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Bradford Barr

Areas of study: Mathematics, Cognitive Science
Favorite courses:
Artificial Intelligence, Population Genetics , Genetic Programming

Bradford BarrIsaac Asimov’s stories made Bradford Barr dream of designing robots one day.

Hampshire College gave him the chance to build one.

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“Hampshire was one of the only schools with an artificial intelligence program available to undergraduates.”

A triple-major in math, computer science, and philosophy before transferring here, Barr found all of his prior studies tied in to his investigations at Hampshire on artificial intelligence (AI).

With the support of computer science professor Lee Spector, Barr branched into an area of AI called evolutionary robotics.

This became the basis of his Div III, or senior project (pdf), chaired by Spector and with animal behavior professor Sarah Partan as committee member.

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Barr’s robot, about the size of a round bathroom scale, sports a laptop and a digital camera on top (which the robot uses to “see”), wheels on the bottom, and the potential ability to navigate its way through a cluttered world. 

“Older AI tried to take human intelligence and break it down to distinct modules, like language. They would give a robot a sentence, and try to get it to figure out what that sentence means,” says Barr.

“Evolutionary systems use a form of artificial evolution that doesn’t have preconceived notions. I give the robot a goal, like move forward as far as possible without bumping into things, and allow it to adapt to the situation.”

Success After Hampshire

After graduating from Hampshire, Barr encountered similar challenges working as a team leader for NASA’s Robotics Academy’s Intelligent Framework for Autonomous Exploration Systems at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

His team designed an AI for an exploration system that could perform rudimentary science and exploration without external control.

“Hampshire taught me to take control of my education and my future. Hampshire made me develop that 'go get 'em' attitude and I've kept it.”

After Barr's summer at NASA he was offered two positions within NASA and one in the private sector through a Space Act agreement. He currently works in the private sector.

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