FOCUSON:Jeff Trinkle: Researching Robotics
Jeff Trinkle isn’t much of a science fiction fan, although his line of work might make one think otherwise. But Trinkle, a widely recognized robotics expert, has focused his research on developing mechanical human companions that are a bit more practical and a little less socially adept than author Isaac Asimov’s humanoid characters.
“My long-term research goals have been to increase the intelligence and practical skill of robots to the point where they can automatically perform helpful tasks such as repair a broken vase, fold your laundry, and even more dangerous tasks such as aiding in the rescue efforts after a building collapse,” says Trinkle, chair of Rensselaer’s Department of Computer Science.
Trinkle worked in robotics at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico for four and a half years before he came to Rensselaer. The Pennsylvania native earned two bachelor’s degrees in physics and engineering through a joint program between Ursinus and Georgia Institute of Technology. He received his doctoral degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987.
After receiving his bachelor’s degrees, Trinkle worked as an engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California where he studied the properties of fiber composite materials. Toward the end of his two and a half years at the lab, he decided to pursue graduate school and defined his life’s work in robotics.
“I had some internal conflict about my contribution in making weapons, so I decided that robotics would both suit my background and be more beneficial to society,” he says.
Trinkle, who has taught at Texas A&M University and the University of Arizona, returned to his native East Coast to head the Computer Science Department at Rensselaer in 2003.
“It has become increasingly evident that our nation’s academic institutions are not producing enough scientists and engineers to fill all the high-tech positions created by the U.S. economy,” Trinkle says. “The move to Rensselaer is allowing me to have a direct impact on this problem.”
As chair of computer science, Trinkle is working to improve all facets of the department, from the undergraduate experience to the graduate research program.
In the latter, he is promoting collaborative and interdisciplinary research activities that build on existing strengths in the department in data science, computer vision (a field that combines artificial intelligence and image processing), pervasive computing, and robotics.
The department also will play an integral role in shaping new institutional strengths exemplified by the new Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. To meet this mission, the department will expand its collaborations with researchers directly involved in Rensselaer’s biotechnology initiative.
Plans also are being formulated to establish a Data Science Research Center. The center would work closely with Rensselaer’s Center for Pervasive Computing and Networking, which encompasses a multidisciplinary group of researchers from the schools of Engineering and Science.
“Together, these centers and our strengths in computer vision and robotics will form the core in our efforts to advance computer network infrastructures,” Trinkle says. “These research efforts will aid in countless new and improved technological developmentsfrom computer-based implanted biological devices and bridge-monitoring systems, to teams of robots that can be sent into a collapsed or burning structure to locate survivors.”
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