Spotlight: Brokoslaw Laschowski

This story was originally published by the Temerty Centre for AI Research and Education in Medicine (T-CAIREM)

Ukrainian-Canadian scientist Dr. Brokoslaw Laschowski specializes in the field of biomechatronics (i.e., a combination of robotics, machine learning, and neuroscience). He is a Research Scientist and Principal Investigator at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Canada’s largest rehabilitation hospital, and an Assistant Professor (status) in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and the Robotics Institute at the University of Toronto. We caught up with him to learn about how he’s merging humans with robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve health and performance.

What inspired you to pursue this field?

Prior to specializing in robotics during my PhD, I completed a master’s in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo, where I studied computational neuroscience and developed predictive models of human motor control using mathematical optimization, specifically optimal control theory. This research was part of an academic-industry collaboration with the Canadian Sport Institute working with wheelchair athletes. It was an amazing experience working with these high-performance athletes who have overcome significant barriers. This experience inspired me to pursue a career developing technologies for persons with physical disabilities to improve accessibility.

How did you become interested in AI?

I started my PhD in 2016 in the Department of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo and the Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute, focusing on robotic leg control for assistance and rehabilitation. At the time, the field was moving towards using machine learning to process and analysis data from mechanical, inertial, and/or neuromuscular sensors for control. However, data from these sensors have limited prediction horizons, somewhat similar to walking blindfolded. Taking inspiration from how humans use biological vision for control and path planning, I developed the first environment recognition system for robotic leg control using deep learning. Since then, I have developed one of the largest programs of research on visual perception of human-robot walking environments.

What’s the best part of doing the type of research that you do?

The look on people’s faces when I tell them I design robotic legs that can think and control themselves using artificial intelligence. Just kidding. Although I am flattered that many people in the general public find this research interesting, my favorite part has been the opportunity to collaborate with talented interdisciplinary research teams, in addition to end-users such as older adults and/or persons with physical disabilities and hearing their feedback and inspirational stories.

What outcomes do you hope your research will eventually lead to?

The long-term vision of my research program is to merge humans with robotics and artificial intelligence to improve health and performance, kind of like cyborgs. I am working on developing machines that think, see, and walk like humans. Some of my goals are to develop AI-powered smart glasses to allow the blind to see and robotic exoskeletons to allow the paralyzed to walk.

Are you working on anything right now that you’re really excited about?

I helped develop #ScienceForUkraine, now a non-profit organization to support student refugees and internally displaced persons affected by the war in Ukraine. To date, we have registered over 4,000 research labs from universities across 100 countries worldwide that have committed to fund and host researchers and students from Ukrainian universities. If any T-CAIREM members are interested to learn more about the exciting research being done in human-machine interaction or would like to get involved in assisting students from Ukraine, please email me.