Peter K. Allen


Mail Code 0401

Tel(212) 939-7093
Fax(212) 666-0140

Peter Allen is designing and building intelligent robots that interact with humans and improve surgical procedures, quality of life, and the capabilities of healthy and disabled individuals.

Research Interests

Robotic grasping and manipulation, robot surgery, brain-computer interfaces, humanoid robots, 3D imaging.

Research Areas

Allen is the founder of the Columbia Robotics Lab, which does research in many areas of robotics.  He built the first fully integrated robotic grasping simulator GraspIt! which is in use by hundreds of grasping researchers across the world. His most recent work on robot hands has been to apply dimensionality reduction techniques from human grasping studies to permit online dexterous grasping by robots.  This work has recently been used in assistive robotics to allow disabled individuals to grasp objects using innovative Human-Robot interfaces, including sEMG and EEG.  He has also created new methods for grasping deformable objects such as clothing and created a pipeline for robot laundry handling.

In the field of medical robotics, Allen has built a number of surgical imaging devices, including a unique stereo imaging device that is fully insertable into the body and contains integrated pan/tilt/zoom/lighting. It has also been extended to create the Insertable Robotic Effector Platform (IREP) with integrated snake-like arms and tooling. In computer vision, he has pioneered using 3D vision to create rich models of complex outdoor scenes. This work developed a system to create a new class of information visualization systems that integrate 3D models, two dimensional images, text, and other web-based resources to annotate the physical environment. It has been used to model historic and archaeological sites in France, South Africa, Italy, and the U.S.

Allen received an AB degree from Brown University in mathematics-economics in 1971, a MS in computer science from the University of Oregon in 1976 and a PhD in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985.

He has authored over 200 scientific articles and five issued patents. He has received a number of awards for his work in robotics including the Rubinoff Prize for innovative research from the University of Pennsylvania, the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator award, and the Wegbreit and Anton Philips Best Paper awards from the IEEE Robotics and Automation Conference. Professor Allen is a member of ACM and IEEE. He joined the Department of Computer Science at Columbia Engineering in 1985.


  • Director, Columbia Robotics Laboratory, 1985 – 


  • Professor of computer science, Columbia University, 2000 –
  • Affiliate, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, 2000 –
  • Associate professor of computer science (tenure), Columbia University, 1994-1999
  • Associate professor of computer science, Columbia University, 1990–1993
  • Assistant professor of computer science, Columbia University, 1985-1990


  • ACM
  • IEEE Life Member


  • Rubinoff Prize for innovative research, University of Pennsylvania
  • National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator award
  • Wegbreit Best Paper award, IEEE Robotics and Automation Conference
  • Anton Philips Best Paper Award, IEEE Robotics and Automation Conference