Queen’s Engineering alumnus gift funds the future of human-machine collaboration research

Posted on February 04, 2021

A transformational gift from philanthropist and Queen’s alumnus Bruce Mitchell (Sc’68, DSc'20) has enabled the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science to expand its investment in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and human-machine collaboration research, and the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute. Announced today is the installation of five professorships across three departments in the Faculty of Engineering.

“Society and technology evolve as codependent systems,” says Josh Marshall, Interim Director at Ingenuity Labs. “This gift is very meaningful for us, allowing us to establish areas of research expertise that explore vital connections between people and technology. Dr. Mitchell’s contributions will ultimately improve human lives through fields including healthcare, intelligent infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and even transportation.”

This major gift, originally announced in 2017, has supported the building of Mitchell Hall and the creation of the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute, both of which opened in 2019. As well, it provides funding for an endowed Chair which will be held by an internationally recognized researcher in the fields of intelligent systems and/or applied artificial intelligence.

The gift advances not only research in advanced technologies—such as in AI and robotics—but in how humans work together with these innovations for the betterment of society. As such, each of the professorships are affiliated with the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute, the interdisciplinary initiative at Queen’s University focused on combining AI, robotics, and human-machine collaboration to create future intelligent systems and robotic machines that enhance human productivity, safety, performance, and quality of life across a number of modern applications. Although housed within the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Ingenuity Labs boasts membership from multiple faculties at Queen’s.

Mitchell Professors
Mitchell Professors (clockwise from top left) Ali Etemad, Joshua Woods, Xiaodan Zhu, Amy Wu, and Matthew Robertson.

Strategically selected junior faculty members in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science will receive salary support, research stipends and infrastructure funds. The five Mitchell Professors began their five-year terms in January 2021.

Dr. Amy R. Wu (Mitchell Professor in Bio-Inspired Robotics) is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, where she is the head of the Biomechanics x Robotics Laboratory (BxRL). Her research interests are at the intersection of human biomechanics and robotics with the aim of augmenting human mobility. She is interested in utilizing a first-principles approach to understand the mechanics and energetics of human movement and to apply those principles to robots.

Dr. Ali Etemad (Mitchell Professor in AI for Human Sensing and Understanding) is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering where he leads the Ambient Intelligence and Interactive Machines (Aiim) lab. His main area of research is machine learning and deep learning focused on human-centered applications with wearables, smart devices, and smart environments.

Dr. Matthew Robertson (Mitchell Professor in Soft and Multi-Material Robotics) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. Active in the fields of bioinspired, soft, and multi-material robotic systems design, his work is dedicated to redefining the boundaries of performance, morphology, and applications of robots that can operate in more complex and challenging “real world” environments by utilizing advanced manufacturing, embedded control, and holistic system design techniques.

Dr. Joshua Woods (Mitchell Professor in Intelligent Infrastructure Monitoring) is an Assistant Professor and researcher in the Department of Civil Engineering. His research can be broadly categorized into three primary areas of specialization: the use of high-performance materials and structural systems for seismic resilience, large-scale experimental testing and the development of advance test methods (e.g. hybrid simulation) for full-scale civil structures; and the application of advanced sensors for structural monitoring and condition assessment of structures.

Dr. Xiaodan Zhu (Mitchell Professor in Text Analytics and Machine Learning) is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a Faculty Affiliate at the Vector Institute. His research field is in machine learning, natural language processing, and AI.

“Each of our Mitchell Professors is a global leader in their field,” said Kevin Deluzio, Dean of Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. “The creation of the Mitchell Professorships accelerates Queen’s status as a driving force in research in intelligent systems engineering and applied AI. We could not be prouder of each of these researchers, and are grateful to Mr. Mitchell for his support in establishing these professorships and helping us recognize excellence within our faculty while supporting vital work and future discoveries.”

Research support is given to each Mitchell Professor in the form of a research stipend and access to infrastructure funding.  Stipend funding can be used, for instance, for student salaries and for conducting research within Ingenuity Labs, or for travel to meet industrial partners or field research. The aim is to be results-oriented and liberal in the potential use of the funds, with the goal of maximizing impact in attracting future funding to the Institute and Queen’s.

Professorship holders were informed shortly before the 2020 holiday season. All Mitchell Professors will be profiled by Queen’s Engineering, with more details on their fields of research, in the coming months.