Blending EE with CS: an Interview with Daniela Rus

Interview with Daniela Rus continued

Q. How do you envision the future of EE and CS as disciplines?

Daniela Rus: The most exciting future applications of EECS (e.g. cars that drive themselves, green houses and eco-systems that are self-regulating, transportation systems that do not suffer from congestion, houses that manage their energy consumption autonomously) are centered on the interaction between computation, sensing, actuation, and communication. Turning these application dreams into reality requires interdisciplinary research and I expect this will fuel an even tighter interplay between the CS and EE disciplines.

One topic I am especially excited about is the idea of creating programmable matter: going beyond programming computation to programming the shapes and physical properties of the machines we interact with. Programmable matter will be achieved when we have the ability to build objects whose physical properties—shape, stiffness, optical characteristics, acoustics, or viscosity, for example—can be programmed on demand. This is a considerable challenge, with exciting potential for future payoff, for example, creating desk-top rapid prototyping and 3D visualization capabilities, making flexible paper-like computers, building on-demand objects and tools, creating machines that can actively change their optical properties to become invisible or reflective, or machines that can program their acoustic properties for supporting effective localization or undertaking acoustic camouflage.

The future pf programmable matter is at the confluence of several fields: CS, EE, ME, materials science, and chemistry and it is currently one of my dreams and aspirations for my research. We have some early results that show great promise for creating machines that can change shape, (for example, a self-folding sheet that can autonomously fold itself into origami shapes following origami-style algorithms, and a bag of smart pebbles—1cm cube-shaped computers that can self-disassemble to make different shapes following algorithms that are analogous to digital sculpting). I feel very blessed to be a part of our EECS department at MIT and have the opportunity to work with amazing students and colleagues.

Read more about Daniela Rus.

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