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Professor Angela Schoellig (UTIAS) is a leading expert in autonomous robotics, and one of six recipients of this year’s Arthur B. McDonald Fellowships from NSERC. (Photo: Humboldt-Stiftung/Elbmotion)

Professor Angela Schoellig (UTIAS) has earned an Arthur B. McDonald Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

The award will further accelerate Schoellig’s leading-edge research into autonomous robotics for a variety of applications, from environmental monitoring to visual inspection of construction sites.

“Today, most robots operate in carefully controlled environments, or else they require an operator or pilot, which limits the ways they can be used,” says Schoellig.

“In my lab, we are making use of artificial intelligence and advanced control algorithms to enable robots to learn from experience, adapt to changing circumstances and teach themselves the best ways to complete complex tasks. This ability will unlock their potential to be used in uncontrolled environments, and to do things that robots currently cannot.”

In the future, self-guided drones powered by algorithms developed by Schoellig and her team could run regular inspection flights over construction sites, mines or other installations. The monitoring data they provide could help reduce environment impacts, improve safety, and increase productivity. In case of bad weather or other hazards, the drones could fly themselves safely back to base.

These innovative approaches could also help power the next generation of self-driving vehicles: Schoellig has been one of the faculty advisors for aUToronto, a student team that is currently leading the pack in the four-year AutoDrive Challenge™ II, an intercollegiate autonomous vehicles competition.

A rich network of industry partnerships helps ensure that the insights developed in Schoellig’s lab find their way into the marketplace. Partner companies have spanned multiple sectors, including aerospace (MDA Robotics, Solar Ship), transportation (Drone Delivery Canada, General Motors), automation (Epson), energy (Ontario Power Generation) and mining (McEwen).

Schoellig recently took up an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at the Technical University of Munich. She also continues to hold the Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning for Robotics and Control at U of T Engineering, as well as a Canada CIFAR Chair in Artificial Intelligence.

Up to six Arthur B. McDonald Fellowships are given out by NSERC to researchers from across Canada each year. Previously known as the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships, the annual awards recognize early stage academic researchers in the natural sciences and engineering and to enhance their research capacity so that they can become leaders in their field.

“I’m very honoured to be named in this year’s cohort of Arthur B. McDonald Fellowship recipients,” says Schoellig. “It will of course enhance the important research we are doing in Canada, but I also hope it will help inspire the next generation, especially young women, to see what they can achieve with a career in STEM.”

“Professor Schoellig’s innovative work is at the leading edge of two fields — AI and robotics — that have tremendous potential to generate new technologies, solutions and businesses over the next couple of decades,” says Christopher Yip, Dean of U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

“It’s wonderful to see her recognized on the national stage, as she engages and advances this research internationally. On behalf of the Faculty, I extend her enormous congratulations.”

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