Georgia Tech Remembers Mike Stilman

Assistant Professor Mike Stilman, recognized as an emerging leader in humanoid robotics research, died following an apparent accident at his Atlanta home on Tuesday, May 6.

Stilman, who was recently awarded tenure and scheduled to be promoted to associate professor effective Aug. 16, joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2008 after receiving his Ph.D. in robotics from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

“We are stunned by this news about our colleague and friend Mike,” said Annie Antón, professor and chair of the School of Interactive Computing. “His promise as a brilliant young researcher was shown this year by his promotion to a tenured position and his winning of a prestigious institute-wide teaching award. This is a loss from which we will not easily recover.”

An active member of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines (IRIM) at Tech, Stilman founded the Humanoid Robotics Lab, also known as, where he led a team of graduate students and researchers on projects designed to develop “robot brains,” or algorithms, capable of the same level of dexterity, intelligent planning and interaction as human brains.

“Mike was a pioneer on motion planning and humanoids,” said Henrik Christensen, executive director of IRIM. “He was breaking new ground in his research, but he was also an eminent teacher. His energy was contagious, and he was always ready to push us even further. He will be sorely missed as part of the robotics and broader community at Georgia Tech.”

As an assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing, Stilman oversaw the research projects of 16 graduate students and several undergraduates. Recognized by students as a favorite in the classroom, he taught several robotics courses, including Robot Intelligence and Humanoid Robotics, and earned the Class of 1940 W. Roane Beard Outstanding Teacher Award for the past academic year.

Known for his enthusiasm for humanoids (his Georgia license plate reads “GOLEM”) as well as his abundance of energy, Stilman was active in the broader robotics research community. Most recently, he chaired the IEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robotics in Atlanta and led Tech’s participation in the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

Stilman was among 25 researchers nationwide selected for a 2013 Young Faculty Award by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). Also, he received several significant research contracts involving his two humanoid robots, Golem Krang and Golem Hubo, including a $900,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to develop a “hybrid reasoning system” for military robots. The new system could lead to robots that improvise, using objects in their environments to creatively complete complex tasks, such as climbing a chair to escape a building. In a 2012 interview about this project, Stilman said his goal was “to create machines that operate like MacGyver, the ‘80s TV character.” This quote marked the birth of Golem Krang’s new moniker: “MacGyverBot.”

“This is a shocking loss for the College of Computing and the entire Georgia Tech robotics community,” said Zvi Galil, dean of the College of Computing. “Mike Stilman was a brilliant and passionate young teacher and researcher with an outstanding career in front of him. On behalf of everyone in our college, I extend our deepest condolences to Mike’s family. His loss will be felt within our community for a long time.”

Survivors include his wife Akiko and his parents.

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