Grad Student Vivian Chu Named One of the “25 Women in Robotics You Need to Know About” in 2016

Georgia Tech graduate student Vivian Chu joins a distinguished group of roboticists named on Robohub’s 2016 list of “25 Women In Robotics You Need To Know About.”

As the only student to make the list, two-dozen professors, government administrators, business executives, and a provost surround Chu, who is completing her research focused on enabling robots to work in unstructured human environments.

Presented by Robohub in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, the fourth-annual list showcases women working in research, development, and commercialization of robotics.

“Role models are important,” writes Robohub. “Countess Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer and an extraordinary mathematician, faced an uphill battle in the days when women were not encouraged to pursue a career in science. Fast forward 200 years, there are still not enough women in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). One key reason is clear: a severe lack of visible female role models. Women in STEM need to be equally represented at conferences, keynotes, magazine covers, or stories about technology.”

Chu, who grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley in San Jose, Calif., says she is honored to be included on the list.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, and her master’s degree in robotics at the University of Pennsylvania, Chu came to Georgia Tech to pursue her doctorate work in the Socially Intelligent Machines Lab under the direction of Andrea L. Thomaz, who was named to Robohub’s inaugural list of “25 Women in Robotics You Need to Know About” in 2013. (Another Georgia Tech roboticist, Ayanna Howard, made the 2014 list.)

Chu found choosing a Ph.D. program an incredibly difficult decision and had offers from many of the top institutes for robotics research. Ultimately, she chose Georgia Tech because of the “world-class research being conducted, specifically in the realm of service robotics.” Furthermore, she discovered the strong community the Institute offers. “At GT, I feel supported and cared for by the faculty, department, and my fellow students,” says Chu.

Magnus Egerstedt, executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines, is especially pleased Chu chose Georgia Tech. “I’m impressed by all of our students, and Vivian’s inclusion on this prestigious list is testament to the quality of not only our students and faculty, but also our Ph.D. program. Congratulations, Vivian!”

IRIM recently had the opportunity to learn more about Chu and her future plans and vision for robotics in the future.

Why did you choose robotics?

I chose robotics because it allowed me to concretely see how engineering can be applied to solve real-world problems. Not just bits and bytes on a screen or signals on a breadboard, robotics is a field where the results of my work could physically change the environment around me. I knew I found the right field when I could be debugging or researching a solution and not notice that the entire day had gone by. I would have to force myself to stop and catch a few hours of sleep; I was so excited to continue the next day.

What is your dream job/next move after completing the Robotics Ph.D. program at Georgia Tech?

My dream job after the Ph.D. would be a job where I can work on hard problems truly worth solving. Specifically for me, this involves designing algorithms for robots so that they can work side-by-side with people and help in whatever way is necessary. My dream job would have me collaborating with the greatest minds in robotics. I would not only provide technical solutions to problems that need to be solved, but inspire the next generation of young minds to pursue STEM fields.

How do you envision the world of robotics in the next 10 years?

When I first started studying robotics, I would have never predicted how soon the technological advances that were being researched in labs would make their way into the world. I remain optimistic that this trend will continue over the next decade and those once-novel concepts, such as self-driving cars, will become reliable services. At the same time, I can foresee that we might encounter a period where people become disillusioned with robots. I often tell people that the big red button on our robots is mostly to protect the robot from destroying itself by running into a wall or a table — a far more likely scenario than it hurting someone.

In terms of the direction of research in robotics, I believe that human-robot interaction (HRI) will become a crucial component of the robotics field as we understand how robots and people can work together and benefit from this interaction. Furthermore, as sensor technology continues to improve, multi-sensory inputs will become commonplace on hardware platforms. Multi-sensory fusion is going to be immensely important for robots to truly be aware and robust in the world. We, as people, do not rely just on our vision or sense of touch; when people lose one or more of their senses, it becomes incredibly difficult to navigate the world. Robots that can successfully utilize multiple senses can greatly benefit from the added feedback to increase robustness when autonomously completing tasks.

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