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News Release 12-188

2012 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awardees Announced

MABEL bipedal robot, a novel ultralight metal, and an "around-the-corner" camera are NSF-supported technologies

the bipedal robot MABEL.

MABEL is breaking new ground in robotics.

October 4, 2012

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Popular Mechanics has announced its 2012 Breakthrough Awards. Awardees include three teams whose work received critical support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Popular Mechanics designates its Breakthrough Awards as follows: Innovators, whose inventions will make the world smarter, safer and more efficient in the years to come, and Products, which are setting benchmarks in design and engineering today. The three teams supported by NSF fall into the innovators category.

  • Jessy Grizzle of the University of Michigan and Jonathan Hurst of Oregon State University received a Popular Mechanics Innovator Award for their team's development of the MABEL bipedal robot. One of the fastest-moving and most sophisticated bipedal robots on Earth, the work on MABEL and her predecessors has been supported by NSF since 1999 through a range of grants including awards to Grizzle and to Hurst. A feature story produced in partnership with describes MABEL.

    "Unlike other robots, MABEL has human like gait and a reflex response that allows it to step over obstacles" says Radhakisan Baheti, an NSF program officer in the Directorate for Engineering who has funded the work for over a decade. "Innovations in feedback control theory--through the study of highly nonlinear dynamics--have played a key role in MABEL's bipedal locomotion design."

  • Julia R. Greer of Caltech, Lorenzo Valdevit of University of California, Irvine, and their collaborators Alan Jacobson, William Carter, and Toby Schaedler at Malibu, Calif., based HRL Laboratories received a Popular Mechanics Innovator Award for their team's development of micro-lattice ultralight metal. The material is light enough to sit atop a dandelion's fluffy seeds without damaging them, yet is also strong, and compressible.  Greer is an NSF CAREER awardee with several NSF grants, and Valdevit has also received NSF support.

  • Christopher Barsi, Moungi Bawendi, Otkrist Gupta and Ramesh Raskar of the MIT Media Lab and colleagues Andreas Velten of the Univ. of Wisconsin, Thomas Willwacher of Harvard University, and Ashok Veeraraghavan  of Rice University received a Popular Mechanics Innovator Award for their team's development of a laser camera that can see around corners. The technology bounces laser light off surfaces and targets, processing the results to reveal objects otherwise obscured by walls and other obstacles. Raskar is an NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) grantee and has received several NSF grants.

    "Light transport theory plays a significant role in computer graphics and visualization," says Lawrence Rosenblum, an NSF program officer in the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering who supported Raskar's work. "One of Raskar's grants involves developing computational methods for ultra-fast imaging, which is necessary for developing this breakthrough. We anticipate that his innovative work will establish a new area of graphics research, and perhaps novel hardware capabilities."

Popular Mechanics will present all of the awards in a ceremony this evening, and will feature the awards in the November issue of the magazine. The ceremony will also highlight this year's Leadership Award winner, Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors.

"We are once again excited to recognize this year's list of incredible honorees for their role in shaping the future," says James B. Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics. "From a featherweight metal to the world's fastest and most electrically efficient supercomputer, this year's winners embody the creative spirit that the Breakthrough Awards were founded upon."

A full list of winners, including short features about their work, can be found at the Popular Mechanics website. You can also follow the 2012 Breakthrough Awards on Twitter @PopMech, #BTA2012.


Media Contacts
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730, email:
Brian Bell, Caltech, (626) 395-5832, email:
Alexandra Kahn, MIT Media Lab, (617) 253-0365, email:
Nicole Casal Moore, University of Michigan, (734) 647-7087, email:
David Stauth, Oregon State University, 541-737-0787, email:
Erik Wirtanen, University of California, Irvine, (949) 824-3962, email:
Leni , Schimpf, Rosen Group/Popular Mechanics, (646) 695-7045, email:

Program Contacts
Radhakishan Baheti, NSF, (703) 292-8339, email:
Lawrence Rosenblum, NSF, (703) 292-8930, email:

Principal Investigators
Julia R. Greer, Caltech, (626) 395-4127, email:
Ramesh Raskar, MIT Media Lab, (617) 253-0329, email:
Jessy Grizzle, University of Michigan, (734) 763-3598, email:

Jonathan Hurst, Oregon State University, (541) 737-7010, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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