Areas of Focus
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
For his submission, "Interactive Decision-making and Resilient Planning for Safe Legged Locomotion and Navigation", Professor Zhao, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) project award that will support his research that aims to bridge fundamental gaps between state-of-the-art robot task and motion planning and the ultimate goals of safe and autonomous robot locomotion. The work will resolve major computational hurdles that have hindered the use of symbolic planning and decision-making methodologies on the highly nonlinear, hybrid, and under-actuated legged systems, reducing their ability to reliably operate in unstructured environments, efficiently collaborate with robot teammates, and safely interact with humans.
Specific long-standing challenges to be addressed are robustness to contact terrain uncertainty, locomotion task generalization, navigation safety coupled with complex locomotion dynamics, and proactive interaction with pedestrians to avoid collisions. This project will move legged robotic systems from the research laboratory, and into challenging application domains such as disaster first responders, surveillance in civil and mechanical infrastructures, and planting in agricultural environments.
The research is complemented by education activities to (i) integrate undergraduate students into a new experiment-focused research program through the multi-semester Vertically Integrated Program (VIP) at Georgia Institute of Technology; (ii) host high school students from Atlanta minority-serving public schools to perform research and enhance underrepresented population participation in the greater Atlanta area; and (iii) broaden the societal impact by disseminating the integrated robotics research through an interactive workshop.
The project is supported by the cross-directorate Foundational Research in Robotics program, jointly managed and funded by the Directorates for Engineering (ENG) and Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.