Congratulations to Rodney Brooks, Recipient of the 2023 IEEE Founders Medal

Brooks created subsumption, an architecture for designing layered real-time control of complex robotic systems that has enabled a wide range of robotic innovations, including the human-robotic interaction exemplified by the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) is most pleased to announce that RAS Member Rodney Brooks has been selected as the recipient of the prestigious 2023 IEEE Founders Medal. Professor Brooks was selected “for leadership in research and commercialization of autonomous robotics, including mobile, humanoid, service and manufacturing robots.”

Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks is a robotics visionary. Early on, he saw the future of robotics, then found ways to create that future and bring robots to everyday life. The impact of his work is found everywhere, from the research lab to the consumer market, from the living room to the planet Mars. Brooks realized in the 1980s that robots were large, slow, expensive, and unreliable. A large part of the problem was robot control. Traditional control architecture was centered on the sense, think, act loop. A typical robot used sensors to make a model of the world, reasoned about the model, then took action. It wasn’t uncommon for a robot to spend 5 minutes deciding how to move 5 centimeters. So Brooks developed a solution: subsumption architecture, a groundbreaking behavior-based system that enabled mobile robotics. In addition to his distinguished research career, Brooks is also an entrepreneur, founder of three trail-blazing companies: Rethink Robotics, Robust AI, and iRobot (the first successful service robotics company). One early iRobot product, Grendel, led directly to NASA’s Sojourner Mars rover. iRobot’s groundbreaking PackBot reconnaissance and disposal robot changed how bomb disposal is conducted. It was the most widely adopted man-portable robot deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, saving thousands of lives. It even helped with the immediate aftermath of the tsunami at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. On the domestic front, iRobot’s Roomba is the top-selling vacuum cleaner in the U.S. and has forever changed how people think about robots. Recently, Brooks has focused on building robots for manufacturing. His Baxter and Sawyer industrial robots are safe, can learn by humans showing them how to do tasks, and can cope with variations on the assembly line unlike any other industrial robot. Technology has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past 20 years. The leading edge of this transformation has been in artificial intelligence and robotics, fueled by the introduction of mobile robotics and advances in machine learning. Brooks has been a visionary, pioneer, and leader in this space.

An IEEE Life Fellow, Brooks is the Panasonic Professor of Robotics (emeritus), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

About the IEEE Founders Medal

Sponsored by the IEEE Richard and Mary Jo Stanley Memorial Fund of the Foundation, the IEEE Founders Medal honors “outstanding contributions in the leadership, planning, and administration of affairs of great value to the electrical and electronics engineering profession.” More information on the Medal and its history can be found here; a list of past winners is available here.

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