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

Simon does: The robot Simon uses social cues to communicate whether it has understood what an instructor intended. Andrea Thomaz hopes that these abilities, in combination with computer vision, speech processing, and grasping capability, will enable Simon to operate successfully in the real world.
Credit: Yvonne Boyd

Andrea Thomaz, 33

Robots that learn new skills the way people do

Georgia Institute of Technology

Before robots can be truly useful in homes, schools, and hospitals, they must become capable of learning new skills. Andrea Thomaz, an assistant professor of interactive computing, wants them to learn from their users, so that experts don't have to program every task. She aims to make robots that not only understand a human teacher's verbal instructions and social signals but give social feedback of their own, using gestures, expressions, and other cues to let the person know whether they have correctly understood the directions.

Thomaz has designed machine learning algorithms based on human learning mechanisms and built them into her robots Junior and Simon, which have faces that make basic expressions and hands that can grasp simple objects. In experiments with people untrained in formal teaching, Junior has quickly learned enough about things in its environment to catch on to tasks such as opening and closing a box. --Kristina Grifantini

2009 TR35 Winners

Andrea Armani

Sensitive optical sensors detect single molecules

James Carey (video)

Using “black silicon” to build inexpensive, super-sensitive light detectors

Adam Dunkels

Minimal wireless-networking protocols allow almost any device to communicate over the Internet

Kevin Fu (video)

Defeating would-be hackers of radio frequency chips in objects from credit cards to pacemakers  

Andrew Houck

Preserving information for practical quantum computing

Shahram Izadi (video)

An intuitive 3-D interface helps people manage layers of data

Ali Javey

“Painting” nanowires into electronic circuits

Anat Levin

New cameras and algorithms capture the potential of digital images

Pranav Mistry (video)

A simple, wearable device enhances the real world with digital information

Aydogan Ozcan

Inexpensive chips and sophisticated software could make microscope lenses obsolete

Vera Sazonova

World’s smallest resonator could lead to tiny mechanical devices

Elena Shevchenko

Assembling nanocrystals to create made-to-order materials

Dawn Song

Defeating malware through automated software analysis

Andrea Thomaz (video)

Robots that learn new skills the way people do

Adrien Treuille (video)

Complex physics simulations that can run on everyday PCs

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