Kanna Rajan

Kanna Rajan

Senior Information Scientist, RAND

Kanna’s research interests are in Automated Planning/Scheduling, modeling and representation for real-world systems all part of the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). His career has spanned academia, private industry, the startup and the nonprofit worlds as well as the US government. His software has flown in deep space and the deep ocean. His recent research focus has been in advancing upper water-column ocean observations in the context of the changing climate.

He is currently a Senior Scientist at the RAND Corporation, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank, that advises the US and other allied governments, where his focus is on policy implications of AI as well as ocean science. He also holds a visiting faculty position affiliated with the Underwater Systems Technology Lab at the University of Porto. He was the Principal Researcher in Autonomy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Prior to that he was a Senior Research Scientist for the Autonomous Systems and Robotics at NASA’s Ames Research Center. He held an International Chair Professorship at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway and was the co-founder of a cybersecurity startup in the Silicon Valley. 

At NASA where he balanced programmatic and technical responsibilities, he was the Principal Investigator of the MAPGEN Mixed-Initiative Planning effort to command and control the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on the surface of Mars for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission. In 1999, Kanna was one of the six principals of the Remote Agent Experiment (RAX), which designed, built, tested and flew the first AI based control system in space. 

Prior to joining NASA, he was in the doctoral program at the Courant Institute of Math Sciences at New York University, which he joined after a stint at the Knowledge Systems group at American Airlines, where the Maintenance Routing scheduler (MOCA), which he helped build, continues to be used by the airline 24X7. 

Kanna is the recipient of the NASA Public Service Medal, the First NASA Ames Information Directorate Infusion Award both in 2002 and the 2004 NASA Exceptional Service Medal for his role on the Mars Exploration Rovers mission. He was a 2022 Fulbright Scholar in Portugal. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers in Artificial Intelligence, Space and Ocean Science.