On Sunday, May 19, MIT visiting scientist Dr. Kanako Miura, 36, died after being struck by a motor vehicle while riding her bicycle in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
Miura, an expert in humanoid robotics, came to MIT last fall during a yearlong sabbatical from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan, where she worked as a senior researcher at the Intelligent Systems Research Institute. At MIT, she worked with Professor Russ Tedrake’s Robot Locomotion Group at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
In an email sent to the MIT community on May 19, MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote, “Our hearts go out to her friends and colleagues at MIT, and especially the Miura family, who must absorb this terrible loss from so far away.”
A native of Japan, Miura received her B.E. in aerospace engineering and her M.E. and Ph.D. in information science from Tohoku University in Japan. She also received a Ph.D. in Electronique, Electrotechnique, Automatique from l'Universite Louis Pasteur, France in 2004. She was a postdoctoral fellow with Tohoku University from 2004-05, and a researcher with NTT DoCoMo (Japan’s largest mobile service provider) from 2005 to 2007. In 2007, she joined the Intelligent Systems Research Institute at the AIST where she worked on the HRP-4C, or Miim robot, a humanoid robot designed to mimic the features of a human female.
“I am shocked and saddened by this tragic loss, and my heart goes out to Dr. Miura’s friends and colleagues in the Robot Locomotion Group and, most importantly, to her family,” said Professor Daniela Rus, director of CSAIL. “Dr. Miura’s research in humanoid robotics was essential to the field, and she made many important contributions during her time at MIT. She truly became an integral part of the CSAIL community during her time here and her loss will be felt by all.”
Miura’s research focused on human motion analysis and motion generation for humanoid robots in particular. For Tedrake and his research group the opportunity to learn from Miura about her approach to walking, planning and control for humanoid robots was an unparalleled chance to gain insight and knowledge from one of the experts in the field of humanoid robotics. Tedrake and his team were excited to apply Miura's experience to the techniques his group has developed in the realm of dynamics and motion control.
“We learned so much from her from the time she arrived, not only about her specific approach to humanoids, but also about the field of humanoid robots in general. As we were trying to enter this new field of humanoid robotics, she was our expert,” Tedrake said.
With the Robot Locomotion Group, Miura conducted research using the language of optimization for control design used in Tedrake’s group to reinterpret the successful results Miura had had in her work at the AIST in Japan. Through their collaborative efforts, Miura and Tedrake hoped to come up with new, state-of-the-art techniques for walking and motion control in humanoid robots.
The timing of Miura’s arrival at MIT was serendipitous, according to Tedrake, as his research group was just starting a new research project with the group’s first humanoid, a robot named HUBO.
During her time at CSAIL, Miura became an essential part of the Robot Locomotion Group, both for her technical expertise and for the warmth, care and friendship she provided to all her colleagues. Tedrake recalled how Miura was an enthusiastic participant in the group runs his research group frequently takes, hosted one of the Robot Locomotion Group parties at her apartment and even became one of the leaders of the team’s group coffee breaks. During Robot Day at the Cambridge Science Festival, Miura spent hours explaining the technology behind humanoid robots to crowds of young children.
“She was really part of the fabric of our group. She was not just a visitor in our group, she became a close friend and a member of our family,” said Tedrake. “The energy she brought to her work was contagious, and her enthusiasm was easy to see. She loved giving tours, and showing off the lab, and she had an unfailing optimism in the future and importance of humanoid robots.”
Mark Pearrow, a software engineer in the Robot Locomotion Group, worked closely with Miura on integrating her knowledge of bipedal locomotion into Tedrake’s research group's software and getting it to run on HUBO. “She was bright, patient, very giving of her time and knowledge, humble and funny. It was an honor to be able to work with her and I will miss her terribly,” Pearrow said. “I just hope we can find the wisdom and strength to carry her spirit forward in our lives and work.”
All members of the MIT community who feel affected by this death are encouraged to contact Mental Health Services at 617-253-2916.
This article will be updated with information about plans to honor Miura’s memory as details become available.