Akhil Madhani, 31
Walt Disney Imaging
If robots are to play a larger role in our lives, we will need to make them more dexterous and responsive. Akhil Madhani has been a leader in this pursuit since his days as a graduate student in MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. As his doctoral project, Madhani created "Black Falcon," a robot that performed surgery under the command of a surgeon at a remote location.
Although the military had been working on "telesurgery" for some time, Madhani’s system represented a significant advance because it was able to do minimally invasive surgery (MIS)--a widely used technique in which the entire operation is carried out through a small incision. What’s more, Black Falcon improves on conventional MIS, because it can reach into areas of the body that would be difficult for a surgeon alone to reach. The obvious potential of this system hasn’t been lost on the private sector: Intuitive Surgical has licensed it for commercial applications. In the meantime, however, in one of the boundary-crossing transformations that characterize contemporary innovation, Madhani has moved on to Walt Disney Imagineering, where he is working on what he will describe only as "next-generation, interactive robotic characters."