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Yoky Matsuoka

Yoky Matsuoka
Born c. 1972
Fields Computer science
Institutions University of Washington;
Carnegie Mellon University;
Barrett Technology;
Nest Labs
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1998, PhD)
Notable awards MacArthur Fellows Program

Yoky Matsuoka (born c. 1972 in Japan) is the Vice President of Technology at Nest, where she is in charge of UX and the learning aspects of Nest's thermostat. Previously, she was an associate professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, director of that university's Neurobotics Laboratory, director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. She is a 2007 MacArthur Fellow, commonly referred to as Genius Award. At UW, her research combined neuroscience and robotics—sometimes referred to by Matsuoka by the portmanteau neurobotics—to create more realistic prosthetics.[1]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Research 3
  • Industry 4
  • Personal life 5
  • Notes 6
  • External links 7

Early life and education

She was born in Japan and moved to California at the age of 16.[2] In her youth, she was a semi-professional tennis player, once ranking 21st in Japan,[3] but was eventually sidelined by injuries (she broke her ankle for the third time); her interest in robotics began with the idea of a robotic tennis player, which she later decided was unrealistic.[4]

She received her B.S. degree in 1993 from the University of California, Berkeley and an M.S. (1995) and PhD (1998) in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1][5]


Outside academia, she was chief engineer at Barrett Technology in 1995 and 1996 where she developed the microcode for the BarrettHand. From 2001 to 2006 she was an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University,[1] where, from 2004, she held the Anna Loomis McCandless Faculty Chair.[6] Before her MacArthur, she received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2004) and an IEEE Early Career Award in Robotics and Automation (2005).[1][6]


An example of her work is a lifelike robotic hand, modeled bone-by-bone from a human hand, with multiple motors each corresponding to muscles and with strings playing the role of tendons along each digit. Her intent is that nervous system signals would ultimately be able to control the electronic replica in the same manner as a natural appendage. To this end, her work uses such means as measuring the electric current along each muscle in the hand as a person reaches for and grasps an object and having patients do virtual reality exercises with an oversized arm so that errors are more apparent. Matthew O'Donnell, dean of the U.W. College of Engineering characterizes her as "a mechanical engineer, neuroscientist, bioengineer, robotics expert and computer scientist, all in one… [with] …the ability to see what is possible by combining all these disciplines."[1] The MacArthur Foundation characterizes her work as "transforming our understanding of how the central nervous system coordinates musculoskeletal action and of how robotic technology can enhance the mobility of people with manipulation disabilities.[5]


In 2011, she joined Google X as one of its three founding members. There she helped on-boarding Babak Parviz (who led the Google Glass team) and developed Google X's portfolio in medical space. She then joined Nest as VP of Technology, in charge of machine learning and UX. There she led the development of the adaptive component of the Nest Thermostat, which is a key component of the product to date. Her work has saved the US hundreds of billions of dollars in energy expenses.

Personal life

She is married to a computer vision specialist[3] and has four children.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e Hickey, Hannah. "UW computer engineer wins MacArthur Foundation 'genius' award". September 24, 2007. University of Washington Office of News and Information. Retrieved December 5, 2007. 
  2. ^ Neil Degrasse Tyson, Profile: Yoky Matsuoka, PBS, July 16, 2008. Accessed online August 4, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Sandi Doughton and Kyung M. Song, 2 local researchers win $500,000 MacArthur "genius awards", Seattle Times, September 24, 2007. Accessed online December 5, 2007.
  4. ^ Eric Wagner, MacArthur Foundation gives local researcher a hand, Northwest Asian Weekly, November 3, 2007. Accessed online December 5, 2007.
  5. ^ a b Yoky Matsuoka, MacArthur Foundation. Accessed online December 5, 2007.
  6. ^ a b c Yoky Matsuoka, official page at the University of Washington. Accessed online December 5, 2007.

External links

  • Official page at the University of Washington
  • Microsoft Research, Understanding Human Movements to Enhance HCI Environments, Research Channel, September 29, 2005, 1:18:20 video about Matsuoka
  • Neurobotics Laboratory, archived site of her Neurobiotics Laboratory at CMU.
  • UW Neurobotics Laboratory, archived site for UW Neurobotics Laboratory
  • Neuralengineering Center, nascent Pacific Northwest research collaboration center
  • Yoky Matsuoka on the site of the MacArthur Foundation.
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