Dr. Leila Takayama is a social scientist, teacher and an author. She is a computational media professor at University of California at Santa Cruz. She is passionate about  human-robotics and human-computer interactions and in 2019 won a faculty award from Google to research how robots can learn from human peers.

We sat down with Dr. Takayama to find out how she got interested in robots and what drew her to focus on human-robotics and human-computer interactions. But first we need to find out  what is human-robotics and human-computer interaction?  “I think of it as this intersection of a bunch of disciplines: it is really psychology, computer science, and even neuroscience depending on the domain,”she explains.” It is a bunch of people coming together from different disciplines to make technology better for humans. More useful, usable and less intimidating,” she elaborates. Robots are big and scary for many of us and how to make robots friendly to humans is one of Dr. Takayama’s research focus. “The challenge is to make robotics useful for everybody and not just for robot whisperers,” she explains.

Dr. Takayama saw her first robot PR2 at Willow Garage, a Silicon Valley robotic startup. PR2 was a huge 500 pound robot that ran away from Dr. Takayama when they first met. She joined Willow Garage and her project was to make the robot PR2 a little less scary, and more friendly. After Willow Garage she went on to work at Google and switched gears to become a teacher. “Being a teacher was not in the game plan,” she says. She says her path to becoming a teacher was a crooked one and we find out how that journey began at UC Berkeley and continued into her graduate studies at Stanford University.

This conversation with Dr. Takayama is part of our #WomeninStem TV series. This episode is sponsored by Zoho.

This interview aired and continues to air on PBS, Public Media and cable channels in the US.

Here is a partial  list of TV stations in the US that broadcast our weekly TV show.

Do subscribe to our YouTube channel where we feature new interviews every week.