Sensing Success: Klatzky Doubly Honored

Roberta Klatzky

Roberta Klatzky

2010 has been a banner year for Roberta L. Klatzky, APS Treasurer and Professor of Psychology and Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University: She has received both a Humboldt Research Award  and the Kurt Koffka Medal.

The Humboldt Research Award, given by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, recognizes a lifetime of achievement, honoring internationally recognized researchers who have produced “fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights” and who are expected to continue generating superior research in future.  The award comes with a €60,000 prize (just over $73,000) and the opportunity to spend up to a year working on a research project with scientists in Germany. Up to 100 Humboldt Research Awards are awarded each year. Klatzky was nominated for this award by Martin Buss, a human and robot interaction researcher. She plans to spend her time in Germany at Buss’ lab at the Technical University of Munich.  Together, their work will confront “important technical problems about how a robot can ‘read’ the responses of humans and respond to them on the fly,” said Klatzky. “On the human side, interesting questions arise about what sensory signals make the interactions seem inter-personal.”

Klatzky was also awarded the Kurt Koffka Medal by Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen, for her renowned research in the field of perception and action. This award was especially exciting for Klatzky because it pays tribute to Kurt Koffka’s research in Gestalt psychology. “I am receiving an award named after a pioneer in perceptual psychology, whose ideas I read about as a student…the work of the Gestalt psychologists, Koffka among them, is still very relevant, and their early theories form the basis for contemporary work on mechanisms of ‘middle level’ vision,” she said.

Klatzky’s award-winning research interests include human perception and cognition, with a specific focus on human haptic (or sense of touch) and visual object recognition; navigation under visual and nonvisual guidance; and perceptually guided action. Her work has been applied to navigation aids for the blind, haptic interfaces, robotics, and virtual environments.

Klatzky generously extends the honor of this award to her collaborators over the years, particularly Jack Loomis and Susan Lederman. “Looking back on my research,” says Klatzky, “it seems that I have been lucky to find interesting problems that lend themselves to application, along with talented and hard-working people to share them. That approach will frame my future work as well.”

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