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Robotics Today: Kirstin Petersen on Form, Function, and Robotic Superorganisms

October 16, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

“Robotics Today — A series of technical talks” is a virtual robotics seminar series jointly offered by the Stanford School of Engineering and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The format of the seminar consists of a technical talk live captioned and streamed via Web and Twitter (@RoboticsSeminar), followed by an interactive discussion between the speaker and a panel of faculty, postdocs, and students that will moderate audience questions.

Abstract:  Natural swarms exhibit sophisticated colony level behaviors with remarkably scalable and error tolerant properties. Their evolutionary success stems from more than just intelligent individuals, it hinges on their morphology, their physical interactions, and the way they shape and leverage their environment. Mound-building termites, for instance, are believed to use their own body as a template for construction; the resulting dirt mound serves, among many things, to regulate volatile pheromone cues which in turn guide further construction and colony growth. Throughout this talk I will argue how we can leverage the same principles to achieve greater performance in robot collectives, through hardware and software co-development, and by integrating the environment into the design process. I will give examples of systems from our lab that exploit form, function, and the concept of robotic superorganisms, spanning collective robotic construction inspired by African mound-building termites, ongoing work towards slime-mold inspired soft robot collectives, and initial studies of bio-hybrid collectives of honey bees.

Bio: Kirstin Petersen is an Assistant Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University. Her lab, the Collective Embodied Intelligence Lab, is focused on design and coordination of large robot collectives able to achieve complex behaviors beyond the reach of an individual, and corresponding studies on how social insects do so in nature. Major research topics include swarm intelligence, embodied intelligence, and autonomous construction. Before arriving at Cornell, Petersen did a postdoc with the Physical Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany. She completed a PhD in 2014 in computer science at Harvard University and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Kirstin completed her M.Sc. in modern artificial intelligence in 2008 and a B.Sc. in electro-technical engineering in 2005, both with the University of Southern Denmark. Her graduate work was featured in and on the cover of Science, she was elected among the top 25 women to know in robotics by Robohub in 2018, and was awarded the prestigious Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering in 2019.

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Event Sponsor: 
Computer Science Department
Contact Email: 
Jim Shea
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