USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

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Heather Knight is an engineer on a mission.

Known as a social roboticist, she is constantly thinking about new ways to make robots charismatic, giving them the necessary personality and social skills to interact with humans in meaningful ways.

Her work includes developing a cuddly robot called “Data” (named after the Star Trek character) who does stand-up comedy before live audiences. Impossible, you say? Well, read on.

Currently a young graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, Heather is already a pioneer in the growing field of social robotics which investigates ways in which robots could have impact on our everyday lives.

“Socially interactive robots,” says Heather, “could have many exciting roles in schools, hospitals, the entertainment industry and the home. Whether they are peers or companions, helping out or leading activities, one day friendly robots could be as common as our computers as cell phones.”

Advances in engineering, especially new ways of thinking about sensory data, and an improved understanding of impactful behavior systems and improved expression will help robots to become more articulate and responsive companions, she explains.

To help propel this into the future, Heather has begun investigating how techniques in the performing arts — whether puppetry, theater or even stand-up comedy — might cross-apply into creating more natural and fun human-robot interactions.

“Some people create art using technology,” she says. “In my new venture, I would like to use art to create technology.”

Read more about her bio on our Nifty Fifty Website.