Sarah and Her Robot
Sarah Osentoski ’08G, ’09PhD wants you to have a cute robot.
Like many kids, Sarah Osentoski ’08G, ’09PhD expected that one day she would have a home robot. Now she does—a knee-high, big-eyed robot named Kuri. As cofounder and chief operating officer of Mayfield Robotics, Osentoski was instrumental in dreaming up Kuri, and right now she’s working full tilt to bring her to market for the 2017 holidays.
“People have long been promised this idea of a home robot—in TV, in movies, in science-fiction books,” she says. “I watched Rosie, the robot on The Jetsons. The promise was, ‘Someday you’ll get to have this robot in your house and it will be amazing.’ Kuri is the next step toward that robot future.”
While not as helpful around the house (or as cheeky) as Rosie, Kuri can glide smoothly around corners and obstacles and can communicate in beeps and boops. She recognizes family members and greets you when you come home. Like Amazon Echo or Google Home, she plays music and podcasts. She can take candid video clips and send them to your phone. By intention, she’s more like a smart and lovable pet than a person.
What’s paramount right now is that our robot has an engaging personality so that people will accept it into their homes.—Sarah Osentoski
Osentoski found her inspiration in the UMass Computer Science Building. “I loved machine learning, the idea that programs can learn to get better on their own rather than me having to toil on them,” she says. And she thrived on being around brilliant people pushing robotics from the academic to the commercial realm. She says, “I had strong female role models in robotics, and there were 10 women in my UMass PhD cohort. It’s really important to have friends with shared experiences.” Following this philosophy, she built a diverse team at Mayfield, including many women. “A diverse workforce gives us multiple perspectives on products that will appeal to many people, instead of a narrow segment of the population,” she says. “It’s a good business decision.”
Osentoski’s quest is to make the benevolent robot future she dreamed of as a child in Nebraska a reality. On campus in the spring to accept an outstanding young alumnus award from the College of Information and Computer Sciences, she summed up her work with a smile nearly as wide as Kuri’s, “Home robots are a completely new idea. They did not exist when I was at UMass. I work with a great team in a field that truly challenges me. And it does not hurt that the end goal is a cute robot!”