MIT Tech Review 2015 Innovators Under 35 (TR35) Awarded to Roboticists: Conor Walsh, Melonee Wise, and Travis Deyle (Me!)

MIT TR35 Award Winners for 2015

Every year MIT Technology Review announces their "35 Young Innovators Under 35" Awards (TR35 Awards). In recent years the list has included a few roboticists, and Hizook has covered several of the announcements (here, here, and here). This year is is especially meaningful for two reasons: (1) It includes three roboticists and several other individuals in machine learning and sensing; and (2) I'm one of the winners! The three TR35 roboticists from this year were Conor Walsh (soft, wearable robots at Harvard), Melonee Wise (Willow Garage, and now warehouse robots at Fetch), and Travis Deyle (healthcare robotics plus Internet of Things, now doing healthcare sensors at Google[x] Life Sciences).

We're joining a prestigious list of past winners, including: Morgan Quigley and Dmitry Grishin (2013), Ken Endo and Leila takayama (2012), Brian Gerkey and Pieter Abbeel (2011), Aaron Dollar (2010), Andrea Thomaz (2009), Andrew Ng  and Rob Wood (2008), Josh Bongard (2007), Cynthia Breazeal and Geoffrey Barros and Ayanna Howard (2003), Howie Choset (2002), and Maja Mataric (1999).

 

The TR35 write-ups for Connor and Melonee are pretty good, but I'm really not a fan of my coverage.  Picture aesthetics aside... the description is completely devoid of my technical accomplishments. Everything focuses on my short (2-year) tenure at Google -- and I can't even talk about the things I'm doing there! So here... I'll just write my own, pulled  from the "vision" page on my personal website:

 

Robotics and Internet of Things to Revolutionize Healthcare

 

For the last decade, my work follows a single vision: Robotics and Internet of Things to Revolutionize Healthcare.

  • I earned a PhD in healthcare robotics in 2011 from Georgia Tech, under the mentorship of Dr. Charles C. Kemp. I built some of the first mobile robots capable of operating in real homes, which was enabled by long-range radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags -- an internet of things (IOT) technology. I used these robots to demonstrate useful tasks such as robot-mediated medication delivery, fetching and retrieving tagged objects, and helping older adults and people with motor impairments.

PR2 finding tagged objects in the home  RFID medication delivery  Other forms of RFID sensing  

  • In 2012, I was awarded a "Computing Innovation" postdoc fellowship to work with Dr. Matt Reynolds at Duke University. We realized that identification-only tags were just the tip of the iceberg. Tags could also contain embedded computation, sensing, communication, energy storage, and power harvesting capabilities. As a postdoc, I collaborated on RFID-like systems with integrated sensing that could operate at WiFi-like data rates (many megabits per second) on a small fraction of the power (micro-Watts). We developed tags to perform health monitoring (electrocardiogram (ECG) sensing) and others to create "cyborg dragonflies" (neural recording from dragonflies in flight). We also developed some preliminary robotic systems to interact with environmental sensor tags -- especially in remote, hard-to-reach locations.

cyborg dragonfly  RFID Drone Sensing  Sensor RFID Tags  

  • I currently work at Google[x] Life Sciences. Google[x] is a Google lab that pursues "moonshots" in science and technology, and the Life Sciences group focuses on healthcare. I'm part of the microsystems group that developed contact lenses, such as the glucose-sensing lenses and "autofocus" lenses (both licensed to Novartis), and continuous glucose monitoring devices (licensed to DexCom). I primarily work on new, non-public projects -- but unfortunately I can't elaborate due to severe confidentiality restrictions. I'm also an active participant on the Rapid Eval team that helps vet new Google[x] ideas.

Google[x] Contact Lens     

 

We're currently witnessing a surge of interest in robotics, IOT, and healthcare, and my work helped lay the groundwork for the future combination of these fields. I have a prolific academic record, extensive contributions to the robotics community through open-source and scientific communication activities (e.g., my robotics website, Hizook.com), and numerous press features, some of which led to entirely-new robotics research efforts (e.g., Robots for Humanity).

As IOT healthcare sensors extend beyond mere lifestyle curiosities (e.g., FitBit) into more medically-relevant devices (e.g., Google's glucose-sensing contact lens), and as they get coupled to robots capable of providing timely, physical assistance, we're going to witness massive improvements to individual healthcare outcomes -- both for preventative care and active interventions. I'm excited to be a contributor (both past and present) to this vision!

 

On a final note: I'm super(!!) excited to be employed at Google[x] Life Sciences. It has buy-in from the highest level, and Google's founders seem willing take risks that no one else will. It reminds me a lot of Bell Labs era, which drove drove entire revolutions in technology. So I think they have the right mind-set to embrace innovation and failure in ways that other organizations just won't. The Life Sciences division in particular meshes closely with my own vision: That we can massively improve healthcare outcomes by taking a more agile (less risk averse) approach to healthcare. Also: they're willing to take on a crazy multidisciplinary roboticst like me!

 

Anyway, I'm super excited to be joining this elite group of award winners, including a bunch of folks that I look up to: Saul Griffith, Yael Maguire, Shwetak Patel, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, John Carmack, etc. 

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