Skip to Content
Alumni profile

Jerry Pratt ’94, MEng ’95, PhD ’00

Robotics researcher keeps droids on their feet.

Someday soon, robots will stride into an earthquake-shattered city or a contaminated nuclear plant and perform tasks too perilous for humans. Jerry Pratt, senior research scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Pensacola, will keep them on their feet. Pratt writes walking algorithms for robots. In October, he will be inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.

Pratt built his first invention as a teen in Ashland, Wisconsin: he entered his Knockout Keyless Door Lock in a competition sponsored by Duracell and earned a $10,000 scholarship. “You knocked on a door in a secret pattern to unlock it,” he remembers. “I thought it would be cool to have something like that on my tree fort.” At MIT he ran varsity track and cross-country and played intramural hockey, basketball, and football on the renowned teams Smell the Stick, Juicy Chicken, and the Flanking Itos.
As a graduate student, Pratt worked on bipedal robots in the Leg Laboratory. One of them, Spring Turkey, now resides at the MIT Museum. “It was one of the first walking robots that was good at being compliant on unfamiliar terrain,” he notes.

Pratt and three other MIT engineers cofounded Yobotics in 2000. The startup built an exoskeleton to carry heavy loads over rough ground, a robotic arm, and an intelligent patient lifter for hospitals. In 2002 he joined the not-for-profit IHMC, where he directs multiple projects. This summer his software team won second place and a million dollars in DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, in which a remote-controlled humanoid robot had to drive a car through an obstacle course, traverse a pile of cinder blocks, and then open valves and cut through sheetrock.

“The big application in robotics right now is disaster recovery, where there’s rubble everywhere,” Pratt says. “Humanoid robots have the potential to provide a presence in dangerous areas while keeping the human operators safe.”

In 2013, Pratt and his wife, Megan Benson Pratt ’93, founded the Pensacola MESS Hall, a hands-on science museum. MESS, which stands for “math, engineering, science, and stuff,” is an allusion to Pensacola’s Navy culture. The facility serves up MESS Kits—experiments in a box—to about 20,000 visitors a year. Megan Pratt, who has a Harvard PhD in neuroscience and served for six years on the Pensacola City Council, is its executive director. The Pratts enjoy water sports, games, and camping with their school-aged daughter and son, who both like programming in the Media Lab’s Scratch language.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This new data poisoning tool lets artists fight back against generative AI

The tool, called Nightshade, messes up training data in ways that could cause serious damage to image-generating AI models. 

Rogue superintelligence and merging with machines: Inside the mind of OpenAI’s chief scientist

An exclusive conversation with Ilya Sutskever on his fears for the future of AI and why they’ve made him change the focus of his life’s work.

The Biggest Questions: What is death?

New neuroscience is challenging our understanding of the dying process—bringing opportunities for the living.

Data analytics reveal real business value

Sophisticated analytics tools mine insights from data, optimizing operational processes across the enterprise.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.