Female role models are important. They point out possibilities, help us to define our own goals and we can learn from their experiences. In our blog series #DigiWomenKA, Katharina Iyen meets one such role model from the Karlsruhe digital sector once a month to find out more about them, their experiences and their commitment. Today she talks to Noémie Jaquier, postdoctoral researcher at the Chair of High Performance Humanoid Technologies (H²T) at the Institute of Anthropomatics and Robotics of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and currently a visiting postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University.
By Katharina Iyen
#DigiWomenKA goes international, that could be the title of today’s post. Noémie Jaquier is currently a visiting researcher in California, USA. Thanks to the video call, overcoming the physical distance is no problem and I have the pleasure of meeting the Karlsruhe AI newcomer of 2023. While they’re talking about the Californian weather at 10 a.m., which is characterized by endless sunny days, I’m sitting in front of my computer at 7 p.m. in autumnal Germany. I ask them about the differences in mentality between Baden-Württemberg and California. She laughs: “Some people don’t come into the office until around 12 o’clock, but stay until late at night. Right now, I’m still here on my own. That’s also a luxury. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t feeling a little envious by now at the latest. Fortunately, we quickly get into her current research projects in the field of humanoid robotics at Stanford, because that takes my mind off things.
AI newcomer of the year 2023 with deep-rooted enthusiasm for technology
Dr. Noémie Jaquier from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has a clear mission: robots should not only support people in the laboratory, but also in everyday life. As a passionate computer scientist, she is one of the ten up-and-coming talents who were recently named “AI Newcomer 2023” by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Gesellschaft für Informatik e.V. for their outstanding contributions in the field of artificial intelligence. She received the award as one of the talents in the technical and engineering sciences category.
But her enthusiasm for technology has very deep roots, says the Swiss native from Lausanne: “My parents supported my love of technology and science from the very beginning. Her father, a physicist, introduced his three daughters to the world of science far removed from the usual gender stereotypes. For example, her parents gave her a Lego robot for Christmas, which had a decisive influence on her later enthusiasm: “This gift definitely sparked my fascination for technology and I spent many hours tinkering and experimenting with my father and the robot.”
Her mother also always encouraged Jaquier and her sisters to follow their interests. “Even young girls need the freedom to pursue their interests, be it in the world of cars or robots. Gender stereotypes should not play a role in what interests and passions a girl or woman can pursue. It’s about living and exploring your own dreams, regardless of societal expectations,” explains Jaquier.
On the way to cutting-edge research
And so Jaquier initially studied micro-engineering in her home country for a Bachelor’s degree. This was followed by a Master’s degree in Robotics and Autonomous Systems, where she discovered her passion for the fusion of robotics, machine learning and Riemannian geometry.
She wrote her doctoral thesis at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). In 2019, she decided to spend six months in Germany. She immersed herself in AI research at the Bosch Center for Artificial Intelligence. She continued her research career and eventually became a postdoc at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). There, she works at the Chair of High-Performance Humanoid Technologies (H²T ) at the Institute of Anthropomatics and Robotics at KIT, headed by Professor Tamim Asfour.
She is currently a visiting researcher in Professor Oussama Khatib‘s team at the Stanford Robotics Lab. As a visiting scientist at Stanford University, Jaquier reports that she enjoys doing active research. Here, she is continuing her work in the field of robotics and machine learning: “I hope not only to apply the findings from my doctoral thesis – but also to define new research directions based on my findings.”
Human-centered research and a new look at robotics: Riemannian perspectives
Jaquier is heavily involved in the development of humanoid robots that are designed to help people and society in general. She is driven by a deep-rooted desire to make a positive impact on the world through her work. Their driving forces are curiosity, the joy of continuous learning and the opportunity to exert a positive influence in a variety of ways. “And preferably by smart and friendly robots,” she tells me with a laugh. “But we still have a lot of hurdles and reservations to overcome.”
In her research, Jaquier focuses in particular on learning robotic skills through human demonstrations and on adaptation techniques with Riemannian geometry, which underlies Einstein’s theory of relativity, as the cornerstone. “With my research, I aim to equip robots with human-like learning and adaptation capabilities. To achieve this, I draw on geometric information that is already available in robotics and use it to develop data-efficient and theoretically sound learning algorithms,” explains Jaquier. “In this way, I hope to make robots usable for humans outside the laboratory too.”
The researcher thus brings a new perspective to robotics. Riemannian geometry, as a fundamental theoretical basis, is an inductive approach to developing innovative methods based on the geometric information generated by robots. The data-efficient approach to learning skills through human demonstrations and adaptation techniques, in which geometry plays a key role, is particularly exciting, Jaquier explains further.
In the meantime, however, her thirst for research has been joined by another passion: “I like to pass on my knowledge, curiosity and enthusiasm to my students and encourage them to pursue their own professional dreams. This is a human dimension that touches me,” says Jaquier.
“Dreams can come true, but there is a secret. They are realized through the magic of perseverance, determination, commitment, passion, practice, focus and hard work. They happen step by step, manifested over years, not weeks.” Her favorite quote from Elbert Hubbard underscores her belief that determination and continuous commitment are fundamental in the pursuit of dreams and goals. “Hard work is not always rewarded immediately. Sometimes you also need a bit of luck to overcome obstacles,” adds Jaquier.