This week is the Festival of Robotics 2023 (formerly known as National Robotics Week). To mark this we spoke to STAI CDT student Zoe Evans (2022 cohort) about her research and interest in robotics.
What are you working on at the moment?
For my PhD, I’m working on fairness, robotics, and reinforcement learning. We’re essentially investigating any potential fairness issues that may arise when we train reinforcement learning agents, and we’re using social robotics as an interesting use case to investigate this through.
Why are you interested in robotics?
Robotics is an interesting challenge that is a little set apart from other machine learning or AI research. Because robots operate in the real world, getting them to work well is a completely different type of challenge! This makes robots a really interesting problem to solve. Working with robots forces you to think about problems in a way that is very holistic and presents you with an opportunity to learn about many different areas of computer science and AI that you may not have come across before.
What do you think is important about robotics?
Robotics have the potential to alleviate some of the problems we face in society today and make our lives easier, which of course is an admirable goal to strive for. As robots become more commercial, I think it’s really important to think about the way we use them in society. This involves asking a lot of questions about our values, what people actually want out of robots, and what we really need.
Zoe, you are part of King’s RoboCup team. What is RoboCup and how is being part of the team?
RoboCup is a series of international robotics competitions with the aim of promoting robotics and AI research. The challenges range from robot soccer to home robots, with teams from around the world competing to solve these tasks.
The team at King’s is made up of an incredible group of very passionate people. The team is varied in experience and knowledge and is a really fun, supportive place to develop skills in robotics. I came into the Robot Club at King’s with very little knowledge of robot theory or practice, and all members have been immensely supportive and generous with their time to help me learn.
How do you find being part of STAI CDT?
The CDT, for me, is a very close-knit community. I believe that this has been invaluable in the first year of my PhD, as I feel like I’ve had a lot of support and understanding from the other students with day-to-day research. Being in the CDT has allowed me to see what other research is happening outside of my specific area, and this has really helped narrow down my own interests.