Laurel Riek's passion is creating robotics technology that can automatically sense, understand, and respond to human behavior. Why? It "makes new things possible for humans: for instance, to save lives by improving patient safety; to give an aging population the independence they need to continue living where and as they please; and to enable people with disabilities." Work on one of her current projects, funded by the National Science Foundation Early CAREER award program, involves designing new kinds of high-fidelity robotic patient simulator systems that can express patient signals of pain, stroke, and neurological impairment. These facial clues help doctors and nurses, as well as EMTs and other first responders, more effectively communicate with patients so when care givers practice on the simulators, they are honing their diagnostic and treatment skills.
She's not the only one who dreams robots and humans interacting. A book by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, "House of Robots," takes place in South Bend, IN, and features a fictional robotics professor who invents remarkable robots able to interact with the world and people within it. The character is fictional but the research here is real and is bring us closer to the day that robots can serve as helpers in complex human environments.
Riek, , was named one of the American Society for Engineering Education's 20 Faculty Under 40. She has also been involved in developing and enhancing robotics courses at Notre Dame and community outreach programs to introduce children to robotics and careers in engineering.