News Release

New Robotics Hires at UC San Diego

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Six new faculty are joining the Contextual Robotics Institute this fall.

San Diego, Calif., Sept. 29, 2016 -- Laurel Riek works on algorithms that allow robots to solve problems in real-world environments, such as hospitals, homes and factories. Nick Gravish combines robotics, biology and physics to discover how organisms and robots move and interact. They are among a larger group of new UC San Diego professors whose research is crucial for developing safe, useful, and human-friendly robotics systems that are deeply integrated with how people live.

UC San Diego is strengthening its robotics expertise through the Contextual Robotics Institute, which launched in October 2015 as a partnership between the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Division of Social Sciences.

The 2016-17 hires include computer science professor Henrik Christensen, a world-renowned roboticist who most recently led Georgia Tech’s high profile Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines. Christensen will serve as the Contextual Robotics Institute’s first director and some of his research will be done in UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute. 

He plans to help the institute’s faculty and students 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.

Christensen is a leader in setting 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 and explore the field’s potential to transform U.S. society.

He is among the experts giving a presentation at the annual Contextual Robotics Forum on Oct. 28 at UC San Diego, a one-day event featuring talks by world leaders and local researchers developing robotics for the benefit of society. He will discuss big trends in robotics – where the field is going and how it plays into the broader ecosystem of intelligent homes, workspaces and appliances. Learn more and register at

The institute’s new executive director, Todd Hylton, comes to UC San Diego from San Diego-based Brain Corporation, a robotics start up where he served as executive vice president of strategy and research. He is a new electrical engineering professor of practice at the Jacobs School. Hylton said he is looking forward to helping the institute spin out startups, license breakthroughs and feed the robotics talent pipeline in the region, state and nation. He will teach courses focused on enabling technology for robotics and pursue research.

This year’s hires also include computer scientist Ndapa Nakashole, who works at the interface of human language and computers and electrical engineer Nikolai Atanasov, who aims to increase the autonomy and reliability of robotic sensing systems.

UC San Diego hires with robotics-related expertise this year also include cognitive scientists Steven Dow and Philip Guo. Dow researches human-computer interaction, social computing and creativity. Guo studies online learning, human-computer interaction and computing education.

These eight new professors join several others with expertise related to robotics and artificial intelligence hired at UC San Diego in 2014 and 2015. These hires include computer vision experts Ravi Ramamoorthi and Manmohan Chandraker, biomedical roboticists James Friend and Michael Yip, and soft robotics experts Michael Tolley and Sheng Xu.  

Many of the new hires will showcase technology at the forum on Oct. 28. See below for the current list or visit :

  • Thomas Bewley
    coordinated robotics for education
  • Andrea Chiba & Virgina de Sa
    RUBI project, robotic rodent, BCI demo
  • Ryan Kastner
    underwater robotics and computer vision
  • Jinxing Li
  • Laurel Riek
    human-robot drumming
  • Tajana Simunic Rosing
    drones that sniff out forest fires 
  • Curt Schurgers
    unmanned vehicle survey of Belizean jungle
  • Mohan Trivedi
    autonomous vehicle
  • Michael Yip
    snake-like surgical robots, robot motion planning and co-habitation in human environments, artificial robot muscles from sewing thread, and augmented reality surgery 






Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering