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Black in Robotics Reading List

“U.S. history is racist, and the responsibility for fixing systemic racism within [an] institution lies with current members of the institution.” -Black in Engineering

The diversity of researchers in academia, and of Black faculty members in particular, is much lower than it should be and has stalled. This site contains a reading list of work from Black researchers in robotics that will hopefully help in some small way to overcome the systemic dynamics that have led to this imbalance. There are two ways that this list may help: First, to increase the visibility and citations of these researchers by highlighting their research projects and advertising some of their interesting papers. Second, to provide academic role models for aspiring researchers and to normalize Black scholarship. Whether browsing this list online, seeing a researcher on a panel, or reading one of their papers as a class assignment, it is important for all students to see diversity in academia.

Who is this list for? We started to build this list for our own labs and classes, in order to increase the number of Black scholars that we cite and discuss. We hope that it can also be useful for others in the community, especially:

Who is on this list? The focus of this list is Black professors and other leading researchers in the US who work in robotics and related fields. While there are many groups that are underrepresented in academic robotics (including Indigenous/Native people, Latinx people, people with disabilities, and women), there is a particularly long and persistent history of suppression of Black Americans in the US. Similarly, this list is primarily Black robotics faculty members, but there are also many great roboticists in industry, and many great academics outside of robotics (e.g. computing, AI, neuro), who should also be celebrated.

Read More: Supporting Black Scholars in Robotics - IEEE Spectrum Automation Blog, Sep. 10, 2020

Monica Anderson

Associate Professor of Computer Science, University of Alabama

Prof. Anderson directs the Distributed Autonomy Lab, and her research focuses on multiagent/multirobot autonomy, teaming with humans, user interfaces, and their effect on trust.

Muyinatu A. Lediju Bell

Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Computer Science, Johns Hopkins University

Prof. Bell founded and directs the Photoacoustic and Ultrasonic Systems Engineering (PULSE) Lab. Her lab introduced the concept of teleoperative photoacoustic-guided surgery using the da Vinci surgical system, the first study of its kind combining photoacoustic imaging and minimally invasive robotic surgeries to improve accuracy. She pioneers work in medical imaging technology, robot-assisted imaging, and machine learning for image formation.

Carlotta Berry

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Prof. Berry helped found and co-directs both the Rose Building Undergraduate Diversity (ROSE-BUD) program and the multidisciplinary robotics program. Her research focuses on educational mobile robotics, enhanced human-robot interfaces, and recruitment and retention activities for underrepresented populations in electrical and computer engineering.

Jeremy D. Brown

John C. Malone Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

Prof. Brown runs the Haptics and Medical Robotics (HAMR) lab and his research sits at the intersection of engineering, biomechatronics, medicine, and psychophysics. He develops novel haptic interfaces for upper-limb prosthetics and minimally invasive surgical robotics.

Edward E. Brown Jr.

Associate Professor of Electrical and Microelectronic Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology

Prof. Brown runs the Biomechatronic Learning Laboratory where he studies rehabilitation robotics. He focuses on developing intelligent orthotics and wearable robotic systems that use human physical and physiological information to aid individuals with diseases and disabilities that affect the skeletal musculature of their upper-limb extremities.

Emmanuel G. Collins

Dean of the J. B. Speed School of Engineering, University of Louisville

Dean Collins’s research interests are in control and guidance of autonomous vehicles and electric powered wheelchairs in extreme environments and situations, coordination of teams of heterogeneous agents (including human-robot teams), flow control, and applications of modern control approaches to energy management.

Chris S. Crawford

Assistant Professor of Computer Science, University of Alabama

Prof. Crawford directs the Human-Technology Interaction Lab. His work focuses on Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) and Human-Robot Interaction (HRI).

Kristen Dorsey

Assistant Professor, Smith College

Prof. Dorsey leads the MicroSmithie lab. Kristen Dorsey’s research focuses on the fabrication and characterization of micro-scale sensors and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). She likes to understand “why things go wrong” by investigating device reliability and stability. Her current and previous work has had applications in actuation, gas chemical sensing, and inertial sensing.

Chinwe Ekenna

Assistant Professor of Computer Science, University of Albany

Prof. Ekenna directs the Robotics Algorithm and Computable Systems (RACS) Laboratory, which focuses on the development of intelligent systems, motion planning in complex spaces, heterogeneity analysis of the workspace, metabolic pathways, and protein folding.

Ralph Etienne-Cummings

Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

Prof. Etienne-Cummings leads the Computational Sensory-Motor Systems Lab which has recently focused on research into brain-machine interfaces and neural prosthesis devices. Other areas of research he has contributed to include neurally inspired control for legged robots, development of neural prosthetic devices, and image and video analysis.

Stephen J. Guy

Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota

Prof. Guy directs the Applied Motion Lab. His research focuses on the development of artificial intelligence for use in autonomous robotics (e.g., collision avoidance and path planning under uncertainty) and computer simulations of human movement and behavior (e.g., crowd simulation and virtual characters).

Frank L. Hammond

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech

Prof. Hammond directs the The Adaptive Robotic Manipulation (ARM) Laboratory. His research focuses on a variety of topics in robotic manipulation, including underactuated robotic grasping, kinematically redundant manipulation, teleoperative robotic surgery surgical training, and wearable human augmentation devices.

Maynard Holliday, MSc

Senior Engineer, RAND Corporation

Mr. Holliday is a Senior Engineer in the Engineering and Applied Sciences Group within the Global Research Talent Organization at RAND Coporation. His current research interests are in autonomous vehicles, swarm robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, counter drone technology and defense innovation. Mr. Holliday served as a senior technical advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense during the Obama Administration, led research at Lawrence Livermore National Labs and Sandia National Labs, and has participated in several robotics startups. He has a passion for outreach and bringing robotics and AI to underrepresented groups, and currently serves as an Industry Co-Lead for Black in Robotics.

Ayanna Howard

Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Professor and Chair of the School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology

Prof. Howard leads the Human-Automation Systems Lab, and her research is centered around applying human-inspired techniques to intelligent systems. She has also done significant work in improving robotics education for students of all ages: from childhood all the way to graduate-level education.

Charles Isbell

Dean of the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dean Isbell leads the pfunk research group within the Lab for Interactive Artificial Intelligence. Dean Isbell’s research focuses on designing systems that are capable of interacting with one another and with humans in reasonable ways using techniques such as machine learning and game theory.

Daniel Jacobs

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Temple University

Prof. Jacobs leads the Robotics in Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (RISE) Lab. His primary research focus is in wearable robotics and augmenting human gait performance.

Odest Chadwicke Jenkins

Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Michigan

Prof. Jenkins leads the Laboratory for Progress and is Associate Director for the Michigan Robotics Institute. His research addresses problems in interactive robotics and human-robot interaction, primarily focused on mobile manipulation, robot perception, and robot learning from demonstration. Prof. Jenkins does not believe celebrity lists alone will lead to systemic fairness in robotics and its merit review and support of Black roboticists at all levels.

Michelle Johnson

Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Associate Professor of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania

Prof. Johnson directs the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab, a GRASP Lab. Her research is mainly in the area of robot-mediated rehabilitation, in particular exploring the relationships between brain plasticity and behavioral/motor control changes after robot-assisted interventions, quantifying motor impairment and motor control of the upper limb in real world tasks such as drinking, and defining the methods to maintain therapeutic effectiveness while administering local and remote, robot-mediated interventions.

Matthew Johnson-Roberson

Associate Professor of Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering and Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, University of Michigan

Prof. Johnson-Roberson leads the DROP (Deep Robot Optical Perception) Laboratory and co-directs the UM Ford Center for Autonomous Vehicles (FCAV). Prof. Johnson-Roberson’s group is focused on 3D reconstruction, segmentation, data mining, and visualization.

Monroe Kennedy III

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University

Prof. Kennedy leads the Assistive Robotics and Manipulation Lab at Stanford University where he develops intelligent robotic systems that can assist humans in tasks by improving the robots capability of perceiving and modeling environments to predict system processes and understand their assistive role.

James McLurkin

Senior Hardware Engineer, Google

Dr. McLurkin is a pioneer in swarm robotics and has developed multiple large (100+) multi-robot systems. His research interests include multi-robot estimation, formation control, distributed algorithms, and computational geometry. Dr. McLurkin was faculty at Rice University before joining Google in 2015.

Melanie Moses

Professor of Computer Science & Associate Professor of Biology, The University of New Mexico

Prof. Moses leads the Moses Biological Computation Lab which seeks to create models of biological systems and apply the insights gained from those systems to swarm robotics. Additionally, Prof. Moses is the PI for two programs seeking to diversify computer science: NM CSforAll and NASA Swarmathon.

Jaye Nias

Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Sciences, Spelman College

Prof. Nias is a researcher in computational social science in the Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) Program. Her current research focus is on developing educational computational technologies to promote cultural diversity and societal inclusion. She has also conducted research in human computer interaction, with a focus on child-computer interactions and mobile computing.

Chinedum Okwudire

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan

Prof. Okwudire directs the Smart and Sustainable Automation Research Lab. His research expertise is in machine design, dynamics, control, and mechatronics applied to smart manufacturing and 3D printing automation.

Tahira Reid Smith

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University

Prof. Reid Smith leads the Research in Engineering and Interdisciplinary Design (REID) Lab at Purdue University. She studies how to integrate human-centered design into human-machine systems.

Lionel P. Robert Jr.

Associate Professor of Information, University of Michigan

Prof. Robert is an Army vet and the director of the Michigan Autonomous Vehicle Research Intergroup Collaboration. In his own words he focuses on “collaboration through and with technology”, studying trust and teamwork in human-human and human-machine teams, including robots and autonomous vehicles.

Camillo Jose Taylor

Raymond S. Markowitz President's Distinguished Professor of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania

Prof. Taylor is the Associate Dean of Diversity Equity and Inclusion in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and is a leader in the field of computer vision with specific interest in 3D model reconstruction, robot navigation and scene understanding.

Conrad Tucker

Arthur Hamerschlag Career Development Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

Prof. Tucker leads the Artificial Intelligence in Products Engineered for X (AiPEX) Lab. He explores the use of machine learning methods that predictively improve the outcome of product design solutions through the acquisition, fusion, and mining of large-scale, publicly-available data.

Edward Tunstel

Associate Director and Group Leader, Raytheon Technologies Research Center

Dr. Tunstel is an associate director of robotics in the Autonomous and Intelligent Systems Department at Raytheon Technologies Research Center, prior to which he was a Senior Roboticist at Johns Hopkins APL, and a Senior Robotics Engineer at NASA JPL before that. His expertise is in robot navigation, approximate reasoning for autonomous behavior-based control, human-robot systems, and applications of soft computing techniques to intelligent systems.

Eric Wade

Adjunct Associate Professor of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Prof. Wade develops innovative technologies to help with rehabilitation for people with disabilities, for example by sensing and quantifying recovery through activity recognition. At UT, he leads the Behavior, Robotics, and Sensing Group, which combines machine learning and control with robotics and human sensing.

Andrew Williams

Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Charles E. and Mary Jane Spahr Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Kansas

Prof. Williams directs the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab. His research aims to develop the theory and engineering principles for humanoid robots to cooperate intuitively and creatively with humans and other robots using principles from developmental artificial intelligence. An interview with Prof. Williams is included in the History Makers collection.

Karl Zelik

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Vanderbilt University

Prof. Zelik leads the Biomechanics & Assistive Technology Laboratory and co-founded HeroWear, an exosuit spin-off company from his lab. He strives to improve health and mobility for individuals with disabilities, and to enhance human capabilities by engineering and understanding technologies such as prostheses, exoskeletons, smart clothing and wearables that physically augment human performance and well-being.

This list is maintained by Prof. Aaron M. Johnson, Prof. Henny Admoni, and our students. Updates, additions, and corrections welcome via pull request or email. Sourcecode available on GitHub.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.