Women in Robotics Update: Sarah Bergbreiter, Aude Billard, Cynthia Breazeal

Women in Robotics Update: Sarah Bergbreiter, Aude Billard, Cynthia Breazeal

In spite of the amazing contributions of women in the field of robotics, it’s still possible to attend robotics conferences or see panels that don’t have a single female face. Let alone seeing people of color represented! Civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman said that “You can’t be what you don’t see”. Women in Robotics was formed to show that there were wonderful female role models in robotics, as well as providing an online professional network for women working in robotics and women who’d like to work in robotics. We’re facing an incredible skill shortage in the rapidly growing robotics industry, so we’d like to attract newcomers from other industries, as well as inspiring the next generation of girls. Introducing the first of our new series of Women in Robotics Updates, featuring Sarah Bergbreiter, Aude Billard and Cynthia Breazeal from our first “25 women in robotics you need to know about” list in 2013.

Sarah Bergbreiter

Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Principle Investigator at the Microrobotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon University

Sarah Bergbreiter (featured 2013) as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland and acting director of Maryland Robotics Center has now moved to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) as a full professor, expanding the frontiers of knowledge pertaining to the actuation, sensing, power, and computational aspects of making tiny robots at Microrobotics lab at CMU.

She was made a 2019 Fellow in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) for her significant and critical engineering achievements, active practice, and membership in the organization. She was the winner of the Institute of System Research’s Outstanding Faculty Award in 2017 and received the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) awards from the U.S. Army in 2019. She also made InStyle’s ’50 Badass Women’ list in 2019.

“Inspired by Star Wars, the professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon made her first foray into robotics at age 7 or 8. “I tried to build a robot to clean my room,” she recalls, laughing. Now she has loftier goals. Her robots, which can be smaller than an ant and up to the size of a Tic Tac, may eventually be used for microsurgery, search and rescue, and safety inspections for hard-to-reach spaces, like inside jet engines. She doesn’t envision a dystopian world where robots replace humans, however: “You want robots to complement humans.”

She has more than 100 publications with almost 1500 citations and her 2014 TED talk about microrobotics has been viewed 1.68 million times. She specializes in micro/nanorobots and has brought impressive capabilities in millimeter-sized jumpers which can overcome obstacles 80x their height. She collaborates with experts from biology, neuroscience, dynamics and other fields to build agile robots with mechanosensors.

Aude Billard

Professor and Director of the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at EPFL

Aude Billard (featured 2013) is now a full professor at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) at the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory (LASA), teaching robots to perform skills with the level of dexterity displayed by humans in similar tasks. These robots move seamlessly with smooth motions. They adapt adequately and on-the-fly to the presence of obstacles and to sudden perturbations, hence mimicking humans’ immediate response when facing unexpected and dangerous situations.

Billard has been nominated for the Outstanding Women in Academia by Swiss National Science Foundation, where she is a member of the Scientific Research Council, and was also nominated to the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences. She is currently the vice president for publication activities of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, the associate editor of the International Journal of Social Robotics, elected president of the EPFL Teaching Body Assembly, and elected president of the EPFL Teachers’ Council. In 2017, Billard received a European Research Council Advanced Grant for Skill Acquisition in Humans and Robots.

She is also cofounder of AICA, a young start-up from EPFL, active in the domain of artificial intelligence and robotics, which provides novel software for creating safe and flexible installations of industrial robots, with a modular approach. She specializes in building robots that can interact with, learn from, and help humans. She has also been studying the neural and cognitive processes underpinning imitation learning in humans. She has over 500 publications and more than 18000 citations, and you can watch her plenary talk at AAAI 2020 on ‘Combining Machine Learning and Control for Reactive Robots’.

Cynthia Breazeal

Professor and Associate Director at MIT Media Lab | Founder and Director of the Personal Robots Group | Founder, Chief Scientist and Chief Experience Officer at Jibo

Cynthia Breazeal (featured 2013) is currently a professor at the MIT Media Lab where she founded and directs the Personal Robots Group. She is also Associate Director of the Media Lab in charge of new strategic initiatives and spearheads MIT’s K-12 education initiative on AI. She is a leading expert in designing personal robots that naturally interact with humans and specializes in balancing AI, UX design, and understanding the psychology of engagement to design personified AI technologies that promote human flourishing and personal growth.

Breazeal was recently elected as a Fellow of the AAAI Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence for significant sustained contributions. She has more than 350 publications and 23000 citations, and has spoken at prominent venues such as TED, the World Economic Forum, the UN, SXSW, CES. She was recognized as a Finalist in the National Design Awards. In 2014, she received the George R. Stibitz Computer & Communications Pioneer Award for seminal contributions to the development of Social Robotics and Human Robot Interaction.

Breazeal has also been recognized for her entrepreneurship. She is the Founder and Chief Scientist of Jibo, the pioneering crowdfunded social robot featured on the cover of TIME magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of 2017. Her journey with Jibo isn’t over. NTT Disruption is relaunching the robot as an enterprise product in healthcare and education. Breazeal shared her experiences in a recent IROS 2020 plenary ‘Living with Social Robots: from Research to Commercialization and Back’. Make sure you watch the extra feature ‘Jibo Succeeded by Failing’ which includes the classic goodbye. We can’t wait to see the hello.


Want to keep reading? There are 180 more stories on our 2013 to 2020 lists. Why not nominate someone for inclusion next year!

And we encourage #womeninrobotics and women who’d like to work in robotics to join our professional network at http://womeninrobotics.org

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