Vijay Kumar

UPS Foundation Professor
School of Engineering and Applied Science

How long have you worked at Penn?
25 years

What do you do?
Kumar works out of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory, of which he was director from 1998-2004. “Ours is a research lab with two goals: First, to identify interesting problems in robotics and try to solve these problems to enable smarter and more capable robotic systems. My interests have primarily been in getting multiple robots to collaborate to perform tasks that they individually cannot perform. A second and equally important goal is to train high-caliber graduate students. When we select problems, we have to make sure that these problems lend themselves to scientific thinking, mathematical modeling, new methodologies, and novel algorithms that can form the basis of a doctoral dissertation.” 

What’s the best part of your job?
“Working with the students. As educators, we have the most impact on society by training students, who go on to become leaders in their fields and impact the research and development community. It is rewarding because you see the effort you spend on training students take shape and bear fruits that you never imagined. I try to give students a lot of freedom while making sure there is a collaborative environment where students talk to each other and collaborate on research projects.”

What is unique about your workspace?
“Penn is one of the few places in the world that sustains cross-cultural currents across campus, and GRASP is a great example of this. It also is a laboratory where theory and applied science are naturally integrated with exciting applications. If Ben Franklin were alive today, he would not only be delighted with robotics education at Penn, but he would himself be a roboticist creating machines that would be both ‘useful’ and result in ‘human improvement.’”