It is with great sadness that I share news of the passing of Walter Daniel Stiehl, a beloved member of two groups at the Media Lab during the early 2000s. Dan first joined the Lab as a UROP in the Synthetic Characters Group, headed by Bruce Blumberg. Given Dan's passion for animatronics, he then became one of the first members of the Personal Robots Group soon after I joined the faculty. As a junior faculty member starting a brand new group, I dreamed of a student like Dan. He was passionate about social robots, brilliant and creative, always willing to help others, worked incredibly hard, and always had a big smile. He was a naturally joyful person, but he truly, and I mean truly, loved his work at the Lab, and loved being a member of PRG.
Dan was also a natural leader. My other graduate students were amazed at how Dan was able to organize and lead a “small army” of UROPs to do pioneering work on the Huggable robot. The compelling vision of a pediatric companion in the comforting form of a teddy bear started with Dan, and is the longest-lived project in my group. It has evolved with each technological advancement, dovetailed with the passion and innovative ideas of each new student who has continued the work with great success.
First students play a profound role in establishing the culture of a group. Dan’s enthusiasm, willingness to drop anything to help a lab mate, and his profound desire to create technology that both delights and makes a difference in people's lives live on in PRG. We will miss you, Dan, so much, but your spirit remains with us all.