Meet Eric Paulos

02 Jun, 2014

Meet Eric Paulos

The Berkeley Center for New Media is turning 10! To celebrate, over the next ten months leading up to our birthday party on September 25th, 2014, we’re sharing ten stories of BCNM’s life so far. This month, hear how BCNM professor Eric Paulos designs devices that transform how we understand our world.

A maker, a thinker, a tinkerer, Eric Paulos has been immersed in robotics from an early age. Before even enrolling in university, he’d taught computing and constructed his own machines. Eric is not just interested in creating, however — his work seeks to interrogate and critique the world in which we live.

After receiving his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley, Eric founded Urban Atmospheres research at Intel. The organization aimed to explore urban computing — the study of human and technological interaction in public spaces. This passion for the human questions raised by robotics drew Eric back to Berkeley, where he’s since pioneered the creation of telepresence robots. Combining both video feed and mobile robotics, his research investigates the potential of remote human presence and object manipulation.

Credit: Peg Skorpinski

This work is in part a provocation for us to consider what it means to be human. Like so many of his projects, which span a wide array of fields, it aspires to shift our perspective on our social and physical interactions. Eric deals with sustainable technology, DIY culture and practice, community empowerment, health, and citizen science in this way: by approaching technology in unexpected ways. In “Materializing Energy,” Eric and his team of researchers take on the issue of limited energy supply and growing demand by examining methods of capturing energy from individuals engaged in everyday activities. They then re-conceptualize this energy consumption and production to create increasingly conscious energy consumers.

Eric’s critical innovations are at the heart of the BCNM. Under his guidance the Center was able to hold its first Robots and New Media symposium, bringing together leading makers and thinkers of human/robot interaction. His Critical Making class has meanwhile proved wildly popular, offering students from the sciences, engineering, and the humanities the opportunity to collaborate on design. With each class centered around a different task that incorporates unique temporal and spatial confines, students build devices that either bring about an innovative interaction or challenge how we interact with our environment. The class also encourages students to incorporate unconventional materials into their designs to find new uses for the physical objects we use on a daily basis. Eric pictures the course as problem-making, rather than problem-solving, not only stimulating discussion among future academics examining our technological systems, but also cultivating a more nuanced approach to design construction among future innovators.

For Eric, the BCNM is a unique academic institution, where faculty and students are supported in their explorations of new mediums of thought. In this landscape, Eric is able to reimagine and redesign the world in which we live, in the hope of fostering a dialogue around technological transformations that will produce cognizant and critically articulated innovation.

Interested in creating a new fund that encourages the design of devices that will shift of our understanding of the environment? Or a grant to assist students in making their devices widespread? Support BCNM in its mission to bring together the humanities, arts, and sciences to critically analyze and shape developments in new media from cross-disciplinary and global perspectives by donating today. If you have other ideas to help develop the future of BCNM, please contact us as well.