GTRI's Wagner Earns Air Force Young Investigator Program Award for Social Robotics Work

Published: February 13, 2013

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Combining psychology and high-end robotics research, Alan Wagner with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) works to create robots that will interact with a wide variety of people in as many different social situations as possible.

Wagner, a research scientist within GTRI’s Aerospace, Transportation and Advanced Systems Laboratory (ATAS), is one of 40 recipients of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program (AFOSRYIP) award for his proposal “Trust and Trustworthiness in Human-Robot Interaction: A Formal Conceptualization.” Established for the “young investigator,” AFOSR seeks those who have received their doctoral or equivalent degrees within the last five years. The award is for $360,000 over three years. Wagner joins School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Yang Wang as the only two Georgia Tech award recipients.

Wagner’s research interests include social robotics, social learning and human-robot interaction. He joined GTRI in January 2010. Focusing on robot-human interaction in a wide variety of social situations, Wagner’s work draws heavily on theory from social psychology and aims to develop the computational underpinnings that will not only allow a robot to act “socially” in the presence of humans, but will also allow the robot to reason about a person’s own social behavior.

“Alan’s proposal was the only AFOSR YIP winner in the area of robotics, which speaks to how unique and groundbreaking his work is,” said Georgia Tech Vice President and GTRI Director Bob McGrath. “These are very competitive awards, reserved for those earlier career researchers that the Air Force deems as demonstrating exceptional ability and promise.”

In previous work with Georgia Tech College of Computing Associate Dean Ron Arkin, Wagner developed, implemented and tested algorithms that allowed a robot to model and deceive an interactive partner. For this latest proposal, Wagner applies the same framework to the opposite end of the spectrum: trust. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Northwestern University in 1997, his masters degree in computer science from Boston University in 2001 and his doctorate from Georgia Tech in 2009.

Open to young scientists and engineers at research institutions who have shown an exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research, the competition will award nearly $15 million in grants this year. ASOFR seeks to foster creative basic research in science and engineering while enhancing early career development of and increasing opportunities for young investigators who recognize the mission of the Air Force and related challenges in science and engineering.