The National Science Foundation (NSF) has tapped Jeff Trinkle, computer science professor and director of the Rensselaer Computer Science Department Robotics Lab, for a leadership role with President Barack Obama’s National Robotics Initiative (NRI).

Jeff Trinkle

Jeff Trinkle attaches a hook at the wrist of the Atlas robot prior to the ladder-climbing task in the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

Starting Jan. 21, Trinkle will serve as program director for the NSF Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Division of Information and Intelligent Systems, responsible for advancing NRI.

The multi-agency initiative was launched in 2011 to accelerate the development of the next generation of robots that work beside or in cooperation with people. Researchers envision applications for these “co-robots” in manufacturing, civil and environmental infrastructure, health care and rehabilitation, military and homeland security, space and undersea exploration, and other fields.

NSF is the lead agency for NRI. Other agencies include NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

NRI is expected to award grants of about $40 million annually to fund cutting-edge robotics research. Grants to date total about $78 million.

“This NSF appointment provides an extraordinary opportunity for Jeff to help shape the national agenda of robotics research and its ultimate application and impact on U.S. industry,” Provost Prabhat Hajela said. “His selection for this critical post is an affirmation of Jeff’s contributions to the field of robotics and of the caliber of faculty and research at Rensselaer.”

Rensselaer Team TROOPER members

Rensselaer team TROOPER members (l-r) Jun Dong, Shuai Li, and Jeff Trinkle
at the DARPA Challenge trials, which were held at Homestead-Miami Speedway
in Florida.

Trinkle joined Rensselaer in 2003. He has served as chair of the Computer Science Department and as faculty dean of the residential commons, and has won numerous awards for his teaching and research. Trinkle is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which cited his “contributions to analysis of robotic grasping and dexterous manipulation.” He received a Humboldt Research Award for his discoveries in the field of robotic algorithms and movement.

Before coming to Rensselaer, Trinkle was a research scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. He has also served on the faculty at the University of Arizona and at Texas A&M University.

Trinkle has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Ursinus College, a bachelor’s in engineering science and mechanics from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a doctorate in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. He will be on leave from Rensselaer while at NSF, but will maintain his lab at the Institute and will return to Rensselaer when the NSF appointment ends.