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COOL CAREERS IN SCIENCE

Photo of Manuela Veloso Meet Manuela Veloso.

With her students at Carnegie Mellon University, Manuela designs soccer-playing robots that have won international RoboCup competitions. How cool is that?!
Question What inspired you to become a computer scientist and to design robots?
Answer I actually did not think of designing robots right from the beginning of my career. First I only thought about making computers and machines in general more "intelligent," i.e., with the ability to support humans, doing many tasks automatically. So I started working on computer algorithms that would do automatic planning, i.e., a user specifies a set of available actions, an initial state of the world, and a goal statement, and the computer planner generates automatically the sequence of actions that transform the initial state into another state where the goal is satisfied. Planning is a very interesting problem that gets to be very complex for specific sets of actions, states, and goals. My Ph.D. thesis involved inventing a planning algorithm that could efficiently handle complex problems by retrieving, adapting, and merging previously generated plans that solved similar simpler problems.

I got inspired to actually work with real robots by Allen Newell, who was the co-founder with Herbert Simon, of the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. Allen Newell passed away in 1992. In his last years, he inspired me with the real challenge of generating complete AI artifacts that would integrate planning, learning, and real action.

So from planning to robots is not at much of a big step, as robots need to effectively take actions to achieve goals. So I became interested in the problem of building real intelligent robots that could act and achieve goals and learn to build upon their past experience. My interests concentrated also on multiple robots, as I always looked at complex tasks that require merging multiple plans, and I could view it also as combining multiple robots.
Question What do you do during a typical day at work?
Answer I teach and I do research. I teach undergraduate and graduate students, and I do research with my graduate students. I write papers with my students on our research advances. And I also reply to lots of email!
Question What do you enjoy most about your work? Is there anything about it you don't like?
Answer Doing the research with my graduate students. And teaching. I like it all!
Question If I'm a student thinking about a career designing and building robots, what can I do now to prepare?
Answer Do well what you are interested in. Get a solid mathematical and engineering background. Biology and cognitive science are also very relevant for building robots. Get a broad view of what you think robots can be useful for.
Question Is there anything else you'd like to let Frontiers viewers know about yourself or your career?
Answer Feel free to browse on my Web page at www.cs.cmu.edu/~mmv/ to learn more about my research interests and the technical details underlying them.

If you would like to know more about Manuela Veloso, you can read a brief biography. You can also read her answers to questions that were asked by viewers following Natural Born Robots.



 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.