Interview with TERAIS’ new postdoctoral researcher Michal Vavrečka, PhD

Welcome to an interview with our newest colleague at the TERAIS project, a postdoctoral researcher, Michal Vavrečka, PhD., who is dedicated to advancing robotics and artificial intelligence at Comenius University Bratislava, Slovakia. Michal was hired as a postdoctoral researcher in order to support and strengthen the research capacity of the DAI UKBA.

With a focus on research excellence, international networking, people development, and research support, TERAIS aims to propel the field of robotics and AI to new heights while nurturing the talents of researchers like our interviewee. Join us as we delve into their career journey, research aspirations, and contributions to this ambitious project shaping the future of technology and society.

Can you tell us about your academic background and how it led you to become involved in the TERAIS project as a postdoctoral researcher?

I finished the MA degree in Psychology at the Faculty of Arts at the Masaryk University in Brno (2005) and Ph.D. degree in General Psychology at Faculty of Social Studies (2008). My diploma thesis was focused on the comparison of human and artificial intelligence and the doctoral thesis was dedicated to cognitive semantics and its application in the area of spatial navigation. The empirical part consisted of a neural network model for spatial prepositions representation. I did research in neuroscience and cognitive robotics. My recent research is focused on humanoid robots and their ability to solve complex parts.

What specific areas of robotics and artificial intelligence are you most passionate about, and how do they align with the goals of the TERAIS project?

I am passionate about combining psychology with robotics, specifically working with humanoid robots in the field of developmental robotics. My focus is on mimicking the stages of human development in robotic behavior, an approach that aligns with some of the objectives of the TERAIS project. By integrating developmental psychology principles into robotics, I aim to enhance the naturalistic interactions between humans and robots, contributing to the project’s innovative research goals.

As a postdoc within the TERAIS project, what are your primary responsibilities and research objectives?

I oversee research in human-robot collaboration, where we are currently setting up experiments for participants to anticipate robot behaviour. Additionally, I am involved in training neural networks to manage basic manipulation tasks in robotics. This work not only advances our understanding of interactive dynamics between humans and robots but also enhances robotic autonomy in executing fundamental tasks.

How do you envision your role contributing to the development of trustworthy and human-friendly robots, as outlined in the TERAIS project’s goals?

As a researcher involved in the TERAIS project, my envisioned role would align with the overarching goals of developing trustworthy and human-friendly robots. This involves studying human behaviour and preferences to design robots that are more responsive and adaptive to human emotions and social cues. I also want to create advanced models of artificial neural networks that can predict, learn, and adapt in ways that are transparent and understandable to users. This involves developing algorithms that can explain their decisions to users, thereby increasing trust.

Could you share any exciting research projects or collaborations you’re currently involved in?

We are collaborating with partners at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the University of Hamburg to leverage their extensive experience and enhance our robotics lab. Currently, in partnership with IIT, we are refining an experiment involving a humanoid robot that is designed to mimic complex human movements. This challenging task requires a multidisciplinary approach, integrating various aspects of robotics to achieve lifelike and natural robot motion.

How do you think the TERAIS project will impact your career trajectory and future opportunities in the field of robotics and AI?

The TERAIS project is poised to significantly enhance my career trajectory in the field of robotics and AI. By immersing myself in cutting-edge research and collaborating internationally with experts from top-tier institutions, I will gain invaluable expertise and broaden my professional network. This experience will not only deepen my technical skills but also improve my adaptability and visibility in the global research community. Engaging in this project will provide me with opportunities for career advancement in both academia and industry, leveraging the innovative, ethical focus on human-centric robotics to position myself as a leader in developing trustworthy AI solutions.

In what ways do you plan to leverage the international networking opportunities provided by TERAIS to enhance your research and professional development?

As a researcher involved in the TERAIS project, I plan to fully leverage the international networking opportunities provided to enhance both my research and professional development. By actively engaging with experts from the University of Hamburg and the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, I aim to exchange cutting-edge ideas, collaborate on joint research projects, and gain insights into advanced methodologies in robotics and AI. This collaboration will not only enrich my technical knowledge and research capabilities but also expand my professional network beyond local boundaries, opening up avenues for future collaborative grants, publications, and potentially, long-term academic and industry partnerships.

Michal Vavrečka
Michal Vavrečka
WP3 Researcher