Rodney Brooks

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Rodney Brooks
Rodney Brooks ML40.jpg
Brooks in 2005
Rodney Allen Brooks

(1954-12-30) 30 December 1954 (age 66)
Adelaide, Australia
Alma materStanford University
Flinders University
AwardsIJCAI Computers and Thought Award
Scientific career
InfluencedAndy Clark

Rodney Allen Brooks (born 30 December 1954[1]) is an Australian roboticist, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, author, and robotics entrepreneur, most known for popularizing the actionist approach to robotics. He was a Panasonic Professor of Robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is a founder and former Chief Technical Officer of iRobot[2] and co-Founder, Chairman and Chief Technical Officer of Rethink Robotics (formerly Heartland Robotics) and currently is the co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Robust.AI (founded in 2019).[3] Outside the scientific community Brooks is also known for his appearance in a film featuring him and his work, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.[4]


Brooks received a M.A. in pure mathematics from Flinders University of South Australia.

In 1981, he received a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University under the supervision of Thomas Binford.[5] He has held research positions at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT and a faculty position at Stanford University. He joined the faculty of MIT in 1984. He was Panasonic Professor of Robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (1997–2007), previously the "Artificial Intelligence Laboratory".

Brooks left MIT in 2008 to found a new company, Rethink Robotics (formerly Heartland Robotics), where he served as chairman and Chief Technical Officer. In 2019, Brooks co-founded Robust.AI where he serves as Chief Technical Officer.[6]


Academic work[edit]

Instead of computation as the ultimate conceptual metaphor that helped artificial intelligence become a separate discipline in the scientific community, he proposed that action or behavior are more appropriate to be used in robotics. Critical of applying the computational metaphor, even to the fields where the action metaphor is more appropriate, he wrote that:

Some of my colleagues have managed to recast Pluto's orbital behavior as the body itself carrying out computations on forces that apply to it. I think we are perhaps better off using Newtonian mechanics (with a little Einstein thrown in) to understand and predict the orbits of planets and others. It is so much simpler.[7]

In his 1990 paper, "Elephants Don't Play Chess",[8] Brooks argued that in order for robots to accomplish everyday tasks in an environment shared by humans, their higher cognitive abilities, including abstract thinking emulated by symbolic reasoning, need to be based on the primarily sensory-motor coupling (action) with the environment, complemented by the proprioceptive sense which is a key component in hand–eye coordination, pointing out that:

Over time there's been a realization that vision, sound-processing, and early language are maybe the keys to how our brain is organized.[4]

Editor positions

Brooks was also co-founding editor of the International Journal of Computer Vision and is on the editorial boards of various journals including:


Industrial work[edit]

Brooks was an entrepreneur before leaving academia to found Rethink Robotics. He was one of ten founders of Lucid Inc., and worked with them until the company's closure in 1993. Before Lucid closed, Brooks had founded iRobot with former students Colin Angle and Helen Greiner.


Robot at Rethink Robotics, 2013. Brooks is at the right in the lineup behind the robot. At left is Steve Jurvetson, the photographer.

He experimented with off-the-shelf components, such as Fischertechnik and Lego, and tried to make robots self-replicate by putting together clones of themselves using the components. His robots include mini-robots used in oil wells explorations without cables, the robots that searched for survivors at Ground Zero in New York, and the robots used in medicine doing robotic surgery.[4]


In the late 1980s, Brooks and his team introduced Allen, a robot using subsumption architecture. As of 2012 Brooks' work focuses on engineering intelligent robots to operate in unstructured environments, and understanding human intelligence through building humanoid robots.


Introduced in 2012 by Rethink Robotics, an industrial robot named Baxter was intended as the robotic analogue of the early personal computer designed to safely interact with neighboring human workers and be programmable for the performance of simple tasks. The robot stopped if it encountered a human in the way of its robotic arm and has a prominent off switch which its human partner can push if necessary. Costs were projected to be the equivalent of a worker making $4 an hour.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]

Lectureships include:

Film appearances[edit]


  • Brooks, Rodney (March 1986). "A robust layered control system for a mobile robot". IEEE Journal of Robotics and Automation. 2 (1): 14–23. doi:10.1109/jra.1986.1087032. hdl:1721.1/6432.
  • Rodney Brooks (1989), "A Robot that Walks; Emergent Behaviors from a Carefully Evolved Network" (PDF), Neural Computation, 1 (2): 253–262, doi:10.1162/neco.1989.1.2.253, hdl:1721.1/6500, S2CID 33987248, retrieved 24 August 2010
  • Brooks, Rodney (1990), "Elephants Don't Play Chess" (PDF), Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 6 (1–2): 3–15, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1016/S0921-8890(05)80025-9, retrieved 30 August 2007.
  • Rodney Brooks (January 1991), "Intelligence without representation", Artificial Intelligence, 47 (1–3): 139–159, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1016/0004-3702(91)90053-M
  • Steels, Luc; Brooks, Rodney, eds. (1995), The Artificial Life Route to Artificial Intelligence: Building Embodied, Situated Agents, Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, ISBN 978-0-8058-1519-1, retrieved 24 August 2010 Alternative ISBN 0-8058-1518-X
  • Brooks, Rodney A.; Maes, Pattie, eds. (1996), Artificial Life: Proceedings of the Fourth International Workshop on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-52190-1, retrieved 24 August 2010
  • Rodney Brooks (1999), Cambrian Intelligence: The Early History of the New AI, MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-52263-2, retrieved 24 August 2010
  • K. Warwick "Out of the Shady age: the best of robotics compilation", Review of Cambrian Intelligence: the early history of AI, by R A Brooks, Times Higher Educational Supplement, p. 32, 15 September 2000.
  • The Relationship Between Matter and Life (in Nature 409, pp. 409–411; 2001)
  • Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us (Pantheon, 2002) ISBN 0-375-42079-7
  • Thrun, Sebastian; Brooks, Rodney Allen; Durrant-Whyte, Hugh, eds. (2007), Robotics Research: Results of the 12th International Symposium ISSR, Berlin & Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, ISBN 9783540481102, retrieved 24 August 2010
  • Brooks, Rodney (May–June 2013). "Robots at work : towards a smarter factory". The Futurist. 47 (3): 24–27.
  • Brooks contributed one chapter to Architects of Intelligence: The Truth About AI from the People Building it, Packt Publishing, 2018, ISBN 978-1-78-913151-2, by the American futurist Martin Ford.[12]


  1. ^ "Rodney Brooks". NNDB. Archived from the original on 25 August 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  2. ^ Companies – CSAIL People – MIT
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c Beyond computation: a talk with Rodney Brooks, Edge, 2002
  5. ^ Rodney Allan Brooks at the Mathematics Genealogy Project.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Computation as the Ultimate Metaphor: "What have you changed your mind about?", Edge, 2008
  8. ^ Brooks, RA (1990). "Elephants don't play chess" (PDF). Robotics and Autonomous Systems. 6 (1–2): 139–159. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/s0921-8890(05)80025-9.
  9. ^ "Rodney A Brooks". ACM Fellows. ACM. 2005. Retrieved 23 January 2010. For contributions to artificial intelligence and robotics.
  10. ^ John Markoff (18 September 2012). "A Robot With a Reassuring Touch". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  11. ^ " – Scientist: Military Working on Cyborg Spy Moths". Fox News. 30 May 2007. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  12. ^ Falcon, William (30 November 2018). "This Is The Future Of AI According To 23 World-Leading AI Experts". Forbes. Retrieved 20 March 2019.

External links[edit]