Georgia Tech Bids Farewell to Henrik Christensen

Thursday, October 20, 2016

After a decade of service, the School of Interactive Computing KUKA Chair of Robotics Henrik Christensen is leaving Georgia Tech.

Friends and colleagues will gather today to celebrate Christensen, reminisce, and wish him well in his new endeavors. He is heading to the University of California, San Diego where he will be a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering. Christensen will also serve as the director of UCSD’s new Contextual Robotics Institute.

“There’s no way to spin it. This is a huge loss for the College of Computing and Georgia Tech,” said Dean Zvi Galil. “As one of the world’s most well-respected roboticists, Henrik has profoundly elevated robotics at Georgia Tech to a level of international prestige.”

Shortly after arriving at Georgia Tech in 2006, Christensen helped to establish the Robotics and Intelligent Machines (RIM) Center and served as its first executive director. In late 2013, RIM evolved into Georgia Tech’s ninth interdisciplinary research center, the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines (IRIM).

Building on his experience as a founder of the European Robotics Research Network in 1999, Christensen set IRIM on a course to explore both traditional and emerging fields of robotic design and integration.

Today­–with its core research areas of mechanisms, control, perception, artificial intelligence, human-robot interaction, and application systems technologies–IRIM works to train robotics students, strengthen industry and government partnerships, and expand the social impact of its research.

Despite Christensen’s departure, this mission continues. Professor and Julian T. Hightower Chair in Systems and Controls Magnus Egerstedt has been tapped to take the helm as IRIM’s new executive director.

Building Georgia Tech's robotics reputation

Along with developing the prominence of robotics at Georgia Tech through his work with IRIM, Christensen enhanced the Institute’s reputation in other venues as well. Taking a leading role as chair of a national committee of dozens of industry and academic leaders, Christensen made two appearances before Congress to present the U.S. National Robotics Roadmap. These presentations identified key challenges and the research needed to face them in the future. This work set the stage for President Obama and the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative.

With such a high profile in robotics, Christensen garnered quite a bit of media coverage while at Georgia Tech. In 2014, he made headlines with the bold assertion that “children born today will not have to drive a car.” Also in 2014, Christensen was cited by Business Insider as one of the most important people working in robotics.

In an email to colleagues announcing his departure Christensen said, “I do most things in 10-year chunks. I launched an image analysis group in Denmark with my advisor 1986-1996. Then, I moved to Stockholm and founded the Center for Autonomous Systems @ KTH and launched the EU Network of Excellence in Robotics (EURON) during 1996-2006.”

He continued, “I came to Georgia Tech and managed the creation of the Robotics and Intelligent Machines Center/Institute from 2006-2016, and I was the main editor for the U.S. National Robotics Roadmap. But now, it is time for me to take up a new challenge. I appreciate the time at Georgia Tech. It has been very rewarding and I am proud to have helped to create such a strong research center.”

Christensen retains an affiliation at Georgia Tech as adjunct professor until his graduated students have completed their degree programs.