Dissertation Proposal: Iterative Design and Prototyping of a Continuum Robot Surface, and its Evaluation in a Use Case Where it “Partners” with Creative Workers

Yixiao Wang, PhD Human Behavior & Design Program, DEA 

Committee: Keith Green (DEA/MAE, chair), Ross Knepper (CS), François Guimbretière (IS)

In robotics, there has been little research on larger-scale, continuum robot surfaces – compliant surfaces that morph to define habitable, physical spaces (physical environments) shaping human activities. The larger researcher team and I will iteratively design and prototype such a surface—what we call a “Space Agent” to: (1) physically reconfigure interior environments, especially those confined, to make “many spaces” within the same compact enclosure; and (2) serve (to an extent to be determined) as a partner to the human worker by providing “human” kinds of support, as afforded by this machine. My research contribution will be specifically the testing and iterative design of the robot surface for the use case of a designer performing a design task in a small work space. 

Research Statement

What if one day, your bedroom could reconfigure itself into a living room, an office, a kitchen, a meeting space, a workshop, etc. to support all you need to do within one space?  What if you could interact with your surrounding environment as if a partner, a friend, or even an extension of yourself? (see animation “A Room Alive” [1]) These ideas may sometimes sound like fantasies, however, current computer and robotic technologies could easily bring at least part of them into reality. Furthermore, these ideas have great potential and important applications in our lives (e.g., Figure 1 shows a reconfigurable autonomous vehicle interior with robot surfaces). The frontiers of HCI and HRI are extending to the spatial.

Teaching Philosophy Statement

My teaching philosophy is rooted deeply in the inspiring and transformative power of love, where a teacher unconditionally cares about the well-being and best benefits of his students. I want to see my students exploring freely, growing happily, and flourishing abundantly while I guide their ways and walk by their sides. The root of this philosophy traces back to my time at UC Berkeley 7 years ago, when I was struggling with English as second language and bad economies at job market. My advisor, professor Ronald Rael, helped me a lot both in my studies and my career. When I asked him why he was doing so much for me, he said “Yixiao, I just wish you well.” That’s the moment I decided to be a teacher who would unconditionally love his students and wishing them well. Since then, I have taught various subjects both as an independent instructor and a teaching assistant at Clemson University and Cornell University. When I look back and reflect upon my pedagogical journey, I see my “root of love” has grown into a tree with several branches, which are my teaching goals forming my teaching philosophy.

Diversity Statement

My own cultural competency is built upon a lifetime of multicultural experiences. Ever since I was a child, I have never lived in the same province or state for more than six years. I was born in a small city in northeast China, Liaoning Province. When I was six, my family moved to a city on the east coast of China in Hebei province. When I was 12, my family moved again to a peninsula in Shandong province, and I left my family while I was 18 to study at “Hunan University” in southeast China, 15 hours’ drive from my family home. After I graduated, I went to California in U.S. for a master’s degree program at UC Berkeley. One year later, I became an intern living in Brooklyn. As soon as the one-year internship was over, I left Brooklyn to attend a PhD program at Clemson University in South Carolina. One year and a half later, my PhD advisor moved to his new job at Cornell University and I followed him. I have been in Ithaca, NY for three years since then.