Berkeley professor named among world’s top innovators

Pieter Abbeel, a UC Berkeley assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences known for programming robots to learn basic household tasks like folding towels and pairing socks, has been named on a list of the world’s top young innovators published in Technology Review Tuesday.

Abbeel, along with 34 other researchers, was chosen from a pool of more than 300 scientists in fields as varied as energy, medicine and nanotechnology. Since graduate school, Abbeel has researched the concept of “apprenticeship learning” for robots, meaning they learn from observing humans do a particular task.

Abbeel’s algorithms have so far enabled autonomous helicopters to perform complex aerobatic maneuverstie surgical knots and fold laundry — tasks that are very difficult for robots because they need to be able to view irregular objects, identify and pick out the target items and figure out how to correctly manipulate them.

According to Abbeel, such robots could be very beneficial to society. Robots that can perform household tasks could be of great use to elderly and disabled people, and robots trained for surgery could perform the procedure with greater precision and efficiency.

“Technology innovation is key to driving growth and progress in the areas of research, medicine, business and economics,” said Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief and publisher of Technology Review, in a statement. “This year’s group of…  recipients is driving the next wave of transformative technology and making an impact on the way we live, work and interact.”