and with arbitrary material combinations. His current research interests include microrobots, bioinspired and biomedical robots, soft robots, and robots for marine and space applications. He is the winner of multiple awards for his work including the DARPA Young Faculty Award, NSF Career Award, ONR Young Investigator Award, Air Force Young Investigator Award, Technology Review's TR35, and multiple best paper awards. In 2010 Wood received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama for his work in microrobotics. In 2012 he was selected for the Alan T. Waterman award, the National Science Foundation's most prestigious early career award. In 2014 he was named one of National Geographic's "Emerging Explorers", and in 2018 he was an inaugural recipient of the Max Planck-Humboldt Medal. Wood's group is also dedicated to STEM education by using novel robots to motivate young students to pursue careers in science and engineering.