CITRIS launches “People and Robots” Initiative, updates three other research initiatives

CITRIS launches "People and Robots" Initiative, updates three other research initiatives

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) today announces the launch of the CITRIS People and Robots Initiative, a major new multidisciplinary research program. The initiative will support efforts by faculty and students working on robotics from the four CITRIS campuses: UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. Building on 40 years of robotics research, a network of alumni, and many active labs and projects, the Initiative will draw on innovations in sensors, devices, UAVs, networks, optimization, and machine learning to improve human experience in healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, safety, and a broad range of other applications that can benefit society.

“The People and Robots Initiative will catalyze new research in engineering, computer science and the humanities that focuses on the central role of humans,” says Ken Goldberg, Faculty Director of the People and Robots Initiative.

In addition to launching the new CITRIS People and Robots Initiative, CITRIS is adapting its other major research initiatives, a recalibration that responds to the shifting technological landscape, to evolving societal trends and challenges, and to the institute’s emerging strengths.

This reorganization of CITRIS’s initiatives will position it to advance information technology (IT) solutions, use IT to bolster resilience in physical systems and the built environment, and amplify IT’s benefits to society as we enter an era challenged by aging and urbanizing populations; climate change; and cultural, economic, and environmental disruptions.

“The systems we’re building are increasingly distributed and interrelated, as are their effects on society,” says CITRIS Deputy Director Camille Crittenden. “As a multidisciplinary research center, CITRIS is well positioned to take an integrated approach.”

CITRIS is one of four Governor Gray Davis Institutes for Science and Innovation formed by the State of California in 2001. Its mandate is to develop IT solutions that address many of the state’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. Today’s announcement highlights a new slate of four research initiatives: the CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures Initiative, the CITRIS Connected Communities Initiative, the CITRIS People and Robots Initiative, and the CITRIS Health Initiative. Detail on each new program is described below.

CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures

Information technology offers valuable solutions to a world straining under growing energy demands on one hand and the negative byproducts of conventional energy production on the other. To help better address these challenges, CITRIS is combining and expanding its previous initiatives in Energy and Intelligent Infrastructure. The new product of this merger, the CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures Initiative, will pursue IT research in energy, water, and transportation as critical elements of the cyber-infrastructure for a sustainable society. IT advances over the past fifteen years have also exposed a growing vulnerability to physical and technological system failures, both intentional and accidental. The new Initiative aims to improve the efficiency, coordination, security, intelligence, and robustness of these systems.

Also included under CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures is research pertaining to climate change, architecture, building construction, and transportation. “A truly intelligent infrastructure measures itself, diagnoses itself, can defend itself from cyber attack, and at the same time observes the issues of energy efficiency and climate change,” says CITRIS Director Costas Spanos.

“The new initiative leverages the strengths of our current IT research in energy, water, transportation and the built environment—all essential and interrelated systems for a more resilient society,” says David Culler, Faculty Director of the CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures Initiative.

CITRIS Connected Communities

The CITRIS Connected Communities Initiative emerges from a long history of projects to improve communications among community members and the elected officials, policymakers and institutions making decisions on their behalf. The Data and Democracy Initiative, founded in 2011 and a precursor to the new Initiative, showcased and supported such projects regarding political, social and economic issues. Deploying emerging digital technologies to enhance civic engagement in California and around the world has been one priority. Voter education for historically disenfranchised populations, including minorities and disabled people, has been another.

Building on the strengths of the previous initiative, the new CITRIS Connected Communities Initiative supports collaborative discovery, design, and governance through new technologies that enhance education, creative work, and public engagement. As one example, the research will pursue ways to facilitate communication between designers, such as architects, and citizens who are the users or occupants of their designs. Emerging DIY communities and citizen-science-based models for informal education will also be focal areas of this initiative. Online education is included under its purview to examine methods for enhancing peer-to-peer learning and community-strengthening within massive open online courses (MOOCs). The new initiative will also investigate how open data movements and a growing awareness of information and communications technology (ICT) policy can inspire new tools for citizens, governments, and businesses.

“We are excited to build on previous accomplishments by bringing enhanced attention to design principles and creative user interfaces in an expanded range of domains,” says Bjoern Hartmann, Faculty Director of the CITRIS Connected Communities Initiative. “The Initiative will support robust participation in public life, especially for those in under-served or marginalized communities.”

CITRIS People and Robots

Primary research themes in the new CITRIS People and Robots Initiative include cloud robotics, deep learning, human-centric automation, and bio-inspired robotics. Robotics and automation are advancing rapidly due to innovations in sensors, devices, UAVs, networks, optimization, and machine learning. This progress has been accelerated by increases in corporate and private investment. Achieving maximum benefit from these advances will require sensitivity to human issues, rigorous theory evaluated on standard benchmarks, and modular systems built on shared software toolkits.

People and robots are not mutually exclusive. Predictions of the “Singularity” are a distraction from a more important concept that might be characterized as “Multiplicity,” an emerging category of systems where diverse groups of humans work together with diverse groups of machines to solve difficult problems. Multiplicity combines emerging results in collective intelligence and cloud computing, building on research in ensemble learning, big data, open-source software. Research in psychology, law, ethics, art, and the humanities are essential to provide historical and cultural context and develop appropriate methods for system and policy design that address human issues such as inclusion, privacy, and alienation. Robotics can also enhance education, inspiring interest in STEM topics for students of all ages.

Multidisciplinary research is needed to investigate the basic and applied science for the design of systems and robust performance, addressing the inherent uncertainty in sensing, modeling, and actuation used for control, learning, and systems identification Cloud Computing can provide access to large datasets and clusters of remote processors to filter, model, optimize, and share data across systems to improve performance over time.

This new multidisciplinary, multi-campus CITRIS initiative will address these challenges by catalyzing new research and developing new software, datasets, seminars and collaborations with industry, labs, and public outreach.


CITRIS is broadening its health-focused thrust in response to three major trends: First, the aging population in the U.S. and developed countries around the world places presents new challenges to the existing healthcare infrastructure. Second, the maturation of precision and preventive medicine opens up new possibilities for advanced data analytics and applications. Third, the proliferation of versatile sensors, mobile, and digital devices bring health care into the home and closer to patients and family caregivers. While its predecessor, the CITRIS Health Care Initiative, focused on broadening the reach of healthcare through information technologies, the new CITRIS Health Initiative expands that effort to include the promotion of wellness and cost-effective care for everyone. CITRIS Health will continue the institute’s signature research in telehealth and electronic health records (EHR) but will also employ CITRIS labs to develop wearables and mobile-based technologies for the prevention, detection, and treatment of disease. The CITRIS Health Initiative will also apply new capabilities in data science to shed light on epidemiology and fundamental medical questions and clinical applications.

“New technology-enabled approaches to health care and health promotion have the potential to provide higher-quality, more-timely care, and to reduce costs in the process,” says Dr. Thomas Nesbitt, Faculty Director of the CITRIS Health Initiative.


The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) generates information technology solutions for society’s most pressing challenges. Launched in 2001 as one of four Institutes for Science and Innovation by former California Governor Gray Davis, CITRIS fosters interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers, industry, and public sector partners at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz. For more information on CITRIS, visit

Media Contacts

David Culler for Sustainable Infrastructures Initiative:
Camille Crittenden for Connected Communities Initiative:
Ken Goldberg for People and Robots Initiative:
David Lindeman for Health Initiative:
Julie Sammons for CITRIS:


The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.

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