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From left: Professors Jonathan Kelly (UTAS), Natalie Enright Jerger (ECE) and Aimy Bazylak (MIE), who are among nine new and renewed Canada Research Chairs from U of T Engineering. (Photo credit: Jonathan Kelly and Roberta Baker)

Nine U of T Engineering researchers were recently named new or renewed Canada Research Chairs (CRCs).

They are among 56 U of T faculty members awarded CRCs in a fall-spring cohort announcement on June 14 by the federal government. Established in 2000, the federal program invests $295 million annually to recruit and retain top minds in Canada. It supports research in engineering, natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.

The University’s total allotment of research chairs in the CRC program is the largest in the country.

“I want to extend my warmest congratulations to U of T’s new and renewed research chairs,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation. “The work supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program benefits all Canadians by advancing our shared knowledge and fostering innovation.”

The new and renewed research chairs at U of T Engineering focus on a wide range of areas, from clean energy to artificial intelligence (AI).

Professor Jonathan Kelly (UTIAS) was named the Canada Research Chair in Collaborative Robotics. He designs the software ‘brain’ for machines with a wide variety of applications, from self-driving wheelchairs to robotic space explorers.

One focus of Kelly’s research is on warehouse-dwelling “cobots” – short for collaborative robots – that are intended to work side-by-side with people in logistics, packaging and assembly. The machines would be sophisticated enough to respond to a worker’s movements without being told explicitly what to do.

“In a manufacturing scenario, maybe both of you are working on adjusting a bolt on a part, but you need the robot to help support the piece so a bolt can be tightened,” Kelly said.

“We’ve actually looked at trying to program the robot to interpret forces that are applied to the part by the person, because that can guide the machine as to what the person’s intent is.”

Kelly sees cobots in the warehouse as a first step toward a Jetsons-like future where robots are interacting with humans in more unpredictable environments – including on the street or in the home.

“From advanced manufacturing to sustainable energy, our Canada Research Chairs are addressing global challenges and developing entirely new technologies, products and industries,” said Ramin Farnood, Vice-Dean, Research at U of T Engineering. “On behalf of the Faculty, I offer the all my warmest congratulations.”

The full list of new and renewed U of T Engineering CRCs is:

  • Aimy Bazylak (MIE), Canada Research Chair in Thermofluidics for Clean Energy (renewed)
  • Timothy Chan (MIE), Canada Research Chair in Novel Optimization and Analytics in Health (renewed)
  • Natalie Enright Jerger (ECE), Canada Research Chair in Computer Architecture (new)
  • Brendan Frey (ECE), Canada Research Chair in Biological Computation (renewed)
  • Michael Garton (IBBME), Canada Research Chair in Synthetic Biology (new)
  • Jonathan Kelly (UTIAS), Canada Research Chair in Collaborative Robotics (new)
  • Goldie Nejat (MIE), Canada Research Chair in Robots for Society (renewed)
  • Ding Yuan (ECE), Canada Research Chair in Systems Software (new)
  • Wei Yu (ECE), Canada Research Chair in Information Theory and Wireless Communications (renewed)

This story originally appeared on U of T News.

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Marit Mitchell
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