Squishy is an adjective not often associated with machines, but with the leadership of mechanical engineering professor Alice Agogino, it can now be considered a sought-after attribute for robust, deployable “tensegrity” robots. Agogino led researchers at Berkeley and Squishy Robotics, a company she co-founded, in the development of shape-shifting robots that could drop 600 feet and remain unscathed. Her innovative work earned her the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation.
Fittingly, Agogino’s research group — the BEST Lab (Berkeley Emergent Space Tensegrities/Energy and Sustainable Technologies/Expert Systems Technologies Lab), is an amalgam of research reflecting her wide-ranging expertise and interests. The only thing the lab lacks in its name is Agogino’s reputation as a mentor. Whether it’s helping undergraduates design robots for space, or advising graduate students as they launch careers in development engineering, one thread running through Agogino’s career is the drive to make engineering more diverse and inclusive.
Earlier this year, Agogino won the UC Women in Tech Initiative’s 2020 Athena Award for Academic Leadership, and she was named among the top 10 women in the robotics industry by the publication Analytics Insight. In 2015, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers honored Agogino, the Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes professor of mechanical engineering, with the group’s Outstanding Design Educator Award. The honor cited her “tireless efforts in furthering engineering design education, including curriculum changes that blend cutting-edge design topics with state-of-the-art educational practices; promoting wide-ranging interaction between industry and students; performing game-changing design research and mentoring the next generation of designers, educators, researchers and engineers.”