On Saturday, October 21, MassRobotics, a leading nonprofit robotics innovation organization, awarded CS department chair Nancy Amato its first Robotics Medal at the Inaugural Women in Robotics Gala held at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Robotics Medal is the world’s first major prize to acknowledge the impactful contributions of female researchers to the field of robotics.
Computer science department head Nancy Amato has spent years pursuing dual passions: researching robotics and broadening participation among women in computing and robotics.
On Saturday, October 21, MassRobotics, a leading nonprofit robotics innovation organization, lauded Amato for her achievements in these two areas, awarding her its first Robotics Medal at the Inaugural Women in Robotics Gala held at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Robotics Medal is the world’s first major prize to acknowledge the impactful contributions of female researchers to the field of robotics. Amato received a one-time award of $50,000.
To celebrate women’s achievements in engineering and to encourage women in the field of robotics, Amazon Global Robotics established an endowment with MassRobotics in 2022 to fund this award.
“It is an honor to be the founding sponsor of the Robotics Medal and we are thankful for the significant contributions and teachings made by our rising stars and legendary pioneers in that field,” said Tye Brady, chief technologist at Amazon Robotics.
The award selection process lasted nearly one year. Last fall, MassRobotics opened the call for applications. Candidates were nominated by students or fellow faculty members. A team of robotics experts, led by MassRobotics, evaluated the significance, depth, and originality of technical contributions in the field of proposals from around the globe.
Submissions spanned a wide range of robotic technology fields and areas of research. Innovations included new materials for gripping, exoskeletons and assistive technologies, human-robot interaction, and motion planning.
The committee selected Amato for her research on the algorithmic foundations of motion planning, computational biology, computational geometry, and parallel computing.
MassRobotics announced the winners at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation held on June 1, 2023, in London. The conference is one of the major robotics conferences held annually and sponsored by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.
“The Robotics Medal symbolizes an acknowledgment and celebration of the remarkable achievements of women who not only pioneer in the field but also inspire as role models, sparking the curiosity and ambition of the forthcoming generation of roboticists,” said Daniela Rus, Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT and member of the MassRobotics board.
The Inaugural Women in Robotics Gala honored Amato as well as Alyssa Pierson, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Boston University, who received the MassRobotics Rising Star Award for her key contributions to the cooperative, distributed control of multi-agent teams.
The Gala hosted a diverse crowd of innovators, engineers, professors, students, and robotics leaders.
Amato called receiving the award “a tremendous honor,” and thanked teachers, mentors, and students she has met in her career.
“When I first discovered robotics as an assistant professor, I knew it was the perfect fit for me— it brings together so many disciplines and has the potential to contribute to virtually all aspects of society. However, we won’t be able to accomplish what we need to in robotics–or any area – if we don’t engage everyone. And in particular, we need to bring in more women,” Amato said.
Earlier in the day, Amato and Pierson participated in the ongoing Women in Science and Engineering
(WISE) initiative at the Museum of Science. Both women presented their research on stage during a scheduled “Meet the Scientist” session. Then, they met with kids, encouraged participation in related activities, and answered questions from the group.
“I was thrilled to see so many young girls [at the event]–more than half the volunteers to take a try at the alpha puzzle were girls. We need to keep them just as excited and inquisitive through high school and into college,” Amato said.
In the coming years, Amato will continue to provide leadership within the robotics community. She has recently been voted president-elect of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society and will begin serving her two-year term in January 2024. In January 2026, she will assume the role of president.