Isaac Asimov’s stories made Bradford Barr dream of designing robots one day.
Hampshire College gave him the chance to build one.
“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.
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.”
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.
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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