Rodney Allen Brooks

Rodney Allen Brooks
Rodney Brooks in 2005
Born (1954-12-30) December 30, 1954 (age 59)
Adelaide, Australia
Residence U.S.
Nationality Australian
Fields Robotics
Alma mater Stanford University
Flinders University
Influenced Andy Clark

Rodney Allen Brooks (born December 30, 1954) is an Australian roboticist, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, author, and robotics entrepreneur, most known for popularizing the actionist approach to robotics. He was a Panasonic Professor of Robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a founder and former Chief Technical Officer of iRobot[1] and co-Founder, Chairman and Chief Technical Officer of Rethink Robotics (formerly Heartland Robotics). Outside the scientific community Brooks is also known for his appearance in a film featuring him and his work, Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.[2]


Brooks received a M.A. in pure mathematics from Flinders University of South Australia.

In 1981, he received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University under the supervision of Thomas Binford.[3] He has held research positions at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT and a faculty position at Stanford University. He joined the faculty of MIT in 1984. He was as Panasonic Professor of Robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (1997 - 2007), previously "Artificial Intelligence Laboratory".

Brooks left MIT in 2008 to found a new company, Rethink Robotics (formerly Heartland Robotics), where he serves as chairman and Chief Technical Officer.


Academic work

Instead of "computation" as the ultimate conceptual metaphor that helped Artificial Intelligence become a separate discipline in scientific community, he proposed that "action" or behavior are more appropriate to be used in robotics. He wrote, critical of applying the computational metaphor even to the fields where the action metaphor is more appropriate, that:

Some of my colleagues have managed to recast Pluto's orbital behavior as the body itself carrying out computations on forces that apply to it. I think we are perhaps better off using Newtonian mechanics (with a little Einstein thrown in) to understand and predict the orbits of planets and others. It is so much simpler.[4]

In his 1990 paper, "Elephants Don't Play Chess",[5] Brooks argued that in order for robots to accomplish everyday tasks in an environment shared by humans, their higher cognitive abilities, including abstract thinking emulated by symbolic reasoning, need to be based on the primarily sensor-motor interaction ("action") with the environment, complemented by proprioceptive sense which is a key component in hand-eye coordination, pointing out that:

Over time there's been a realization that vision, sound-processing, and early language are maybe the keys to how our brain is organized.[2]
Editor positions

Brooks was also co-founding editor of the International Journal of Computer Vision and is on the editorial boards of various journals including:

  • Adaptive Behavior
  • Artificial Life MIT Press Journal
  • Applied Artificial Intelligence
  • Autonomous Robots Journal
  • New Generation Computing


He experimented with off-the-shelf components, such as Fischer Technik and Lego, and tried to make robots self-replicate by putting together clones of themselves using the components. His robots were put to use, as well. They include the mini-robots that were put to use in oil wells explorations without cables, the robots that searched for survivors at Ground Zero in New York, and the robots used in medicine doing robotic surgery.[2]


In the late 1980s, Brooks and his team introduced Allen, a robot using subsumption architecture. Currently, Brooks' work focuses on engineering intelligent robots to operate in unstructured environments, and understanding human intelligence through building humanoid robots.

Main article: Baxter (robot)

Introduced in 2012 by Rethink Robotics, an industrial robot named Baxter was intended as the robotic analogue of the early personal computer designed to safely interact with neighboring human workers and be programmable for the performance of simple tasks. The robot stopped if it encountered a human in the way of its robotic arm and has a prominent off switch which its human partner can push if necessary. Costs were projected to be the equivalent of a worker making $4 an hour.[7]


Lectureships include:

Film appearances

  • Being himself in the 1996 Errol Morris movie Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (named after one of his scientific papers)
  • cyborg insects on FOXNews[8]
  • Rodney's Robot Revolution (2008)

Selected publications

  • Alernative ISBN 0-8058-1518-X
  • K. Warwick "Out of the Shady age: the best of robotics compilation", Review of Cambrian Intelligence: the early history of AI, by R A Brooks, Times Higher Educational Supplement, p. 32, 15 September 2000.
  • The Relationship Between Matter and Life (in Nature 409, pp. 409–411; 2001)
  • Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us (Pantheon, 2002) ISBN 0-375-42079-7


External links

  • Rethink Robotics
  • TED in 2013
  • TED in 2003
  • Home page
  • The Deep Question Interview with Rodney Brooks by Edge
  • The Past and Future of Behavior Based Robotics Podcast Interview with Rodney Brooks by Talking Robots
  • Intelligence Without Reason seminal criticism of Von Neumann computing architecture
  • BBC article
  • CSAIL Rodney A. Brooks Biography
  • MIT: Cog Shop
  • MIT: Rodney Brooks
  • Rodney A. Brooks Biography
  • Rodney A. Brooks Publications
  • Rodney's Robot Revolution (2008)

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