My Research Summer Meeting People And Robots At Brown University


by Sofia Juliani

I am a junior at Rutgers University majoring in Computer Science and Cognitive Science. I’m really interested in research and debating questions about how minds work. Artificial intelligence research piques my interest. So, this summer, I joined the Humans to Robots Laboratory through the Brown Computer Science Artificial Intelligence & Computational Creativity Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site. I felt so welcomed. Everyone at Brown, from the professors to the staff members to the grad students and undergrads, were very supportive. The program gave me a peek into the exciting life of a full-time researcher in computer science. Every day was different, with multiple challenges to tackle and rewarding results.

I really enjoyed contributing to fascinating research on a team with a graduate student, a postdoctorate researcher, and a peer in my REU program. Our project’s goal was to investigate how we can instruct robots through natural language to execute different tasks. We worked with the Boston Dynamics Spot robot: an impressive dog-like robot with remarkable skills that include navigating to locations in a map, grasping items with a gripper, and vision from five cameras. We planned to make a new dataset of commands instructing a robot to navigate to different locations in the lab. I helped recruit participants into our lab to give Spot directions for going to landmarks, labeled with orange papers.


Every other aspect of our program was amazing as well. On a daily basis, I made new friends with students and met professors in various research fields at workshops and social gatherings. We lived at the Sternlicht Commons and Brown University Health & Wellness Center, a beautiful and modern building of apartments and single rooms. And of course, there were many things to do at Providence over the weekend, including farmer’s markets, the city’s Waterfire ceremony (my favorite), and the movies at the mall close by. The restaurants were top-notch too. 

I had an amazing experience presenting my work at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium, which brought together undergraduate researchers who had participated in research at all the Leadership Alliance institutions this summer. Many students across the country also did really cool research over the summer. I also met new people at the Brown Symposium, where summer research students present their posters. It was great to make an oral presentation and a poster, and receive feedback.

This research opportunity showed me what it’s like to be an independent researcher working full-time on a project for nine weeks. This program helped me grow as a student and realize I would like to pursue a PhD in a community of motivated researchers, like the one I discovered at Brown.