Todd Hylton Adds Neural Tech Expertise to UCSD Robotics Institute

UC San Diego has named Todd Hylton, a veteran tech industry manager and expert in neural-based processing technology, as executive director of its new Contextual Robotics Institute.

Hylton was previously the executive vice president of strategy and research at Brain Corp., a Qualcomm-backed startup founded in 2009 to develop computer systems and software based on algorithms that emulate the “spiking neuron” processes of the human brain.

After joining Brain Corp. in 2012, Hylton led a team that developed BrainOS, software technology designed to enable robotic systems to adapt to their environments and learn from humans. At Brain Corp., Hylton also led a team developing a new class of machine learning algorithms that enabled computers to “learn” by watching videos of the natural world, and to “grasp” the concept of time and anticipate how their surrounding environment will change.

Although much of the robotics industry has clustered in Silicon Valley and Boston, Hylton (pictured above) said San Diego still has an opportunity to claim a role for itself in robotics innovation.

“It’s still early days in the [robotics] space, so everybody still has the opportunity to take over, or win the game, or become a larger player,” Hylton said. He described San Diego as a “fantastic place” for robotics, with many renowned local scientists who specialize in cognitive science and neuroscience, a major semiconductor maker (Qualcomm), and UC San Diego, a major research university.

The Contextual Robotics Institute is a partnership of the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Division of Social Sciences. UC San Diego Qualcomm Institute houses part of the robotics institute, which was founded last fall to develop safe, useful, and human-friendly robotics systems.

The Contextual Robotics Institute will be looking to spin out startups, license its technology advances, and educate students who can meet the tech industry’s enormous demand for robotics experts. According to Hylton, one promising area for robotics innovation lies in making autonomous robots that can move goods, clean floors and other flat surfaces, and monitor inventories in big-box stores, office buildings, and warehouses.

Hylton’s appointment comes less than two months after UC San Diego named Henrik Christensen as director of the robotics institute. Christensen was previously executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and quadrupled its funding during the 10 years he led the Atlanta-based school. His research has emphasized a systems-based approach to machine vision, robotics, and the design of intelligent machines.

“Henrik’s expertise is more in academics,” Hylton said. “Mine are in business and government.”

Before joining Brain Corp., Hylton was a program manager for the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA). In 2007, Hylton initiated DARPA’s SyNAPSE program, which provided millions in research grants to IBM and others to develop new processor technology that emulated the neuromorphic architecture of the brain.

Prior to DARPA, Hylton managed a small group of scientists and engineers as director of the center for advanced materials and nanotechnology at San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC). He also was co-founder of 4Wave, a Virginia-based startup specializing in semiconductor equipment.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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