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2014 Keynote Speakers

Each year the Global Conference on Educational Robotics features talks by internationally recognized robotics and programming experts from academia, government and industry.

The 2014 GCER speakers:


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Dr. Paolo Pirjanian
Executive Vice President, Chief Technology Officer

The Disruptive Force of Robots in the Home and Beyond - Dr. Paolo Pirjanian, iRobot’s Chief Technology Officer, will provide insight into how robots are disrupting industries, changing the world and impacting our lives. In his talk, he will discuss the challenges of transitioning technologies from the lab into practical products in the real-world which can perform autonomous tasks ranging from vacuuming floors in the home to saving lives in the battlefield. Pirjanian will share his vision with respect to emerging technologies such as 3D sensing, mobile devices, and cloud computing and how they will shape the robotics industry and our future.

Dr. Paolo Pirjanian is the chief technology officer of iRobot and oversees advanced technology development and engineering for product development. Prior to joining iRobot, he served as chief executive officer of Evolution Robotics, Inc. for seven years. Before that, Pirjanian was Evolution’s chief technology officer where he developed advanced technologies for autonomous navigation and computer vision. Earlier in his career, he worked as a lecturer in the computer science department at the University of Southern California and as a researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he received the Technical Leadership Award. Pirjanian is the former U.S. chairman of IEEE Robotics Industrial Activities Board and received the IEEE Robotics and Automation Early Career Award in 2004. He has more than 100 issued patents in robotics and related fields. He holds a Ph.D. from Aalborg University in Denmark.


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Prof. Maja Mataric´

How (and When) Robots Will Become Part of Our Lives and What You Should Do About It - Robotics is poised to take a major leap into the spotlight. Google has acquired many robotics companies, new manufacturing robots are working alongside human workers, the Presidential National Robotics Initiative is supporting research into robotics, and researchers are starting to develop robots for helping the elderly population and other special needs users. But many people worry that robots will take jobs away, and create economic problems. At the same time, there is a growing international debate about whether military robotics and AI should be banned entirely. People continue to be concerned about machines lacking ethics and posing risk to humanity. What does the future of robotics hold? Who is bad, people or robots? Can we create kinder, gentler robots, robots that care? The robots are definitely on their way into our lives. We will discuss when they are likely to really arrive, what parts of our lives will they affect first, what will it take to get them there, and, most importantly, why what you (yes, you!) do about it is a key part of the future of robotics science and technology.

Prof. Maja Mataric´ is a chaired professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics at the University of Southern California, founding director of the USC Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center ( and Vice Dean for Research in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. She received her PhD in Computer Science and AI from MIT, MS in Computer Science from MIT, and BS in Computer Science from the University of Kansas. She is Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and IEEE, and recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics & Engineering Mentoring, the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award for Innovation, NSF Career Award, the MIT TR35 Innovation Award, and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Early Career Award. She is featured in the science documentary movie "Me & Isaac Newton", in The New Yorker ("Robots that Care" by Jerome Groopman, 2009), Popular Science ("The New Face of Autism Therapy", 2010), the IEEE Spectrum ("Caregiver Robots", 2010), and is one of the LA Times Magazine 2010 Visionaries. She is the author of a popular introductory robotics textbook, "The Robotics Primer" (MIT Press 2007). She is actively involved in K-12 in-school and after-school robotics-based STEM programs. Her Interaction Lab's research into socially assistive robotics is aimed at endowing robots with the ability to help people through individual non-contact assistance in convalescence, rehabilitation, training, and education. Her research is developing robot-assisted therapies for children with autism spectrum disorders, stroke and traumatic brain injury survivors, and individuals with Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia. Details about her research are found at


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Dr. Akhil Madhani

Dr. Akhil Madhani oversees research and development of robotic animation for use in Walt Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide, where he has worked since 1997.

At Disney, Akhil has worked to develop robotic characters and the technologies behind them such as the “Autonomous Walking Platform,” an 11,000-pound, four-legged walking robot and “Lucky the Dinosaur,” Disney’s first free-roaming, tele-operated Audio-Animatronics figure which won a Themed Entertainment Association “Thea” award for Outstanding Achievement in Technology. He led the design and development of a life-sized tele-robotic version of WALL-E, the title robot from the Disney/Pixar film by the same name, and was technical director for the Lumière Audio-Animatronics figure which was installed in Enchanted Tales with Belle in Walt Disney World’s New Fantasyland. This attraction also won a Thea for Outstanding Achievement.

Akhil received his B.S. from the University of California, Berkeley, and M.S. and Ph.D. from MIT, in Mechanical Engineering. In 1997 he won the Carl G. Sontheimer Prize for Excellence in Innovation and Creativity in Design at MIT, and in 1998 he won the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Inventorship and was named to the Technology Review TR100. He holds roughly 20 patents for tele-operated minimally invasive surgery and robotic animation. Prior to Imagineering, he consulted in the areas of haptic interfaces, and surgical tele-robotics.