February 23, 2017      

The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) has named Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), and Dr. Daniela Rus, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the recipients of the 2017 Engelberger Robotics Awards.

Pratt won the 2017 Engelberger Robotics Awards for Leadership, while Rus takes home the 2017 Engelberger Robotics Awards for Education.

The Engelberger Robotics Awards are presented to individuals for excellence in technology development, application, education and leadership in the robotics industry. Each winner receives a $5,000 prize and commemorative medallion that reads: “Contributing to the advancement of the science of robotics in the service of mankind.”

“Dr. Pratt and Dr. Rus are known throughout the world for their outstanding contributions to the robotics industry,” says Jeff Burnstein, RIA president. “We are thrilled to honor them with the Engelberger Robotics Award.”

We recently heard from Pratt at CES 2017 when TRI pumped the brakes on self-driving cars. Pratt said the industry is “not even close” to launching fully autonomous Level 5 cars. He added that it “will take decades to have a significant portion of US cars operate at Level 4 autonomy or higher.”

Pratt said part of the problem is humans have historically had little to no tolerance for injuries and deaths caused by machines. Pratt said TRI isn’t content with self-driving cars being as safe as humans. Being twice as safe isn’t acceptable either, he said.

Rus has been busy building a self-driving scooter to help people with mobility issues get around. The scooter uses the same sensors and software that had been used in previous self-driving car and golf cart tests.

Rus also took the lead on a project that used artificial intelligence to find that New York City can operate smoothly with 75 percent fewer taxis. MIT found that 3,000 two-person cars could serve 94 percent of demand and only 2,000 ten-person vehicles could serve 95 percent of demand.

Since its inception in 1977, the Engelberger Robotics Awards has been bestowed upon 124 robotics leaders from 17 different nations. The award is named for Joseph F. Engelberger, the “father of robotics,” who was founder and president of Unimation, Inc. – the world’s first industrial robot manufacturer. Engelberger died in 2015.

Dr. Pratt and Dr. Rus will be honored at a special ceremony held in conjunction with Automate 2017 and the International Symposium on Robotics.

Here’s more about Dr. Pratt and Dr. Rus from RIA:

Dr. Gill Pratt is renowned as a visionary and leader of initiatives that inspired a generation of researchers. As a professor at MIT, he developed series elastic actuators and techniques for controlling low impedance robots. As a program manager at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Dr. Pratt led fundamental programs in neuromorphic computing and robotic mobility and manipulation, and initiated and led the international DARPA Robotics Challenge. The Challenge led to significant innovation in controlling robots from a distance despite degraded communications. Dr. Pratt currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), a research and development enterprise endeavoring to create a car that is incapable of causing a crash. It also seeks to provide expanded access to cars for those who otherwise cannot drive, including seniors and those with special needs, and to develop home robots for aging society. Few people have had as broad and significant an impact on the field and service robotics industry as Dr. Pratt.

Dr. Daniela Rus is recognized for her leadership as a researcher, innovator and educator in the field of robotics. Her research group, the Distributed Robotics Lab, has developed modular and self-reconfiguring robots, systems of self-organizing robots, networks of robots and sensors for first-responders, mobile sensor networks, techniques for cooperative underwater robotics and new technology for desktop robotics. They have built robots that can tend a garden, bake cookies from scratch, cut a birthday cake, fly in swarms without human aid to perform surveillance functions and dance with humans. The lab has also worked on self-driving golf carts, wheel chairs, scooters, and city cars with the objective of reducing traffic fatalities and providing technologies for personal mobility for the elderly population. Companies such as iRobot and Boeing have commercialized innovations drawn from Dr. Rus’ research. She is the first woman to serve as director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and its predecessors the AI Lab and the Lab for Computer Science.