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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Cynthia Breazeal, 34

Constructs robots whose expressive faces convey humanlike emotions

MIT

People often ask Cynthia Breazeal, director of the MIT Media Laboratory’s robotic-life group, whether robots will take over the world. “I’m like, ‘Oh, go see a movie,’” she laughs. Nonetheless, there’s something Hollywood about Breazeal’s work. She builds expressive robots that exhibit socially appropriate emotional responses, attracting media attention as well as advancing artificial-intelligence research. For her doctoral thesis, Breazeal constructed Kismet, a bright-eyed mechanical head that reacts to human voices, movements, and expressions with smiles, frowns, and raised eyebrows. Her latest robot, Leonardo, a collaboration with the Stan Winston Studio, of movie special-effects fame, is a 75-centimeter-tall creature. The furry bot’s 60 small motors produce fluid movements and subtle facial expressions; it also has pressure-sensitive “skin”, microphones, a speech synthesizer, and camera “eyes” that track people’s faces and gestures. Unlike other robots, whose actions are driven by programmed routines, Leonardo learns tasks by assessing humans’ expressions and imitating their movements. Breazeal calls it “the most expressive robot today,” and because she believes “socially intelligent” robots could become actors, or helpers for the elderly, she is conducting studies of human-robot interaction. Her lab is also helping NASA build a “robonaut” space assistant that might one day perform maintenance tasks in space.

2003 TR35 Winners

Geoffrey Barrows

Gives unmanned reconnaissance planes insect vision

Serafim Batzoglou

Devises powerful tools for assembling and analyzing genomes

Cynthia Breazeal

Constructs robots whose expressive faces convey humanlike emotions

Ian Clarke

Pioneered software that delivers Web files quickly, anonymously

Andre DeHon

Designs architectures needed to build practical molecular computers

Daniel Gottesman

Works to improve quantum computers so they can speed drug design and perform other massive computing tasks

Kathryn Guarini

Fabricates three-dimensional integrated circuits that could vastly increase computer power

Vic Gundotra

Sparked Microsofts change to .Net

Andrew Heafitz

Invented inexpensive rocket-based surveillance systems

Steven Hofmeyr

Devised software that roots out security threats to a networks operating system

Mike Horton

Engineers tiny sensors that can be spread like crumbs around a battlefield or factory

Ayanna Howard

Writes programs that more intelligently guide actions of robots

Kevin Lee

Integrates photonics and electronics on chips to speed telecommunications

Desmond Lim

Develops high-volume manufacturing lines for making optical chips into commodities

Michael OConnor

Designed an automated tractor steering system that is saving farmers bushels of money

Joe Pompei

Delivers "spotlights" of sound for use in concerts, museums, and automobiles

Jovan Popovic

Makes simpler, more powerful animation tools for novices and professionals

Thomas Reardon

Tailors Internet application to cell phones

Torsten Reil

Employs simulations of human movement to create realistically animated characters

Heike Riel

Built large, bright, organic video displays using materials dismissed by contemporaries

Maximilian Riesenhuber

Programs computers to recognize objects the way the human brain does

Linda Rottenberg

Helps entrepreneurs in emerging nations turn innovations into business

Ted Sargent

Fashions photonic circuits that could speed voice and data to homes

Tim Sibley

Serves up customized audio and video gems

Alex Vasilescu

Transforms computers ability to recognize human faaces

Lorraine Wheeler

Codes software that makes handheld computers handier

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto

Builds brain-imaging machines that are faster and cheaper than magnetic-resonance imaging equipment

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