Associate Professor Ayanian joins Brown engineering, computer science faculty

Nora Ayanian has joined the School of Engineering and the Department of Computer Science at Brown University as Associate Professor. Her faculty appointment began January 1.

Nora Ayanian
Photo: Damon Casarez

Ayanian was Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Southern California, where she joined in 2013 and was named the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Early Career Chair in 2017. She was the founding director of USC’s ACT (Automatic Coordination of Teams) Lab, conducting sponsored research in the area of coordinated multi-robot systems.

Her research focuses on creating solutions that allow non-experts to use teams of robots safely and effectively. To do so, she develops algorithms that coordinate teams of robots working on complex tasks that use only high-level specifications, such as using multitouch inputs to control a team of UAVs. Ayanian’s approach to multi-robot systems leverages diversity in robot decision making and physical capabilities to build more resilient teams that can be successful even in unforeseen circumstances. By studying small-group human interaction and using AI and machine learning, robots are able to adjust to their current circumstances, work collaboratively, and accomplish tasks autonomously. Ayanian’s current projects include planning for warehouse robots, detecting and fighting wildfires with UAVs, and mapping unknown and unstructured environments, such as the Martian surface, with teams of robots. However, her solutions are broadly applicable across all aspects of multi-robot systems and mobile sensor networks, including manufacturing, entertainment, environmental monitoring, and precision agriculture. 

Ayanian earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Drexel University in 2005 before moving on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 2008 and 2011, respectively. She then spent two years as a postdoctoral associate in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. 

Ayanian’s work received the best student paper award at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in 2008, and more recently, best paper in the robotics track at the International Conference of Automated Planning and Scheduling in 2016. She was named one of IEEE Intelligent Systems “AI’s 10 to Watch” (2013), NerdScholar’s “40 Under 40: Professors who Inspire” (2014), and was part of the inaugural Mic 50 (2015),’s list of 50 influential young people, and MIT Technology Review’s “35 Innovators under 35” (TR35, 2016). In 2016, she also received the NSF CAREER award and the Okawa Foundation Research Grant. Ayanian is a co-founder and current advisory chair of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Technical Committee on Multi-Robot Systems.