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Lab News

Lab Highlights: Our lab is known for interdisciplinary research: Kilobots swarm and Termes robots (both in Science), Robobees (NSF $10M Expedition), Self-adaptive Robots (Dissertation award), Social Insects and Tissue Networks (Nature). In 2014, we were featured in Science “Top 10 breakthroughs” and our work has been covered by TED, National Geographic, the Atlantic, Wired, etc. Two robots, Root Robot and Kilobots, have been commercialized. Lab alumni include faculty (e.g. Stanford, Cornell, Olin) and startup founders (Appier, Root). We do many public and K-12 STEM diversity events every year. Finally, our robots have made it to Nature's "Top ten cutest animals" (!!), and our work is in the Boston Museum of Science "Wicked Smaht" exhibit.

  • Sept 2018: Lisa Margonelli's book, Underbug: An obsessive tale of termites and technology, is finally published! With a couple of gripping chapters about our lab's Namibia termite studies, our Termes robots, and our funny-intense engineers.(Wired Article). Also Root Robots are now available for sale, and you can buy them on Amazon!

  • May 2018: Congrats to Florian Berlinger whose ICRA 2018 paper on a DEA-based underwater robot was a finalist for Best Conference Paper and Best Student Paper Awards! Congrats also to Julia Ebert for her AAMAS 2018 paper on collective perception and decision-making. Congrats also to both Julia and Florian for receiving a Bok Center Teaching Fellow certificate of excellence for their great work as TFs for CS189 (Intro to Autonomous Robotics). 

  • Spring/Summer 2018: Lots of new research this year: collective perception and decision-making in robot swarms (AAMAS), a dielectric-elastomer-fin underwater robot (ICRA, finalist for 2 award), and two biology field studies on termites (Namibia) and beavers (Montana). Lots of great outreach too: Melvin and Melinda hosted an all-girls robotics team at the lab; Julia demoed her new "larvabots" at Cambridge Science Festival and is featured in the BrainsOn podcast; Nic, Florian and Randi (MIT) helped host 40 middle schoolers from the Bethel STEM Minority Program for a half day robotics workshop; and Ben and Florian advicated for the grad union. And some fun things: Root was featured at TED 2018, and Kilobots are featured on UCSF Buses! Its a busy year! We are also featured in a nice Harvard Gazette Article, "Onward and upward, robots!" (jan 2018).

  • April 2018: Radhika gave a Distinguished Lecture at Cornell, as part of their new Science Culture Series. The talk "The Pursuit of Collective Intelligence (in Science: 3 New Myths)" is based on the RSS 2017 WiRW talk, and is now available online.

  • Summer/Fall 2017 News: Congrats to Jeff Dusek, who started as an Assistant Professor at Olin College! This summer, Nicole Carey (Nic) and Jeff Dusek led a wonderful summer REU experience for 6 students, from all backgrounds, who worked on a prototype low-cost outdoor robot platform. Nic and Julia Ebert also hosted the Bethel STEM Summer Camp (30 kids!) at our lab. Welcome also to our newest PhD candidate, Jordan Kennedy. Its also been a bumper year for research, with many of our projects publishing their first papers! Swimming robots, climbing robots, turtlebots, social insects and now beavers - we've got it all covered.

  • August 2017: RootRobotics Startup has launched! After a highly successful kickstarter last Nov (raised 400K with 1900 backers), we now raised seed round funding to spin out the company. Congrats to Zee (CEO), Raphael (CTO), Radhika (SA), Julian, Shay, Justin, the extended Root team, and the Wyss Institute that made it possible. Check out our WebsitePress Release, and VideoRooting for Root!

  • April 2017: Radhika gave a TED talk at the Annual TED conference in Vancouver. Here's the TED blog article on it. (Fall 2017) The talk is now online, and you can watch the video here.

  • Talks 2016-17: Radhika gave keynote talks at thethe RSS 2017 Women-in-Robotics Workshop (July 2017), tthe annual Qbio Conference (Feb 2017) and the RSS 2016 Conference (Aug 2016), and was interviewed for a really nice MIT Tech Review Profile article (Aug 2016). 
  • Nov 2016: Root Robot Kickstarter is a success!! We exceeded our target of 250K and raised almost 400K, with 1900 backers. Congrats to Ziv, Rapheal, Julian, Shay and all of the extended Root team. An exciting first for SSR! Rooting for Root! (Altantic article)
  • Dec 2016: Museum of New Zeeland! showcases both termes and kilobot robots in the Bug Lab exhibition at Te Papa. And to our surprise, Prof Todd Zickler visited it with his kids.
  • Fall 2016 Lab News: Congrats to Kirstin Petersen who started her new lab at Cornell University! Congrats to Melvin Gauci, who received the Wyss Technology Development Fellowship! Congrats to Mike Rubenstein, our lab alum now prof@northwestern, who won the Sloan Fellowship! Congrats to Helen McCreery who won the James S. McDonnell Postdoctoral Fellowship! And welcome and congrats to our newest member Julia Ebert, who received the DOE Graduate Fellowship. Lots of good news!
  • May 2016: Serena Booth wins the Harvard Hoopes Prize for her undergraduate thesis on over-trust of robotics. Congrats to Serena! (and check out the awesome video). Awarded annually to about 60 students, the Hoopes prize recognizes the best senior theses accross Harvard.
  • March 2016: Radhika, Mike, Melinda head over to Panama! to study army ants with Simon Garnier and Helen McCreery.
  • July-Sept 2015 We hosted the Wyss Symposium on Bio-inspired Robotics (overview video) in July, with many invited talks including a keynote by Helen Greiner (co-founder of iRobot and CyPhyworks) and talks by Manuela Veloso (CMU) and Raffaelo D'Andrea (TEH). And in Sept we were invited to present our kilobot demonstrations at the Darpa Wait! What?: A Future Technology Forum (St Louis). Finally, Aerobots are now available through Seeed Studio! (how to order)

  • Summer/Fall 2015 Lab News: Congrats to Mike Rubenstein who will be starting his new lab as Assistant Professor at Northwestern! to Monica Ortiz, who is joining Greenwich Academy as a STEM faculty! and to Ben Green who won a NSF Graduate Fellowship this year. Also congrats to two of our alums: Dan Yamins (Phd 2008) who is now faculty at Stanford University and Ankit Patel (Phd 2008) who is now faculty at Baylor College. Exciting times!

  • May 2015 Radhika gave a Keynote Talk at ICRA 2015 (video online). She also gave a keynote at the Go, Girl, Go! event, organized by ICRA 2015 and Washington FIRST Robotics, which brought together hundreds of girls ages 6-18 to have a day of robotics talks, demos, and activities. This was a specail year for ICRA --- Radhika was a member of the first All-Female ICRA Senior Program and Organizing Committee.

  • Apr 2015 Radhika recieved the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Established at SEAS in 2008 by Capers W. McDonald and Marion K. McDonald, the award recognizes leaders in engineering and applied sciences "who, as exemplary mentors and advisors, have significantly and consistently supported the personal and professional development of others."

  • Dec 2014 Radhika Nagpal is chosen as one of Nature's 10 (Ten people who mattered this year).

    Special Feature: Nature's 10: Nature magazine profiles ten people who mattered in science this year: from Andrea Accomazzo, who steered the Rosetta mission to a distant comet, to Radhika Nagpal, who developed swarms of insect-like robots. Nature (18 December 2014)

    And our work on cooperative swarms was chosen for Science's top 10 breakthroughs of the year (Dec 19 issue), with the video article (see 55secs in for videos of kilobot and termes). 

    Cooperative 'bots' don't need a Boss: Robots are getting better all the time at working with humans, but this year several teams demonstrated that these machines can work together, without human supervision...In one study, a thousand robots the size of U.S. quarter coins came together likea marching band to form squares, letters, and other 2D formations. The sheer scale required cheap, easy-to-run robots that could efficiently sense where other robots were... A group of robots, inspired by termites, was programmed to build simple structures cooperatively by sensing progress and inferring what the net step needed to be...More, and increasingly impressive, cooperative feats undoubtably lie ahead
  • Congrats to our research team and alums - especially Mike, Justin, Kirstin and Alex - whose work over the past four years has made this year's awards possible! Kilobots also made to the journal Nature's Top Ten Cutest Animals Video! at number 5, even though they aren't animals but they are cute and stylish when they work together! 

  • Summer/Fall 2014 Lab News. Congrats to several amazing people from our group who are starting new positions: Nils Napp (Faculty! SUNY Buffalo), Alex Cornejo (Software engineer, Oblong), Kirstin Petersen (Postdoc, Max Planck). Congrats to Kirstin Petersen who successfully defended her PhD thesis! and Lucian Cucu defended his EPFL Master's thesis.

  • Aug 2014 The Kilobot Project is published in Science! Lots of media coverage, again!

    Some of our favorites: 
    Boston Globe (by Carolyn Johnson) 
    National Geographic (by Ed Yong) 
    Science NewsBBC NewsNature NewsScientific American
    NPR: All Things Considered, a podcast interview with Michael Rubenstein 
    IFL!IEEE SpectrumWired MagazinePopular Mechanics
    Ars Technica (by Sabine Haeurt!)
    Harvard GazetteSEAS/Wyss Press releaseNSF News
    The Telegraph (India),

  • Aug 2014 Journalist Lisa Margonelli's article on Termites: Collective Mind in the Mounds is finally out in National Geographic! We appear towards the end on how termite collectives are inspiring new robots. Congrats Lisa!!

  • March 2014 Mike Rubenstein's Aerobot won first and second places in three categories: hardware, software, and curriculum, in the AFRON "Ultra Affordable Educational Robot Project" design challenge. Also, Aerobot will be used for the first time this year in a STEM summer camp - i2camp STEM summer camp BUGBOTS - aimed at 5th-7th graders. Aerobot was designed to cost only $10 and can be programmed with the graphical language minibloq. Every kid gets to take home their own programmed robot at the end of the week. Justin Werfel designed the i2camp curriculum.

  • Feb 2014 The Termes project is published in Science! Lots of media coverage.

    Some of our favorites: 
    Boston Globe Article (also here) by Carolyn Johnson 
    BBC News article 
    NPR "All Things Considered", a podcast interview with Justin Werfel 
    London Science Museum, which has one of our robots on exhibit! 
    National Geographic Video on our work. 
    This is Genius Video on our work. 
    Interview on CNN of Justin and Kirstin.

    And more: Harvard Press Release (SEASWyssGazette) Boston Globe (link) and (link) Nature(link), Science (link) (podcast) NPR (link) BBC (link) and (link) Scientific American (link) National Geographic (link) New Scientist (link) Wired (link) Popular Mechanics (link) CNET (link) CNN (link)Washington Post (link) Los Angeles Times (link) The Economist (link) Wall Street Journal (link) CBS News (link) IEEE Spectrum (link) Gizmodo (link) London Science Museum (link) Spiegel Online(link) Slashdot (link) ABC Radio Sydney (link) Newsweek (link) COSMOS Magazine (link)

  • Dec 2013: Radhika and other members of the lab are featured in Exploring Collective Intelligence, a video by the Radcliffe Institute as part of their campaign "Invest in Ideas".

  • Oct 2013: Richard Moore, Karthik Dantu and others from our lab and the Wyss Institute hosted this years NERC, NorthEast Robotics Colloquium, at Harvard University. The sold out one-day event brought together 200 participants (students and practitioners) from 38 different companies and universities across the northeastern United States to develop partnerships and to discuss the latest robotic innovations. article in Robohub

  • Summer 2013: Lab News Congrats to several group members starting new positions! Karthik Dantu (Faculty! SUNY Buffalo) and Yong-lae Park (Faculty! CMU Robotics Institute). Congrats also our wyss colleague, Leia Stirling (Faculty! MIT).

  • March/April 2013: Robobees, Kilobots and Termes are featured in articles in: Discover Magazine : Bug-Inspired Robots, Scientific American : The Flight of the Robobee, CACM magazine: The Rise of the Swarm.

  • Sept 2012: Kilobot won first place in the AFRON African Robotics Network $10 robot design challenge (Wired Article). The goal is to develop a low-cost robot for education in developing countries.

  • June 2012: The TERMES Project is covered on Reuters TV website, with interviews by Kirstin Petersen and Justin Werfel. Also see the Inside NOVA Blog on swarm robotics in our lab. (Feb) Radhika is interviewed on on Robots Podcast and featured in Harvard's Innovation video.

  • Sept 2011 Kteam licenses and announces the sale of kilobots! Mike Rubenstein and Christian Ahler take a 100 robot kilobot demo to IROS 2011.

  • Summer/fall 2011 Nicholas Hoff and William Tyler Gibson both defend their PhDs! Spring Berman accepts a junior faculty offer from Arizona State University.
  • June 2011 Kilobot and Termes Project get publicity! See Kilobot articles on Slashdot (june 18) and IEEE Spectrum blog article. See the Termes project article in IEEE Spectrum's automaton blog article
  • May 2011 Chih-han Yu received the runner-up prize for the 2010 Victor Lesser Distinguished Dissertation Award for his PhD Thesis on Self-adapting Multi-agent Systems, at AAMAS 2011.
  • May 2011 The Cambridge Science Festival: Bots That Mimic Bugs! was organized and run by our group and the Harvard Microrobotics group, at Walker Memorial at MIT. We also held a book at the Science Carnival at the Cambridge Public Library.
  • April 2011 Museum of Science, Robotics Block Party, April 16,: Our lab demonstrated the kilobot robots all day at themuseum of science, as part of the National Robotics Week celebrations.
  • March 2011 Harvard Museum of Natural History, Insect Day: Our lab demonstrated the insect-inspired termes robots all day (9-5) at the museum, with a special talk by Justin Werfel. SEAS article.
  • Feb 2011 Funky Shapes and Pushy Neighbors: Tyler Gibson's work on neighbor influence in cell division was published in this issue of the journal Cell and chosen as one of the research highlights.
  • Jan 2011 Peter Bailis won the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Award. This year's award is given to only three undergraduates in all of North America, for "outstanding research potential" in the field of computer science. Congrats Peter!
  • Sept 2010 Peter Bailis and Justin Werfel's paper on models of bee behavior won Best Student Paper at ANTs 2010.
  • May 2010 The SSR group came in 2nd place! in the ICRA Planetary Contingency Challenge. Our group also co-organized theICRA Workshop on Modular Robots
  • May 2010 Chih-han Yu defended his thesis and received his PhD diploma. Congrats Dr. Yu!!
  • May 2010 Radhika recieved the 2010 Borg Early Career Award (BECA), given by the Computing Research Association's CRA-W committee.
  • March 2010 Our group and the harvard-mit robocup team were featured on the Boston Globe front page article on multi-robot cooperation.
  • Nov 2009 Middle school students from the Citizen's Schools program and Microsoft Research visted our robot lab for demos. One great quote: "Thank you for showing us the toy robot (cricket). I am going to build my own and maybe I could show you."
  • August 2009 Harvard receives $10M NSF Expeditions grant for the RoboBee Project! The goal is develop small-scale mobile robots inspired by the biology of a bee and the insect's hive behavior. (press release) We also got Slashdotted.
  • July 2009: Radhika is promoted to Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Computer Science.
  • Summer 2009: Inspired by an Embryo (Wyss Institute story on Radhika's work). Radhika was also profiled in Microsoft Research's "Global Talent Pipeline". (radhika's profile) (full brochure)
  • Summer 2009: Our group co-organized the Multi-Robot Teaming Challenge and Exhibition, July 2009 at the IJCAI Robotics Exhibition. See the New Scientist article and video on the event (our work appears briefly in the beginning).
  • Summer 2009: Our paper in PLoS Computational Biology made it on to the Harvard Homepage and the ACM techNews (harvard homepagepress releaseacm technews).
  • May 2009: HCES and CS199r hosted the US Open Small-Size RoboCup Competition at Harvard University (May 8-10,2009).
  • Spring 2009: Harvard Magazine Article on Bioengineering and Bio-inspired Engineering (jan 2009). Also see the accompanying movie from our group.
  • Oct 2008: Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering: The mission of this new interdisciplinary institute is to discover and harness engineering principles from nature to create new materials, devices, and control technologies (press release, Oct 2008). Radhika is appoiinted as one of the 14 core founding faculty.
  • Aug 2008: Ankit Patel successfully defends his thesis. Congrats to Dr. Patel!!!
  • May 2008: Chih-han Yu and Radhika's AAMAS 2008 paper is nominated for the Best Student Paper Award. Their demo, with Dan Yamins, is voted second place in robotics category.
  • April 2008: Radhika's origami shape language is featured in the SEED Magazine, in the special issue on Science and Designin conjunction with MOMA's exhibit on Design and the Elastic Mind (page)
  • Dec 2007: Dan Yamins successfully defends his thesis. Congrats to Dr. Yamins!!!
  • July 2007: Radhika and the SSR Robots (lego, chain, and even toys!) get footage in the Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship Video.
  • Spring 2007: The Self-Adapting Modular Robot (and Radhika) get featured in the Faculty Profile in SEAS Newsletter. Radhika also gets the NSF CAREER Award (SEAS homepageGazette Article), 2007.
  • Winter 2006: Crystal Schuil and Matthew Valente appear in the Harvard Yard magazine for their work on collective construction (see photos).
  • Oct 2006: Ankit Patel wins the "Best Poster Award" at the Frontiers of Tissue Engineering Symposium, hosted by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
  • Aug 2006: "Emergent Geometric Order in Epithelial Tissues" finally appeared in Nature Aug 31,2006!! (and on the DEAS homepage). We also received a fabulous 2-page review in Cell by Jeff Axelrod (Stanford).
  • July 2006: We (Valente, Werfel, Nagpal) recently demonstrated the LEGO Mindstorm robots doing collective construction at the Robot Exhibition at AAAI 2006 and are featured on CNet and Wired News.
  • May 2006: Justin Werfel defends his PhD thesis at MIT. Our very first to make it through! Congrats to Dr. Werfel!!!
  • Aug 2005: Our paper on robot swarm formations was featured in Electronic Design's commentary on AAAI 2005, under "interesting sessions"
  • May 2005: Radhika received the Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship Award. She was one of 5 other fellows selected from a pool of 110 nominees representing universities across the United States. (PR news, the New York Times Announcement, an interview on India New England)
  • Sept 2004: The SSR Lab begins.