Social robots? MSU's Artist-Lecture guest designs robots that react

During a TED Talk and other performances, Dr. Heather Knight's co-star is not human or even animal - it's a robot. Knight and company will be the final guests for Midwestern State University's 2017 Artist-Lecture Series at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, in Akin Auditorium.

Knight's specialty is human-robot interaction, and she uses her co-stars in an entertainment setting to spark interest in science and technology. Her research involves non-verbal machine communications and non-anthropomorphic social robots. She and her fellow researchers work to create robots that grasp human sociability and convention, rather than asking humans to learn a programming language to communicate with their creations. Designing robots for people means understanding human brain structure because that affects whether motion is interpreted as aggressive or friendly, alive or inanimate.

Knight also runs Marilyn Monrobot, a robot theater company featuring comedy performances by Data the Robot. Data and Knight have been featured on TED Talks for their interactive comedy performance.

In 2011, Knight was named to the Forbes "30 under 30: Science" list. She is an alumnus from the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab. A post-doctoral researcher at Stanford University Center for Design Research and adjunct professor at Oregon State University in the robotics group/computer science department, Knight's work also includes robotics and instrumentation at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and sensor design at Aldebaran Robotics. She completed her Ph.D. in Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.

The Rube Goldberg-type machine used in pop group OK GO's award-winning music video for "This Too Shall Pass" was designed by a team from Syyn Labs that included Knight.

Another of Knight's ventures is the Robot Film Festival, an annual celebration of robots on screen and in performance. The event features screenings of invited films and open-call submissions, live performances by robot entertainers, and a red-carpet awards ceremony. The first and only event of its kind, the festival was founded in 2011 to inject both artistry and playfulness into traditional robotic engineering and to explore the frontiers of the human-machine relationship. The team maintains online video archives and hosts traveling screenings, nurturing a community of creatives and engineers who explore, document, and invent the imaginative world of robotics.

The Artist-Lecture Series was established in 1964 to bring noted lectures and quality programs in the performing arts to the MSU campus and the Wichita Falls community.