By Daniel de Wolff
Hae Won Park has always been fascinated with robots. She cites well known examples from our collective sci-fi media experiences—R2-D2, C-3PO, even Rosie from the Jetsons—as inspirations for her dreams of robot companions. But when she was an undergraduate student at POSTECH, Korea, her research was geared towards the sensing and mechanics of robots. In other words, how robots see, move and balance. By focusing on computer vision, electronics, and locomotion control, Hae Won endowed humanoid robots with the ability to, among other things, walk with humans while adjusting their course to avoid obstacles.
Not long ago, it was fantasy to imagine robots that could enrich our lives due to their social intelligence. According to Hae Won, the groundbreaking work of Personal Robots Group founder and Director Cynthia Breazeal was a key motivating factor for her own shift to the realm of social robotics and human-robot interaction. “I was inspired by Cynthia Breazeal’s pioneering research on social robotics, including the work that led to Kismet and Leonardo. The reason we build robots is to help people—we want to empower people and improve their lives. In order for robots to work closely with us and share our space, they require socio-emotive intelligence.”