IEEE Life Fellow, Panasonic Professor of Robotics (emeritus), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and 2023 IEEE Founders Medal recipient.

Keynote Topic: “Seven Questions to Ask about Every AI Announcement”.

photo of Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks is a robotics visionary. Early on, he saw the future of robotics and found ways to create it and bring robots to everyday life. His work has an impact everywhere, from the research lab to the consumer market, from the living room to Mars.

Brooks realized in the 1980s that robots were large, slow, expensive, and unreliable. A large part of the problem was robot control. Traditional control architecture was centered on the sense, think, act loop. A typical robot uses sensors to make a model of the world, reasons about the model, and then takes action. It wasn’t uncommon for a robot to spend 5 minutes deciding how to move 5 centimeters. So Brooks developed a solution: subsumption architecture, a groundbreaking behavior-based system that enabled mobile robotics.

A Visionary with the Entrepreneur Spirit

In addition to his distinguished research career, Brooks is also an entrepreneur and founder of three trail-blazing companies: Rethink Robotics, Robust AI, and iRobot (the first successful service robotics company). One early iRobot product, Grendel, led directly to NASA’s Sojourner Mars rover. iRobot’s groundbreaking PackBot reconnaissance and disposal robot changed how bomb disposal is conducted. It was the most widely adopted man-portable robot deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, saving thousands of lives. It even helped with the immediate aftermath of the tsunami at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan in 2011.

iRobot’s Roomba is the top-selling vacuum cleaner in the U.S. and has forever changed how people think about robots. Recently, Brooks has focused on building robots for manufacturing. His Baxter and Sawyer industrial robots are safe, can learn from humans by showing them how to do tasks, and can cope with variations on the assembly line, unlike any other industrial robot.

Technology has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past 20 years. The leading edge of this transformation has been in artificial intelligence and robotics, fueled by the introduction of mobile robotics and advances in machine learning. Brooks has been a visionary, pioneer, and leader in this space.

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