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The Pransky interview: Dr Maja Matarić, Professor, University of Southern California; Pioneer, field of socially assistive robotics; co-founder of Embodied

Joanne Pransky (Robotic Psychiatrist, Sonoma County, California, USA)

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 7 June 2019

Issue publication date: 5 August 2019




The following paper is a “Q&A interview” conducted by Joanne Pransky of Industrial Robot Journal as a method to impart the combined technological, business and personal experience of a prominent, robotic industry PhD and innovator regarding her pioneering efforts and the challenges of bringing a technological invention to market. This paper aims to discuss these issues.


The interviewee is Dr Maja Matarić, Chan Soon-Shiong Distinguished Professor in the Computer Science Department, Neuroscience Program, and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Southern California, founding director of the USC Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center (RASC), co-director of the USC Robotics Research Lab and Vice Dean for Research in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. In this interview, Matarić shares her personal and business perspectives on socially assistive robotics.


Matarić received her PhD in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence from MIT in 1994, MS in Computer Science from MIT in 1990 and BS in Computer Science from the University of Kansas in 1987. Inspired by the vast potential for affordable human-centered technologies, she went on to found and direct the Interaction Lab, initially at Brandeis University and then at the University of Southern California. Her lab works on developing human–robot non-physical interaction algorithms for supporting desirable behavior change; she has worked with a variety of beneficiary user populations, including children with autism, elderly with Alzheimer’s, stroke survivors and teens at risk for Type 2 diabetes, among others.


Matarić is a pioneer of the field of socially assistive robotics (SAR) with the goal of improving user health and wellness, communication, learning and autonomy. SAR uses interdisciplinary methods from computer science and engineering as well as cognitive science, social science and human studies evaluation, to endow robots with the ability to assist in mitigating critical societal problems that require sustained personalized support to supplement the efforts of parents, caregivers, clinicians and educators. Matarić is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Fellow of the IEEE and AAAI, recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics & Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award for Innovation, Okawa Foundation Award, NSF Career Award, the MIT TR35 Innovation Award, the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Early Career Award and has received many other awards and honors. She was featured in the science documentary movie “Me & Isaac Newton”, in The New Yorker (“Robots that Care” by Jerome Groopman, 2009), Popular Science (“The New Face of Autism Therapy”, 2010), the IEEE Spectrum (“Caregiver Robots”, 2010), and is one of the LA Times Magazine 2010 Visionaries. Matarić is the author of a popular introductory robotics textbook, “The Robotics Primer” (MIT Press 2007), an associate editor of three major journals and has published extensively.



Pransky, J. (2019), "The Pransky interview: Dr Maja Matarić, Professor, University of Southern California; Pioneer, field of socially assistive robotics; co-founder of Embodied", Industrial Robot, Vol. 46 No. 3, pp. 332-336.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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