Howie Choset, the Kavčić-Moura Professor of Computer Science, will receive the prestigious 2019 Engelberger Robotics Award for Education. The award recognizes his leadership of Carnegie Mellon University’s undergraduate robotics degree program and his robotics research in areas such as multirobot collaboration, surgery, manufacturing, infrastructure inspection, and search and rescue.
“A key feature of Howie’s work is the ability to convert fundamental research into real-world applications with far-reaching societal impact,” said Martial Hebert, director of CMU’s Robotics Institute. He has made significant contributions to the design of bio-inspired robots and to multirobot systems, while creating several successful companies. He is an innovative educator, Hebert added, who is dedicated to his students.
The award is presented by the Robotics Industries Association (RIA) and is named for Joseph F. Engelberger, the so-called “father of robotics” who founded Unimation Inc., the world’s first industrial robot manufacturer. Previous CMU winners are Takeo Kanade, the U.A. and Helen Whitaker University Professor of Robotics and Computer Science; and William “Red” Whittaker, the Fredkin University Research Professor of Robotics.
In addition to Choset’s award, an Engelberger Award for leadership is being presented this year to Catherine Morris, group leader and director of automotive sales at ATI Industrial Automation and a long-time RIA board member and former chairperson.
“Catherine and Howie have both played highly influential roles in creating the thriving robotics industry we see today,” said Jeff Burnstein, RIA president. “They have each made outstanding contributions in their respective fields, from leading tremendous growth at RIA to educating the next generation of robotic engineers while creating robotic solutions that are currently advancing automation in manufacturing.”
Choset is best known for building snake-like robots and devising innovative methods for controlling the multijointed devices. He and his research team have studied how these robots, with their unique ability to move through difficult environments, can be deployed for urban search and rescue, for mapping and inspecting caves, pipes and other confined spaces, and for manufacturing. Choset is a founding editor of the journal Science Robotics.
In April 2017, Choset appeared on NBC’s Tonight Show, where one of his snake robots crawled up host Jimmy Fallon’s leg. Five months later, Choset deployed the same robot in Mexico City to search for earthquake victims.
His work on bio-inspired robots led Choset to develop a surgical device now approved for use in the U.S. and Europe and, more recently, a modular approach to robotics that enables people to build functional, customized robots quickly. He founded MedRobotics to build and market the surgical robot and Hebi Robotics to produce robot modules. A third company, Bito Robotics, leverages Choset’s work in multirobot planning and collaboration to produce automated guided vehicles for material handling.
Choset created CMU’s second major in robotics and a minor in robotics. He developed the curriculum for both programs, which he continues to lead, as well as innovative approaches to hands-on robotics education, Hebert said. He has mentored a number of Ph.D. students who have started their own companies.
Hebert said Choset has a knack for pulling together industrial firms, governmental resources and academic researchers to address important research and development initiatives.
“He has developed the skill to listen to what industry needs, predict where it could go, and then recruit the talent to solve these problems,” Hebert said. One example is his role in the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Institute, an organization funded by the Department of Defense that includes a consortium of private firms.
The RIA will present the Engelberger Awards on Wednesday, April 10, at an awards dinner scheduled in conjunction with the Automate 2019 Show and Conference in Chicago.