Robotics Expert Alona Kharchenko

“My goal is to make robots more human”

Robots are cold, inanimate machines? No, says TUM Alumna Alona Kharchenko. She is conducting research on a robot that acts and feels like a human being. The place where she gained the necessary know-how for this visionary task is TUM.

Already as a schoolgirl, Alona Kharchenko was interested in Chemistry, Physics and above all Mathematics and Computer Science. In 2014, the native Ukrainian graduated from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in Ukraine with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics. “I wanted to go to Germany for the Master’s”, she says, “and decided on TUM as a renowned top-ranking technical university”.

Geared towards the future

With her affinity for technology and fascination for future technologies the Master’s programme in Robotics, Cognition, Intelligence at TUM, which is unique in Germany, was a perfect match for the student. “At the time, I was looking for a real challenge”, says Alona Kharchenko. “My studies at TUM took me into the world of the latest research and technologies.”

Enthusiastically Alona Kharchenko talks about the first-class equipment and infrastructure at TUM, about high-performance computers, state-of-the-art hardware and about the many contacts to large companies and start-ups. She also found it enriching that teamwork, diversity and interdisciplinarity are highly valued at TUM. “In this multicultural and inspiring atmosphere, I was able to expand my soft skills”, she says. “Everything I needed to continuously improve in every respect has been provided to me here.”

Dreams of the future

Since she completed her Master’s degree in 2017, Alona Kharchenko has been doing her doctorate on Neurorobotics at the TUM Chair of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Real-Time Systems and has been involved in the promising Roboy Project. Roboy is a so-called humanoid robot. Due to its 3D printed skeleton structure, which imitates the human spine, bones, joints, tendons and muscles, it differs significantly from conventional robots.

Everything I needed to continuously improve has been provided to me here at TUM.

In a management role, Alona Kharchenko is responsible for the areas ‘Roboy Cognition, Roboy Control and Roboy Simulation’. She is passionate about making robots look, act, interact and feel more human. Together with her student teams, she is investigating the artificial intelligence that controls Roboy and the possibilities of transferring biological control mechanisms to the artificial body. “My aim is to make robots more human”, she says excitedly. “Roboy is the cutest robot in the world.” Only recently, together with TUM doctoral student Rafael Hostettler and a team of students, she succeeded in having Roboy sell ice cream. Soon, Roboy will cook and autonomously drive a rickshaw.

Vision of the future

Alona Kharchenko is not currently planning to return to her home country, Ukraine. “With the Roboy project I found my dream job here in Munich”, she says. In the near future, together with her team, she would like to win the Avatar X Prize, which is awarded by the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways, along with an eight-figure prize money.

She never misses an opportunity to present Robotics with its infinite possibilities in a positive way to the public through lectures and presentations and to alleviate people’s fear of machines, both young and old. At the Women of TUM Talks 2019 Alona Kharchenko talked about the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence, social responsibility and the necessary rethinking in society towards a wider acceptance of machines as future assistants in everyday life.