Henrik Christensen, one of the most influential robotics researchers in the world, is joining the University of California San Diego. He will direct the UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute and serve as a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering. Christensen is leaving his post as executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology to come to UC San Diego.
“Henrik Christensen is a world leader in robotics with an exceptional track record in education, research and industry partnerships. He is a leader who will build bridges between engineering, computer science and the social sciences as we work together as a campus to develop the useful robotics systems that will improve human lives,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.
As the faculty director of the Contextual Robotics Institute at UC San Diego, Christensen (at right) said he plans to help the more than 50 faculty members in the Institute boost research efforts; expand partnerships with industry; build educational programs at the undergraduate and graduate level; and create new robotics outreach programs for kids. “We are going to do all this better than anyone else in the world,” he said. In 2011, Christensen was awarded the Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award, widely considered the world’s most prestigious robotics honor. [Photo courtesy Georgia Tech]
UC San Diego officially launched the Contextual Robotics Institute in October 2015. The institute is a partnership of the Jacobs School of Engineering, the Division of Social Sciences and Qualcomm Institute (QI). QI has also committed 3,500 square feet of space in its headquarters building, Atkinson Hall, to house parts of the robotics institute.
“Hiring Henrik Christensen is an important step in our multi-year effort to make UC San Diego, Southern California and the international CaliBaja region a global robotics powerhouse,” said Albert P. Pisano, dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
The mission of UC San Diego’s interdisciplinary Contextual Robotics Institute is to develop safe, useful and human-friendly robotics systems that are deeply integrated with how humans live. Christensen said he plans to double research funding for the institute in the next five years.
“We have very aggressive growth targets for the program’s students, faculty and partnerships with industry,” said Christensen.
Over the past three decades, Christensen (at left) has established a stellar track record of leading robotics institutes and bringing them to the forefront of the robotics field. Ten years ago, he took over the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines at Georgia Tech. The institute quadrupled its funding during that time and rose to one of the top three robotics programs in the nation. He had similar success building up the Center for Autonomous Systems at Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology as well as the EU Network of Excellence in Robotics.
The opportunities for expanding and strengthening the robotics ecosystem in San Diego are incredible. San Diego is half the cost of Silicon Valley, and the research institutions, the talent, the industry clusters, and the military and government players are all here, explained Christensen.
Christensen said he is looking forward to working with San Diego’s robotics community. “We want to make an economic impact and make sure that we are solving problems that industry is interested in,” he said. “One of the next frontiers in engineering is connecting the Internet to the physical world,” he said. “This will happen through robotics.”
According to CSE Chair Dean Tullsen, contextual robotics systems will perceive, coordinate and act on a real-time understanding of different types of context around them. "This will require collaborations among computer scientists, engineers, cognitive and other social scientists," said Tullsen. "With Henrik Christensen's pending arrival, at least nine CSE faculty have signed up to participate in the Contextual Robotics Institute, with more to come. They bring with them expertise in fields including machine learning, computer vision, pattern recognition, control, wireless systems, sensors, data science and more. In the process, they will play a role in robotics that could transform elder care and assisted living, disaster response, medicine, transportation, environmental sensing, education and a wide range of consumer-oriented applications."
Research and biography
Christensen is a leader in the setting of national policy for the field of robotics and has testified before Congress on the subject. He is the head of a nationwide effort to draft a robotics roadmap for the future and explore the field’s potential to transform U.S. society via new markets and industries; create new jobs; and address issues of national importance. He served as the founding chairman of the European Robotics Research Network, now a community of more than 230 research groups in academia and industry.
Christensen's own research covers computer vision, artificial intelligence and robotics, and his primary emphasis has been on a systems-oriented approach to machine perception, robotics and design of intelligent machines. He has worked with a number of industry partners, including Boeing, KUKA, iRobot, BMW and Apple.
“We are trying to solve real problems with real solutions,” he said.