Equal opportunity luncheon with Prof. Katherine Kuchenbecker, MPI Stuttgart

On Thursday, May 31 and Friday, June 1st2018, Prof. Katherine Kuchenbecker visited ETH Zurich and gave a lecture on “Telerobotic Touch” as part of the Distinguished Seminar in Robotics, Systems and Control series. Katherine is director of the Haptic Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, and member of the review panel of the NCCR Robotics.

In addition to her talk and lab visits, Katherine offered an equal opportunity luncheon for women to discuss issues that affect women in engineering. Twelve MSc and PhD students as well as postdoctoral fellows had the opportunity to exchange on topics including the changing role of women in society, balancing private and professional lives, and how to promote a more diverse environment. The luncheon was sponsored by NCCR Robotics.

In the words of Camila Shirota, who attended the luncheon: “There is increased awareness that (gender) diversity is critical, and standards are changing to reflect this different mindset (e.g., requirements, evaluation of activities, performance metrics). However, change is slow and requires people to consciously increase inclusion, as well as to act as advocates for the cause. In particular, implicit bias is very difficult to deal with because it is so engrained and hard to spot, avoid and get rid of. In general, Katherine’s message to us was to be fearless!”

Katherine is also a member of the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems, a joint research center of ETH Zurich and the Max Planck society, where she supervises Alexis Block who will soon spend one year with Otmar Hilliges and Roger Gassert at ETH Zurich. Alexis has developed HuggieBot, and is investigating how to teach robots to give good hugs – another exciting application of (tele)robotic touch.