Since 2009 Lara has been involved in service robotics, especially for the user groups of young people and older adults. Her work focuses on the product design process with human needs in the center. Classically, these are customer or user needs which require empathizing and envisioning to set up requirement specifications. However, the same applies to the project team developing these products or services, thus her work also focuses on organizational aspects and process design. Lara brings people with different interests, strengths and skills into cross- and interdisciplinary project teams to address the grand challenges for living and interacting in technology-augmented environments.
Lara started her research in the field of Human-Robot Interaction where she helped conceptualize the HOBBIT robot, a European funded project to address the challenge of an aging society, and co-developed the Mutual Care concept for service robots for older people. Being in the project team and seeing the difficulties of designing and building a robot prototype first hand, she focused her work on robotic product development from a project manager’s view by building on her expertise as former train bogies project manager at a big company in Austria.
While she was thinking about helping robot project teams to build better prototypes, being a mother of two young children at the time, Lara’s research focus was directed to the field of Educational Robotics. She combined both areas by developing the 5-step plan for young people to bring their robot idea onto paper. Starting with the user needs first and imagining a prototype from scratch with a top-down approach was fairly new in Educational Robotics at that time, which was mostly focused on bottom-up engineering problems of navigation and grasping. Rather than promoting concepts that were attracting more boys than girls or children who did not know that they could be interested in robotic technology development, Lara extended her top-down approach further by developing the Crazy Robots (Schräge Roboter) concept to address ALL young people. The concept was selected one of the top ten educational projects in Austria from B&C Privatstiftung in 2016. Meanwhile, Lara had noticed that the Educational Robotics scene was scattered around Europe, with many synergies and best practice transfers never taking place. Being an advocate of diversity and collaboration, she envisioned a framework to align all educational robotics activities systematically. This vision resulted in a European Horizon 2020 Project, ER4STEM, which she helped conceptualizing and building up.
In order to upscale the Crazy Robots concept and reach more middle school students, Lara designed a course for TU Wien students of all disciplines and sent them in interdisciplinary teams to schools where they would help a class of students ages 11 to 12 designing a service robot and building a prototype to be presented in front of a jury. The university students were responsible to plan, organize and execute the project working towards the vision of enabling technological literacy for all young people.
The same vision has been guiding the Outreach with Educational Robotics program that Lara built up for the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. Loving to work with smart minds open for new experiences, Lara hired more people to help her with the outreach activities and set up following strategies to reach her vision:
Lara’s team developed different concepts and activities under these strategies, like the innovator lab, robotics summer camp, AI Day, Pepper robot demo, Thymio robot mini workshop, interactive wall, to name some of them. With a bigger team and challenging goals to attain, Lara realized that she had to structure her organization more effectively so that things would run more smoothly between team members. Working part-time at a young software company with CEO and CTO in their early thirties and the employees in their twenties, she could observe and learn new ways of working and communicating while managing an R&D project with Pepper robot for people with dementia. While Lara has been continuously working on her leadership to enable her team members to fulfill their missions, the Outreach team won the Idea Marathon award at the Imagine18 by describing the team and their way of working:
the future is now: diverse, collaborative, and technologically literate
Lara holds a Diplomingenieur degree in Wirtschaftsingenieurwesen-Maschinenbau-Mechatronik (best translated as mechatronics engineering with business administration) from Graz University of Technology and and a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from TU Wien. She speaks German, Turkish, English and French fluently.
Today she is head of PR&Communication for the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology and works as senior scientist at the Automation and Control Institute. Her new vision is to address the Global Sustainable Development Goals with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems designed from a holistic view of human and societal needs.