This week, we chat to Dimitrios Kanoulas, UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Lecturer in Robotics & Computation. He discusses the expansion of the Robotics department for the new UCL East campus, and we find out that his other passion isn’t as robotic, but more of a poetic affair.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Lecturer in Robotics & Computation at UCL, Computer Science, working mainly on the cognition part of robots that have limbs, such as quadrupeds, humanoids, and manipulators. I am also involved massively in the preparation for the Robotics & AI huge UCL East expansion and investment. I am member of the panel that designed the two new programmes of MEng in Robotics & AI starting in 2023, and MSc in Robotics starting in 2024. We invest a lot of time and effort to hire brilliant new academics and staff in Robotics for UCL East, while I am responsible of the management and acquisition of robots and sensors for the new robotics space at UCL East, that will provide the right environment for researchers and students to learn and develop accordingly. Among other duties, I am also member of the UCL AI Centre, the UCL Robotics Institute, and I hold the position of the deputy director of the MSc programme in Robotics and Computation. My aim is to bring together all UCL roboticists into a collaborative, diverse, innovative, and inclusive environment.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined UCL in Sept. 2019, slightly before the pandemic. Before that I was Postdoc in Genoa, Italy for 5 years, and before that I was a PhD/Master student in Boston, USA for 6 years. I did my diploma in Greece (Patras) for 5 years, while spent the first 17 years of my life in Epanomi, Greece; the place that I consider my home and my base.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
Being able to be an academic at UCL -one of the top universities in the worldis something I could never imagine, and I am proud of. Research-wise, I am proud that I managed to work on several real-world robots, dealing with all their difficulties, and sometimes providing state-of-the-art solutions. Last, I am proud of the team that I formed here at UCL, namely Robot Perception and Learning (RPL) lab, with amazing students and researchers; without them, none of this would be possible.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list
My UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship is called RoboHike and is the passion of my academic life translated into a grant. The goal is to let legged robots deal with natural terrains, e.g., rocky, to help humans with challenging or dangerous tasks, such as inspecting volcanoes and help with hard tasks in agriculture. Dealing with the cognition and control part of such robots is not easy, but it is an exciting area of research that will affect positively our society as well as humans’ well-being and safety.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
I mainly listen to Greek music, and I have tons of favourite Greek albums, but if I had to choose an international one (and because it is summer), that would be "Californication" - Red Hot Chili Peppers. I could also listen for hours to Bob Marley and Bob Dylan albums. In terms of international films, that needs to be "Reservoir Dogs" - Tarantino (...but I do believe in tipping). Although I could also pick any Al Pacino movie and watch it an infinite number of times. As of novels (and again except Greek ones), I would pick "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", by Richard Bach. I am trying to read it every 10 years.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
"What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet." - Woody Allen
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
I would like to listen about politics, science, and art. I would pick: Noam Chomsky, Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Vladimir Lenin, Ernesto Che Guevara, Yiannis Ritsos, Pablo Neruda, Mikis Theodorakis, Vangelis Papathanasiou, Pablo Picasso, and Isaac Asimov.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Spend more time with friends, travel more, and stop worrying too much.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I like more poetry than science, without any exception.
What is your favourite place?
This should be a Greek island, and for now I will pick Skopelos.
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