Driggs-Campbell receives Early Academic Career Award in Robotics and Automation


Eleanor Wyllie

Assistant Professor Katherine Rose Driggs-Campbell has received a 2023 Early Academic Career Award in Robotics and Automation from the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society for “contributions to the design of autonomous systems that operate in the real world and interact safely with people.” 

She described herself as “really, really blown away” by the award, saying, “I wouldn’t have received this award if I didn’t have many great champions and mentors here who were able to support my research and nominate me for this award.”

Driggs-Campbell specializes in human-robot interaction. Her team develops tools for autonomous robotics that can operate safely and effectively in the real world, helping people with work, transportation, and everyday tasks. They focus on four areas: agricultural robotics, autonomous vehicles, crowd navigation, and collaborative manufacturing. 

“My lab looks at how we can create safe and interactive systems,” Driggs-Campbell said. “We start with a challenging problem or high-impact application, and then we figure out what fundamental tools we need to develop to solve that problem.” 

Her lab has been looking at how the inherent structure in different problems informs how we assess safety and how people interact with robots. Moving forward, she is interested in scaling interactions to multiple humans and multiple robots and deriving insights about how and why agents collaborate.  

One of her favorite parts of working in robotics is being able to start with something that’s immediately impactful. Agricultural robotics is a good example – working with the startup EarthSense (created by Illinois Computer Science Professor Girish Chowdhary), they are already deploying systems in the field and collecting data. 

Driggs-Campbell has always been interested in developing technologies that can help people. She feels lucky to be part of the robotics community at The Grainger College of Engineering and described the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign as “a good place for balancing theoretical work and high-impact translational research,” adding that “Illinois is a really great place for a group like mine to thrive.”