Alan Zhao

Hi there!

I’m a PhD candidate with the Perceptual Science Group at MIT CSAIL. I’m advised by Professor Edward H. Adelson. Before joining MIT, I worked at Nuro Inc. as a full-time software engineer on autonomous vehicle behavior (planning & maneuvers), for a year.

I received my M.S. in Robotics degree from The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where I was advised by Professor Oliver Kroemer at the Intelligent Autonomous Manipulation (IAM) lab.

My research interest mainly lies in robotic manipulation and robot learning. In particular, I’m interested in designing tactile sensors and using them to devise manipulation policies. Over the past few years, I have been working on reducing uncertainties for robotic assembly tasks by learning precise and task-oriented grasps, and learning contact-rich manipulation tasks by composing hierarchical controllers.

Before joining CMU, I spent one year as an undergrad researcher at UC Berkeley HART Lab. I worked on modelling and designing controllers for an active Upper Limb Exoskeleton under the supervision of Professor Ruzena Bajcsy.

In my spare time, I enjoy software and hardware robotics DIY. I’m working hard on releasing them and making them open source. Recently, I’ve started filming some of my DIYs. Please check out my Youtube channel Crafted by JZ or my BiliBili channel 试作间. Check out the #open-source section for released projects.


GelSight Svelte: A Human Finger-shaped Single-camera Tactile Robot Finger with Large Sensing Coverage and Proprioceptive Sensing

J. Zhao and E. Adelson. Accepted to the 2023 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2023) [Website][arXiv][YouTube][Media] Best Overall Paper Award Finalist


GelSight Svelte Hand: A Three-finger, Two-DoF, Low-cost, Tactile-rich Robot Hand for Dexterous Manipulation

J. Zhao and E. Adelson. Submitted to the IROS workshop on Visuo-Tactile Perception, Learning, Control for Manipulation and HRI (IROS RoboTac 2023) [Website][arXiv]


FingerSLAM: Closed-loop Unknown Object Localization and Reconstruction from Visuo-tactile Feedback

J. Zhao, M. Bauza, and E. Adelson. Accepted to the 2023 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2023) [arxiv] [YouTube]


Causal Reasoning in Simulation for Structure and Transfer Learning of Robot Manipulation Policies

T. E. Lee, J. Zhao, A. S. Sawhney, S. Girdhar, O. Kroemer. Accepted to the 2021 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2021) [arxiv] [website]


Learning to Compose Hierarchical Object-Centric Controllers for Robotic Manipulation

Mohit Sharma*, Jacky Liang*, Jialiang Zhao, Alex LaGrassa, Oliver Kroemer. Conference on Robot Learning (CoRL). November 2020. Plenary Presentation. [arxiv] [website]

Towards Robotic Assembly by Predicting Robust, Precise and Task-oriented Grasps

J. Zhao, D. Troniak, O.Kroemer. Submitted and accepted to 2020 Conference on Robot Learning (CoRL 2020). Oral presentation. [arxiv]

Towards Precise Robotic Grasping by Probabilistic Post-grasp Displacement Estimation

J. Zhao, J. Liang, O.Kroemer. Submitted and accepted to 12th Conference on Field and Service Robotics (FSR 2019). Oral presentation. [arxiv]


Introduction and Initial Exploration to an Automatic Tennis Ball Collecting Machine

J. Zhao, H. Ma, J. Shi, and Y. Liu. Submitted and accepted to 2017 European Conference on Mobile Robots (ECMR). Presentation. [paper]

Annotation and detection of emotion in text-based dialogue systems with CNN

J. Zhao and Q. Gao. [arXiv paper]

Open Source

Equatorial mount built with HarmonicDrive for astrophotography

See my blog post about this design!

A small yet sturdy equatorial mount built for astronomy/astrophotography, using real HarmonicDrive gearboxes. Fully open-sourced. GitHub: alanzjl/AlkaidMount, YouTube, BiliBili


Neptune MIDI

A 3d printed MIDI controller that can be used for video and photo editing (Lightroom, Photoshop, Premiere, DaVinci Resolve, etc.) It contains mechanical switches, rotary encoders, sliders, a joystick, and a small oled screen. Solidworks source files, STL files, BOM are fully open source. [github] [youtube] [bilibili]



A mostly 3d printed, motorized, 2-axis camera slider that is Really Solid (R.S.). Tested with a 15lbs cinema camera setup. Software and hardware W.I.P. Details to be added.


RPI AirPlay HiFi

AirPlay + DAC + AMP, using a Raspberry Pi Zero W and HiFiBerry. Source files & instructins can be found in GitHub: alanzjl/RPI_AirPlay_HiFi


2’’ Filter drawer for astrophotography

A filter drawer that houses a single 2’’ filter that you may want to use between a telescope and a camera. Source files & instructins can be found in GitHub: alanzjl/FilterDrawer


For more info

Please see my resume [pdf].

Updated 01/2021.