The BEST Lab has three major theme areas. (1) The Berkeley Expert Systems Technologies (BEST) Lab addresses cutting edge research in applied Artificial Intelligence, Expert Systems, Human-Computer Interaction and Design Informatics. (2) The Berkeley Energy and Sustainable Technologies (BEST) Lab focuses on sustainable communities, sustainable product design, alternate energy and appropriate technologies. (3)  The Berkeley Emergent Space Tensegrities (BEST) is a new collaboration on tensegrity soft robotics with NASA Ames.

The BEST Lab is located in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at University of California at Berkeley under the direction of Professor Alice Agogino. The BEST has moved to its new design loft in the Mezzanine of Hesse Hall.

In the Domain of Design: Design Thinking, Innovation and Tensegrity Robot Protoypes

Jacobs Hall: New Home for Design Innovation Tensegrity Robots: Inspired by Nature and Toys


Professor Alice Agogino's history in design thinking is featured in a Special Design Issue of Berkeley Engineering in May 2015. Associated with the construction of Jacobs Hall (architect's rendition above left) for design innovation, there is a segment on Wicked Problems.

Excerpt: One faculty member is professor of mechanical engineering Alice Agogino, who will teach her classic course in Introduction to Product Development to a hundred students this fall in Jacobs Hall’s largest studio. Agogino introduced the concept of design thinking to the College of Engineering shortly after she came to Berkeley in 1984 — years before the term itself had entered the language. She recalls being asked to create a seminar in design theory and methods and reaching out to “the inquiry disciplines, the creative arts,rhetoric,” and many other departments across the campus. “It was the intellectual foundations of how they framed design that I wanted to understand, where they intersected. What could we learn from each other?” Among those whose ideas impressed her was Horst Rittel, a professor in the College of Environmental Design. In 1973, Rittel had introduced the term “wicked” to describe certain problems, the very nature of which makes them hard to define, much less to solve creatively and effectively. Some design problems are tame (tame problems have rules and unambiguous resolutions, like a game of checkers); Agogino says they’re routine and can often be handled by automation. “Designers should be working on the hardest problems, the wicked problems.” Rittel called design “an argumentative process,” says Agogino. “He said that when you talk to your customers and other designers and different stakeholders, you’re always making tradeoffs, and you have to understand what they are. To do this you need a deep, empathetic understanding of customers’ and users’ needs.” She adds, “It looks like what today we call design thinking.” Read full story In the Domain of Design by sceince fiction author Paul Preuss.  See Agogino's slides on the History of Design Thinking and the History of Wicked Problems – Working with Horst Rittel on Interdisciplinary Design presented at the 40th anniversary of Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber's original publication on Wicked Problems in Socio-Ecological Systems.

The Tensegrity Robot project was featured as a case study with a fab photo of Mechanical Engineering graduate students Lee-Huang Chen and Kyunam Kim (upper right). Excerpt: If a ball had bones, the resulting motion would probably resemble what a moving tensegrity robot looks like. Researchers call the motion “controlled punctuated rolling.” Agogino and her students are developing rapid prototyping kits and investigating other ways of deploying tensegrity robots, including for healthcare and education applications. “We are developing an open innovation approach to our rapid prototyping kit because we would like the designs and the do-it-yourself instructions to be available to other researchers and educators,” Agogino says. Read full story in Prototype: NASA Tensegrity Robots.

Omoju Miller wins award to attend Paris event titled: Connecting Open Research, Open Education, and Open Social Impact”


Congrats to Omoju Miller! She has returned from winning an Open Innovator's Award to attend and present her research at the international conference at the Duclaux Lecture Theater, Institut Pasteur in Paris, France (photo to right) in mid-April, sponsored by Sage Bionetworks. The topic is “Connecting Open Research, Open Education, and Open Social Impact”. Omoju was nominated by CITRIS: Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society. From April 16 – 18, Omoju and two other members of the CITRIS community presented their research and entrepreneurial work. Omoju's research was on Hiphopathy: Broadening participation in undergraduate computer science (poster upper left).

This year the 2015 Sage Assembly highlighted three trends: large-scale data, social networks, and novel institutional power structures. The three trends were were used as the bases to relate to open innovation and social impact. This invitation-only event brought together experts from biotech, medicine, education, computer science, engineering, entrepreneurship, and activism to address breaking down the divides that restrict the flow of information between groups and make research more challenging. Keynote speakers included the first recipients of the Sage Assembly Open Innovator Awards: Jessica Jackley from Kiva.org and Salman Khan, founder of Kahn Academy.

Congrats to BEST Labber Julia Kramer and Team for Winning First Place in the Big Ideas Competition in Global Health

Julia Kramer (PhD student, Mechanical Engineering), Abhimanyu Ray (MEng, product design), Karan Patel (MEng, Product design) and Betsy McCormick (MBA, Haas School of Business) won First Place in Global Health  for their proposal: Visualize: Saving Lives with Training for Cervical Cancer Screening. The award is for $10,000 and will cover her travel and supplies to implement in Ghana. Please join us at the Awards Celebration on Tuesday, May 5th from 2:00-4:00 PM PST at Blum Hall B100 (on the plaza level).  The proposal was partially developed through a capstone project in DevEng 200: Design, Evaluate and Scale Development Technologies as part of the new designated emphasis in Development Engineering. It was part of a select group of projects awarded from over 200 submissions.

slide of training kit

Congrats to BEST Labber Fellowship Awardees: Julien Caubel and Andrew Sabelhaus

Congrats to Julien and Drew for winning prestigious national fellowship awards this year! Julien Caubel recently won the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) for his proposal titled: Monitoring Black Carbon: Mitigating the Impact of Residential Biomass Cookstoves. NSF awarded the GRF to only 2,000 individuals from among 16,500 applicants in 2015.

Andrew (Drew) Sabelhaus was recently awarded the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF) for research on: Approximate Models for Closed-Loop Trajectory Tracking in Underactuated Systems. NASA Space Technology Fellows will perform innovative, space-technology research at their respective campuses and at NASA Centers, probably NASA Ames. 

To learn more about their research, click on their photos below to see their video.


Agogino, Beckman, Chesbrough and Miles Interviewed by Korean Business Today on Open Innovation

Thanks to Dr. Sohyeong Kim and her dissertation (Open Innovation Ecosystem: Chez Panisse Case Study), Alice Agogino and her colleagues at the Haas School of Business (Sara Beckman, Henry Chesbrough and Raymond Miles in photo below) were interviewed by South Korean journalists from  Business Today. Agogino talks about competition ) in the Internet of Things (IOT) space and the great potential for open innovation. The article ends with referring to UC Berkeley as the Mecca of Open Innovation. - "South Korea the world's best education investment? Creativity is not dead Education" [Money Today] 07.04.2015.


BEST Lab in Computerworld and on IDG.tv: New robot bounces, could replace rovers on NASA missions

The Tensegrity Robot Team brought our UC Berkeley prototypes to the Silicon Valley Robot Block Party last week for National Robotics Week  and were filmed by Computerworld and IDG.tv. The accompanying video posted on IDG.tv talks about the UC Berkeley contributions and features images of BEST Labbers and MEng students. "Researchers at NASA and the University of California at Berkeley are developing a robot that's robust enough to be dropped directly onto planets and go straight to work."

Image from Video of tensegrity robot and team BEST lab team photo

Prototypes from ME110 (Introduction to Product Development) were popular with the children. The bottom left figure shows the K-8 prototype and the bottom right the High School version.

BEST lab team photo HS version of tensegrity robot

Tensegrity Robots in the News: Wired Magazine, the Economist, Smithsonian and IEEE Spectrum

Drew Sabelhaus and SUPERball Tensegrity Robot at NASA Ames Tensegrity Team photo
Andrew Sabelhaus, working in conjunction with researchers from UC Berkeley’s BEST Lab, demonstrate the SUPERball robot. BEST tensegrity robot teams: Spherical and spine structures.


In celebration of our great news coverage during the first week of March 2015 (summarized below), the Fung Capstone tensegrity robotic teams posed for a group photo with their mentors in the BEST Lab (upper right photo).

  • The Economist, March 7, 2015: Our tensegrity robot was highlighted in The Economist (Technology Quarterly, March 7-13th 2015, pp. 10-12) - Microgravity Rovers: A lightness of being. Quote: Although more jerky than graceful, little traction is needed resulting in a “punctuated rolling motion”, says Alice Agogino, a NASA-funded researcher working on such a project at the University of California, Berkeley. The rovers’ instruments and power supply would be suspended in the centre of the structure.
  • Wired Magazine, March 5, 2015: A Robot that Collapses Under Pressure (In a Good Way). Quote from the Wired Magazine article: Alice Agogino, the head of the Berkeley Emergent Space Tensegrities Lab at the University of California-Berkeley (and Adrian’s mom), is currently working on a tensegrity robot inspired by the structure and flexibility of the human spine, in order to walk up stairs more easily. Similar bots could also have applications in search and rescue operations that require nimble movement.

Tensegrity Team Finalist for BEST Student Paper Award at Robotics Conference

Photo of Kyunam Kim accepting award Image of award

Finalist (of four) for Best Student Paper Award (doctoral student Kyunam Kim was the lead author), 2014 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Biomimetics, ROBIO2014. Download paper:: "Rapid Prototyping Design and Control of Tensegrity Soft Robot for Locomotion", K. Kim, A.K. Agogino, D. Moon, L. Taneja, Al. Toghyan, B. Dehghani, V. SunSpiral and A.M. Agogino.

BEST Labbers Install Energy Sensors in Demonstration Homes Co-Designed and Built with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation

Photo of energy sensor in the shape of abalone shell Photo of demonstration home with PPN


From the news article: "Last week marked an exciting time in the completion of our Prototype Homes as three University of California, Berkeley graduate students visited to begin monitoring temperature, humidity and light in the first of our two Prototype Homes constructed using straw bale methods. The crew from Berkeley included [Katy Van Lieshout, Jeff Lee, Miho Kitagawa (Mechanical Engineering graduate students from UC Berkeley working with Prof. Alice Agogino)], who installed the monitoring equipment. The first round will last two weeks as the group gathers baseline data in the empty home. While traditional monitoring techniques were utilized, the students took things to another level with their own culturally-inspired monitoring design. In slide 1 [photo upper right] you’ll see what looks like an Abalone shell, but that’s no mollusk. With help from a 3D printer, the design was created by Katie and features a mini-solar cell to keep the unit powered. As stated before, the units will measure temperature, humidity and light within the house with the goal of analyzing the efficiency of the design. The group looks to return in November to look at the data and begin analysis before tenants are selected. We look forward to examining the results and seeing how the energy-saving methods utilized in construction translate to real-time benefits."

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