Ruzena Bajcsy was born in 1933 and grew up in Czechoslovakia. Because of the family’s Jewish background, all of her adult relatives were killed by the Nazis in 1944. Declared to be war orphans by the Red Cross, she and her sister remained under the organization’s care until the end of the war. Despite moving between orphanages and foster parents, Bajcsy had no trouble at school and was a good student. Determined to have a career in electrical engineering, she earned a MS degree and a PhD degree in the subject from Slovak Technical University.
Shortly thereafter, Bajscy was invited to study the new discipline of computer science at Stanford University, and so she came to the United States in 1967. She planned to stay in the country for one year. On hearing about the Russian invasion of Prague in 1968, however, Bajcsy decided not to return to Czechoslovakia. She remained at Stanford until 1972, earning a second PhD degree in computer science there.
For the next thirty years, Bajcsy worked at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was Professor and Chair of Computer Science and Engineering, as well as Founder and Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s General Robotics and Active Sensory Perception (GRASP) Laboratory. There, her research showed the importance of touch for object recognition. In her paper, Active Perception, published in 1988, she laid out the engineering agenda for active perception following psychologist J.J. Gibson: “we not only see but we look.” Following this agenda, E. Krotkov (1987) has shown how the visual system works in cooperative fashion using focus and vergence to recover depth.
After leaving Penn, Bajcsy headed to the National Science Foundation’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate. In 2002, she arrived at UC Berkeley, where she is currently a Professor and NEC Chair of Computer Science, College of Engineering. Her research continues to focus on modeling people using robotic technology and is inspired by recent animal behavioral studies, especially as they pertain to navigation.
In her own words, “During my 50 years of robotics research I have been consistently interested and pursued research in connecting perception and action, motivated by psychology and biology.”