2020 Pioneer in Tech Award Recipient Ruzena Bajcsy

Ruzena Bajcsy has spent much of her career at the intersection of human and machine ways of interpreting the world, with research interests that include Artificial Intelligence; Biosystems and Computational Biology; Control, Intelligent Systems, and Robotics; Human-Computer Interaction; and “Bridging Information Technology to Humanities and Social Sciences.”

In her first faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Bajcsy was the only woman in the College of Engineering. She pioneered a new area of study within the field of robotics, Active Perception, in part as a way to prove herself in this environment. She was the first to argue that robots should be able to autonomously control the movements of their own sensors and other apparatus for interacting with their environment. In 1978, she founded the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) Lab at UPenn, a center for interdisciplinary robotics research that would produce many cutting-edge developments in robotics and computer vision.

One of Bajcsy’s major contributions, the first 3D computer atlas of the human brain, came about because she happened to be in a meeting where doctors were looking at a patient’s brain scans and lamenting the difficulty of locating a tumor using the technology that was available at the time. After working on the problem for six months, Bajcsy and her team created a solution that revolutionized brain surgery, allowing much greater accuracy and saving millions of lives. Another of her innovations, known as elastic matching, is a process in which computers match defined points in the human body with standardized medical images, enabling non-invasive diagnostics of the brain and other organs.

Bajcsy began her technical studies in Czechoslovakia, where she was born, receiving her Master’s and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from Slovak Technical University in 1957 and 1967 before coming to the United States to pursue a second PhD in Computer Science at Stanford University. After 28 years at UPenn, she spent two years working for the National Science Foundation. She then joined the faculty of the University of California – Berkeley, where she is the Director Emeritus of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Science (CITRIS). In a 2009 interview, Bajcsy noted, “My goal in my life has been to make technology useful. If we understand each other and respect each other, and this technology can help do that, then I think I have done my job.”

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