Jeff Trinkle, RPI professor with interdisciplinary background, will lead department as of August 1

Jeff Trinkle has been named P.C. Rossin Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at Lehigh University, effective August 1, 2019.

Trinkle, an expert in advanced robotics who has held numerous academic and government roles since 1987, joins the Lehigh faculty after more than 15 years as a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he chaired the computer science department from 2003 to 2009.

“I have been interested in computers and the things they can control, especially robots, for most of my life,” says Trinkle, who was a founding member of the National Robotics Initiative announced by President Barack Obama in 2011 and led the $40-plus million program for the National Science Foundation from 2014 to 2016. “My training spans mechanical engineering, systems engineering, physics, and computer science, and I look forward to leading the CSE department while enhancing interdisciplinary collaborations across the Lehigh campus.”

Trinkle will take the helm from professor Daniel Lopresti, a widely respected researcher in pattern recognition, bioinformatics, and computer security, who has led the department since July 2009 and served as the Rossin College’s interim dean from 2014 to 2015. Among his many accomplishments as chair, Lopresti oversaw the launch of Data X, a strategic initiative to expand the CSE department while infusing data analytics across Lehigh’s curriculum. As director of Data X, Lopresti has recruited and hired numerous faculty members in computer science and related disciplines and helped position Lehigh as a leader in the field.

At RPI, Trinkle directs the CS Robotics Lab, and his research investigates problems that arise when robots try to grasp and manipulate things in unstructured environments. His work has applications in smart homes of the future, with robots helping elderly and infirm people live independently longer; in manufacturing tasks such as assembly, maintenance, and repair; and in environmental cleanup tasks.

In pursuing these interests, Trinkle has made contributions in grasp analysis, motion planning, and simulation, many of which have been collected in chapters in the Springer Handbook of Robotics and Humanoid Robotics: a Reference. His simulation work led to the development of the so-called Stewart-Trinkle time-stepping algorithm variants of which serve the basis of popular open-source physics engines (e.g., ODE, Bullet, and Gazebo).

Trinkle’s research has been continuously funded by the NSF since 1989, most recently in the form of an Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) grant with collaborators from Yale University, Brown University, and the University of Washington. The project attacks manipulation problems in soft robotics—think elephant trunks—using inspiration from biology and techniques from contact dynamics and optimization theory.

Trinkle has also run projects supported by NASA (space shuttle inspection while in orbit), DARPA (robot grasping and walking), Harris (underwater autonomous robot grasping), Lockheed Martin (the DARPA Robotics Challenge), and Sandia National Labs (assembly guidance for human in cleanroom).

Supported by an IBM Graduate Research Fellowship, Trinkle obtained his doctorate in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. He held permanent positions in the Systems and Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Arizona and the Department of Computer Science at Texas A&M University prior to joining RPI. He spent the 2009-2010 academic year as a Humboldt Fellow at the Institute for Mechatronics and Robotics at the German Aerospace Center and the Institute for Applied Mechanics at Technical University of Munich. He has held other visiting positions at the University of Wollongong, Sandia National Lab Albuquerque, and the University of Freiburg.

During his career, Trinkle has published more than 100 peer-reviewed technical papers and advised three post-docs, 13 doctoral candidates, and 14 master’s students

Trinkle received the 1989 Research Initiation Award from the NSF, the 1994 Texas A&M Center for Teaching Excellence Award, the 1998 Plank Company Faculty Fellowship, the 2004 Kayamori Best Automation Paper of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, and the 2009 Humboldt Research Prize. In 2010, he was elected as an IEEE Fellow for his research contributions to robotic grasping and dexterous manipulation.

“I am excited to lead Lehigh’s CSE department to help it grow and become a strongly interdisciplinary force in research and education at Lehigh and beyond,” says Trinkle.

Outside of his research and academic interests, Trinkle enjoys cycling and pocket billiards. He has represented Ursinus College and Georgia Tech in NCAA regional straight pool tournaments.

Jeff Trinkle

"I look forward to leading the CSE department while enhancing interdisciplinary collaborations across the Lehigh campus,” says Jeff Trinkle, incoming chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. (Photo: Courtesy Jeff Trinkle/RPI)