Top robotics researcher coming to Waterloo from UK

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A leading international researcher is joining Waterloo Engineering as part of a federal initiative to attract top-tier scientists and scholars to do groundbreaking work in Canada.

Kerstin Dautenhahn, one of the founders of the field of social robotics, was announced today as a Canada 150 Research Chair with funding for the next seven years.

Kerstin Dautenhahn

Kerstin Dautenhahn, an expert in social robotics, is coming to Waterloo Engineering from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK.

Dautenhahn is coming to Waterloo from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, where she is a recognized expert in how robots interact with each other and with people, a key field as robots are increasingly deployed outside traditional manufacturing plants.

In all, 24 international scientists and scholars – almost 60 per cent of them women and more than 40 of them expatriates who are coming home - have been named chairs at universities across Canada under a $117.6-million program to enhance the country’s research and innovation excellence.

“Their arrival also represents a brain gain for our country – a country that is earning its reputation for being open, diverse and welcoming to the scientists and strivers of the world,” Science Minister Kirsty Duncan said of the appointments.

Educated in Germany, Dautenhahn will be a cross-appointed professor of electrical and computer engineering and systems design engineering while leading a large, multidisciplinary research program integrating artificial intelligence and collaborating with other experts across campus.

Her extensive accomplishments include breaking new ground with robot-assisted therapy for children with autism, creating an off-campus smart home dubbed Robot House, publishing more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and heading a research team that pioneered studies in human-robot interaction.

Federal funding for seven years

The federal funding commitment is $350,000 a year for seven years. To support Dautenhahn’s research as the Canada 150 Research Chair in Intelligent Robotics, the University is investing almost $10 million in new faculty members, graduate students and infrastructure.

Dautenhahn’s husband, Chrystopher Nehaniv, is also leaving the University of Hertfordshire to become a professor of systems design engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Waterloo.

Nehaniv has authored over 200 peer-reviewed articles in computer science and mathematics, and their applications in interdisciplinary areas. He has held research and academic positions in the United States, Hungary and Japan in addition to the UK.

The two dozen chairs attracted to Canada are coming from countries including Australia, Austria, New Zealand and South Africa. They work in fields including chemistry, microbiology, evolutionary genomics and psychology.