Kavraki honored by IEEE Robotics and Automation Society

Computer scientist recognized for fundamental contributions to robot design

By Patrick Kurp
Special to the Rice News

Rice University computer scientist Lydia Kavraki has received the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Robotics and Automation Society Pioneer Award for her fundamental contributions to robot design, including “the invention of randomized motion planning algorithms and probabilistic roadmaps.”

Lydia Kavraki

Lydia Kavraki

“This is a very well-deserved honor for Lydia and a huge honor for all of us in CS (computer science) and all of Rice,” said Luay Nakhleh, the J.S. Abercrombie Professor of Computer Science and department chair. “With her excellence in research, teaching and service she continues to set a great example for all of us — faculty and students alike — and shows us that excellence can be achieved in all three areas simultaneously.”

Moshe Vardi, University Professor and Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor in Computational Engineering, who has been Kavraki’s close collaborator for the past decade, praised her “significant impact on a wide range of problems, which include robot manipulation, space robotics, mobile robot localization and drug discovery.”

Kavraki, Rice’s Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and director of Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute, will formally receive the honor during IEEE’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation June 3 in Montreal.

A native of Greece, Kavraki received her bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Crete and her doctorate in computer science from Stanford University. She joined Rice in 1997 and is also a professor of bioengineering, electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering.

She has published more than 200 journal articles, which have been cited more than 27,800 times, and her h-index is 70, according to Google Scholar. Her most influential paper, “Probabilistic roadmaps for path planning in high-dimensional configuration spaces,” published in 1996, has been cited more than 3,500 times. She is also the author of the textbook Principles of Robot Motion, published by MIT Press.

“Kavraki reconciled the discrete world of computation with the continuous physical world that robots live in through sampling-based, probabilistic algorithms,” said 2018 Pioneer Award recipient Vijay Kumar, Nemirovsky Family Dean of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, who received the 2020 IEEE Robotics and Automation Technical Field Award. “These algorithms revolutionized the field of robot motion planning and her techniques are now widely used today in research, in teaching and in practice.”

A member of the National Academy of Medicine and the Academy of Athens, Kavraki is a fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), IEEE, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the World Technology Network.

In 2017, Kavraki received the ACM Athena Lecturer Award, and she has recently been recognized with BioHouston’s Women in Science Award and the Abie Technical Leadership Award from AnitaB.org, a nonprofit social enterprise committed to increasing the representation of women technologists in the global workforce.

 – Patrick Kurp is a science writer in the George R. Brown School of Engineering.

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