Bringing Innovation to Life

Adobe is known as a place where art intersects science — a place where researchers go when they want their ingenuity and creativity to have a real-world impact on the way people live, work and play with technology.

So it’s no surprise that Adobe Research is filled with engineers and computer scientists who are also artists, writers, musicians and makers.  It’s an environment that Gavin Miller, vice president and fellow for the Imagination Lab in Adobe Research, has worked hard to cultivate.

“We often look for a combination of somebody who has peer-reviewed publications, who loves to build systems and program, and who would love to have what they do used by lots of people,” he says.  “We also enjoy people who have an artistic outlet for their technological interests.  If we find that combination of interests and skills, it often leads to great outcomes.”

Gavin, himself, is a great example of this philosophy.  He’s not only an accomplished computer scientist with dozens of professional publications and multiple patents — he’s also an author of fairy tales, short stories and plays; an artist in a variety of media; and a respected robot hobbyist.

The word hobby, however, doesn’t quite capture the passion Gavin brings to robotics.  His biologically-inspired snake robots (check them out at snakerobots.com) have been featured in multiple museums, featured in academic books, sparked world-wide press coverage and attracted millions of hits on YouTube.  One of his snakes even served as the ring bearer at his wedding.

It’s an impressive set of accomplishments for a hobby, but it’s also a powerful example of what’s possible when personal passions intersect professional interests.

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Gavin’s S5 snake robot will soon be on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Creativity comes from having a rich metaphorical landscape.  Being able to draw on different stories or ideas for inspiration can often lead you to a technical idea that becomes a practical thing,” Gavin explains.

“Being interested in robotics forces me to track the miniaturization and reduction of compute into mobile platforms — a strategic area for Adobe.  It reflects my interest in novel and emerging sensors, such as deep infrared cameras and inertial sensors.  It even spills over into drone technology, which is becoming more important in the photography and filmmaking worlds.  So my interest in robotics helps keep me ahead of the curve.”

Although there are practical benefits from the relationship between robotics and his professional interests as a researcher, that’s only half the story of Gavin’s passion.

“Early in my career I was very interested in computer graphics and animation,” he says.  “I wrote a paper called The Motion Dynamics of Snakes and Worms which was published in SIGGRAPH in 1988.  Back then, there was sort of a running joke that every algorithm needs a hardware implementation.  But it got me thinking, ‘What if I could bring these to life in the real world?’”

That question eventually led him to create his first snake robot, and the many generations that followed.  “My interest in animal locomotion falls into the same idea, of using mechanical devices in unintended ways, to produce the same magic of the illusion of life,” he notes.

Capturing this magic, and sharing it with others in relatable ways seems to be what truly motivates Gavin.  It’s the bigger idea behind the scenes — a common thread that runs throughout all his work — a maker’s desire to bring things to life, make them real and share them with other people.

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Gavin used his B1 spider robot in his Girls Who Code presentation.

For example, each year Gavin participates in the Girls Who Code program, and gives a presentation on robotics.  “I find that biologically inspired robots engage a broad range of young people to get interested in technology, and make it relevant to a different crowd than those who already like computers for their own sake. They don’t think of them as computers. They think of them as creatures,” he explains.

Curiosity.  Creative Spirit.  Collaboration.  A desire to bring things to life, and share them with others.  That’s what it means to be Gavin Miller.  That’s what it means to be a researcher at Adobe.

Did you know? 

  • It’s National Robotics Week April 2-10, 2016 — a celebration of robots and their potential to fuel interest in STEM-related fields and provide new possibilities for fields like healthcare, manufacturing, security, agriculture and transportation.  Visit www.nationalroboticsweek.org to lean more, or find information about events and workshops in your local area.