Alexandra Nilles

Postdoctoral Associate
Cornell University

Alexandra Nilles completed her Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2020, after completing an Engineering Physics degree at the Colorado School of Mines. Her thesis work focused on motion planning for minimalist mobile robots that deliberately make contact with hard boundaries in their workspace. She is now a Postdoc in Dr. Kirstin Petersen’s Collective Embodied Intelligence Lab at Cornell University. Her long term goals are to design robotic and cyber-physical systems that are minimal, in terms of the sensing, actuation, and computational requirements, but still have provable guarantees on performance and robustness. Beyond algorithmic planning, control and system design, she has interests in human-computer interaction, human-robot interaction, animal-robot interaction, somatic methods, and control interface design.


Robotics and computing hardware has passed the threshold where ubiquitous robots are no longer science fiction, but a rapidly progressing reality. Proven in logistics and manufacturing, we now face grand challenges of urbanization and climate change mitigation. My research investigates algorithmic and system design approaches to minimalist agents for environmental monitoring. Minimalism - the effort to find lower bounds on computational, sensing, and other resource requirements of robotic tasks - is necessary to build scalable and sustainable cyber-physical systems. My thesis work has laid a theoretical foundation in motion planning, control and design for such systems; I am now actively pursuing applications at multiple scales, from micro-scale agents for medical and microbiology research, to carbon-capture auditing and off-planet mining. My work shows that per-agent resource requirements can be dramatically reduced through principled design of onboard information processing in tandem with embodied intelligence.