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A Trailblazer’s Odyssey: Expertise of Dr. Haibin Zhu in Computer Science and Robotics


Dr. Haibin Zhu, Vice President – Systems Science and Engineering, IEEE SMC Society and Professor, Nipissing University, Canada, is a trailblazer in the field of computer science and robotics. His academic journey began with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in the early 1980s. Fueled by a passion for programming and software design, Dr. Zhu pursued a master’s degree in computer science. His early career involved contributing to a project on intelligent tool machines during the last wave of Artificial Intelligence (AI), focusing on logic programming as a primary AI implementation method.

In the 1990s, Dr. Zhu embarked on a Ph.D. research journey, delving into the cutting-edge field of computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW). His work led to the implementation of a multimedia co-authoring system in China, earning him a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the National University of Defense of Technology (NUDT).

Post-Ph.D., Dr. Zhu played a pivotal role for a Chinese government-sponsored project, overseeing the ground information processing subsystem for the Beidou-I positioning system. During this project, he drafted the system architecture and managed the implementation of the I/O subsystem.

Seizing an opportunity for sabbatical leave, Dr. Zhu ventured abroad as a visiting scholar at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA, in 1999. Concurrently, he attained the rank of full professor at NUDT. In 2002, he transitioned to the Western world, accepting an assistant professor position at Nipissing University. Although he initially envisioned a lifelong career, his journey took an exciting turn towards robotics research, particularly in the field of robot team establishment. Dr. Zhu’s pioneering work revolves around E-CARGO (Environments – Classes, Agents, Roles, Groups, and Objects) and Role-Based Collaboration (RBC), contributing significantly to the evolving landscape of robotics and computer science.

Harmony in Individualism

Dr. Zhu believes that his individualistic personality sets him apart as a commendable worker. While acknowledging his initial average teamwork abilities among peers, he emphasizes the crucial importance of collaboration. Dr. Zhu ‘s dedication to supporting those less adept at teamwork led him to initiate research on Role-Based Collaboration (RBC).

As his research unfolded, the applications of the proposed E-CARGO model and RBC methodology became increasingly evident, particularly in the establishment of robot teams. Drawing inspiration from his collective knowledge and experience in object-oriented programming, CSCW studies, and his engineering practice in the Beidou project, Dr. Zhu, the author of China’s first graduate textbook on object orientation, developed innovative concepts.

The inception of Dr. Zhu ‘s research traces back to his startup project, receiving CAD5000 plus travel support of CAD1500 per year in funding. This support enabled his participation in the SMC conference in Washington, DC, USA, in 2003, and a conference in Niagara Falls, Canada. An essential boost to his research career came in 2004 when IBM generously funded him with $30,000. Dr. Zhu acknowledges this support as a pivotal milestone in his research journey.

The E-CARGO Model Journey

According to Dr. Zhu, his initiation into the CSCW field was driven by the need to facilitate collaboration through computer-based systems. While researchers focused on developing groupware, encompassing teleconference tools and WYSIWIS (What You See Is What I See) styles, Dr. Zhu observed a significant gap in CSCW research. He noted a prevailing oversight concerning the fundamental nature of collaboration, as most efforts were directed towards the creation of technologies for synchronous collaboration.

Recognizing this void, Dr. Zhu took it upon himself to delve into the essence of collaboration through extensive reading, contemplation, and abstraction. This exploration led him to formulate the E-CARGO model, derived from the key components of a system: Environments, Classes, Agents, Roles, Groups, and Objects.

E-CARGO, as Dr. Zhu conceptualized it, unveils the nature of collaboration as “a group of agents playing roles on an environment composed of classes of objects.” By introducing the concept of “on,” he distinguishes E-CARGO from traditional multi-agent systems, underscoring that an environment serves as a platform for agents to assume roles. Dr. Zhu emphasizes that understanding collaboration requires deeper exploration beyond technological advancements, highlighting the pivotal role of environments in facilitating agent roles.

A Paradigm Shift in Robotics Team Dynamics

E-CARGO/RBC presents a meticulously crafted model that significantly contributes to the establishment of robot teams, fostering notable advancements in the robotics industry. Recognizing the diverse needs of application developers, who often require various types of robots for setting up distinct robot teams, E-CARGO/RBC offers a versatile solution.

The model assures the robotics industry that robots built using E-CARGO/RBC can be effectively utilized across a spectrum of applications and within different types of robot teams. This adaptability and interoperability of the built robots underscore the flexibility and efficiency of the E-CARGO/RBC approach.

Bring it step further, E-CARGO/RBC goes beyond conventional boundaries by supporting the creation of hybrid teams, seamlessly integrating both humans and robots. This innovative approach maximizes the collective potential of both robots and human beings, presenting a paradigm shift in team dynamics within the robotics domain. Thus, E-CARGO/RBC emerges as a pivotal framework, not only enhancing the capabilities of individual robots but also revolutionizing collaborative efforts in hybrid teams, pushing the boundaries of what is achievable in the field of robotics.

Transformative Leap in Collaborative Robotics

Dr. Zhu takes great pride in creating the E-CARGO model and RBC methodology, propelling robot team establishment to new heights. Before E-CARGO/RBC, robot teams were confined to traditional multi-agent systems, limiting their intelligence. E-CARGO addressed challenges in specifying roles, enabling highly qualified participation of both robots and humans in teams. This breakthrough transcended traditional constraints, allowing teams to leverage the full spectrum of abilities and intelligence, and marking a transformative leap in collaborative robotics.

As an abstract model and methodology, E-CARGO/RBC holds a broad and substantial impact. Dr. Zhu anticipates increased recognition from researchers in robotics, motivating intensified efforts in exploring robot teams and team intelligence—a realm currently overlooked by many AI researchers. The notable impact of E-CARGO/RBC in the research community is expected to yield an influx of citations across diverse research areas and to find widespread applications within the industry.

Leading SMCS’s Systems Science and Engineering Committee

Dr. Zhu believes that the mission of the Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society (SMCS) is to advance the interests of its members and the broader community by promoting the theory, practice, and interdisciplinary aspects of systems science, engineering, human-machine systems, and cybernetics.

Recognizing the Society’s emphasis on interdisciplinary research and practice, Dr. Zhu notes that his research on E-CARGO/RBC aligns well with SMCS’s mission. This alignment has driven his active involvement in the Society’s events and activities for over two decades, where he has assumed various roles such as author, presenter, session chair, and organizer of major conferences.

Since 2006, Dr. Zhu has served as the co-chair of the Technical Committee on Distributed Intelligent Systems. He has also contributed as an Associate Editor (AE) for IEEE journals and magazines, and notably served as the Editor-in-Chief (EiC) of the IEEE SMC Magazine. Recognizing his dedication and contributions, the Board of Governors of SMCS elected Dr. Zhu as Vice President – Systems Science and Engineering in 2023. In this role, he shoulders responsibilities such as chairing the Systems Science and Engineering Committee (SSEC).

This entails providing leadership for organizing technical activities, including special sessions at SMCS conferences, collaborating with Transactions editors on special issues, overseeing the publication of bibliographies, standards, and definitions, preparing competent papers for presentation and publication, and coordinating technical meetings and workshops in collaboration with the Vice President of Conferences and Meetings. Additionally, Dr. Zhu plays a key role in forming specialty committees and the appointment of their chairs, in accordance with the provisions of the SMCS Bylaws.

Unifying Disciplines

Dr. Zhu underscores the interdisciplinary nature of the Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society (SMCS). Within the Systems Science and Engineering (SSE) domain, research is closely intertwined with the robotics industry, covering areas such as robot systems, humanoid systems, robot teams, systems of systems, and complex systems. Recognizing this intersection, Dr. Zhu affirms his commitment to organizing events and activities that directly pertain to the robotics industry.

The focus extends to themes like robot collaboration and teams, human-robot collaboration, and hybrid teams involving both robots and humans. To further contribute to both SMCS and the robotics industry, there is an active encouragement to establish additional technical committees that align with these areas. Dr. Zhu envisions these committees playing a pivotal role in fostering collaboration, knowledge exchange, and advancements within the interdisciplinary realm of SMCS and the dynamic field of robotics.

Leadership Philosophy in E-CARGO/RBC

As a leader, Dr. Zhu embodies a positive, encouraging, and optimistic approach, always striving to make things work effectively. His leadership style is adaptive, encompassing elements of structural, participative, servant, and freedom styles, with a touch of transformational leadership. Dr. Zhu fosters an environment that encourages team members to consistently publish, viewing research activity as beneficial not only for academic progress but also for mental well-being.

Believing in the connection between an active mind and a healthy body, Dr. Zhu emphasizes the importance of maintaining a vibrant state in research. He values planning, understanding, fairness, proactivity, and responsiveness in his leadership. His overarching goal is to facilitate team improvement and ensure team members find joy in both their contributions to the team and personal achievements within it.

Dr. Zhu’s leadership philosophy finds abstraction in E-CARGO/RBC, particularly in the context of management and leadership phases: role negotiation, agent evaluations, role assignment, and role-playing. Through this structured approach, Dr. Zhu aims to create a comfortable and conducive atmosphere that allows team members to thrive and find fulfillment in their collaborative efforts.

Lab Research to Industrial Implementation

Dr. Zhu acknowledges that a major challenge lies in the commercialization of lab research results. Despite having numerous exciting ideas, bridging the gap between these ideas and industrial implementation poses a significant obstacle. Understanding the perspectives of both the lab and industrial partners is essential for successful cooperation.

To address this challenge, Dr. Zhu actively seeks opportunities to inform industry partners about the lab’s research through the publication of high-quality papers and books. He places emphasis on ensuring that the research is not only academically rigorous but also reflects real-world applications relevant to industry needs.

In a recent development, Dr. Zhu successfully established a connection with a company. This collaborative effort involves integrating the lab’s methodology and algorithms with the company’s IoT devices to enhance its platform. This strategic partnership is expected to result in a mutually beneficial outcome, exemplifying a win-win situation for both the lab and the industry partner.

Vision for Team Technology

Dr. Zhu emphasizes the promising future of robot team technology and hybrid team technology for both economies and daily human lives. The integration of the RBC methodology and E-CARGO model with robotics holds the potential to enhance the competitiveness of robot teams. Dr. Zhu envisions a future where robots are trained not only with individual abilities but also possess an understanding of collaboration requirements from a team perspective, ultimately making them more powerful. This unique approach stands in contrast to traditional robot design methodologies, which often overlook this critical aspect.

In line with this vision, Dr. Zhu’s lab is embarking on a collaborative project with a company specializing in IoT devices. These devices, attachable to trucks, trailers, and movable objects, provide dynamic information that can be seamlessly integrated into the RBC process. This collaborative effort aims to establish an online platform for transportation enterprise managers to optimally manage and schedule their mobile assets. The anticipated outcome is substantial resource savings and an enhancement in the service quality of their business, showcasing the practical application of the RBC methodology in real-world scenarios.

Towards a Seamless Robotic Future

Dr. Zhu envisions a future where robotics seamlessly integrates into various facets of daily life, offering improvements in efficiency, safety, and overall well-being. Through the lens of E-CARGO/RBC, the future holds promising breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics-human collaboration, robot teams, and hybrid robot teams—comprising both humans and robots. Intelligent systems capable of adapting to dynamic environments are expected to emerge, with E-CARGO/RBC playing a pivotal role in enhancing research and practices in these domains.

As the involvement of robots in human activities increases, the need to manage multiple robots effectively to form cohesive teams becomes more pronounced. E-CARGO/RBC is well-positioned to contribute significantly to this aspect, by offering a more effective framework for orchestrating the collaboration of diverse robotic entities.

Furthermore, the rise of human/robot hybrid teams is on the horizon, attracting increasing attention from researchers and practitioners. The future, according to Dr. Zhu’s perspective and E-CARGO/RBC, holds great promise for the evolution of intelligent systems and the seamless integration of robots into our daily lives.

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