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Meet Social Roboticist Heather Knight and Data at CMU’s Robot Hall of Fame
Heather and her robot bring theater to the proceedings, highlighting the many innovative ways that robots can communicate like and with people
By Robotics Trends' News Sources - Filed Sep 12, 2012

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As a social roboticist, Heather Knight specializes in the human-robot interface. She wants to help robots communicate like people do, and help people visualize a future that includes robots they can interact with without knowing programming language.
 
Knight made her debut at a 2010 TED Talk, accompanied by her endearing sidekick Data. The two have been performing together ever since.

“What I’ve started doing in the last few years is to collaborate with theater people. Performers have been thinking about how humans are expressive for thousands of years. And they think about how to train people to be expressive and how to codify what’s important. They have intuition about what can be charismatic, whether it’s a machine or a puppet or a person. I try to tap into that process because I think it’s faster than trying to reverse engineer human psychology,” says Knight.

Knight, who grew up in Lexington, Mass., is conducting her doctoral research at CMU’s Robotics Institute, attracted by the unique combination of fine arts, robotic and entertainment tech programs.

“I think true creators, entrepreneurs, technologists need to be story-tellers. They need to convince investors, customers that a new idea or product is something that will impact lives in a positive way. Steve Jobs was amazing at that.”

In keeping with her mission, one of the first things she did when she arrived on campus was to take a census of all the robots. There are 547 robots in all, not including those at NREC in Lawrenceville, nearly one robot for every student in the department, she says.

In addition to her academic studies, Knight has several ongoing robot projects. She runs a stand up comedy troupe robots, Marilyn Monrobot Labs, in New York City, which produces sensor-based electronic art performances.
 
She also was the founder of the NYC’s first Robot Film Festival, held this summer, and one of several behind Cyborg Cabaret at the New Hazlett Theatre last April, a variety show where “avant art-meets-science” theater.
 
She also made the Forbes List for 30 Under 30 in Science. 
 
It's all about breaking the boundaries in our understanding of robots and what they can do and attracting more people to science and technology.  Robots can speak our language and make us laugh in addition to helping humankind, she says.
 
“I want to make machines that will help humanity to flourish.”
 
Knight and Data will make an appearance during the Robot Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at CMU next month, which will be held during the RoboBusiness Leadership Summit, which will bring hundreds of robotics industry leaders to Pittsburgh for an Oct. 22-24 conference.
 
Vote early and often for your favorite robot from the slate of nominees for the Robot Hall of Fame. Created by CMU in 2003, the hall honors both fictional and real robots. Among the nominees are Data’s relative xxx, WALL-E of movie fame and Rosie from the Jetsons. 

 


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