Yecheng (Jason) Ma Named Apple Scholar in AIML

April 15th, 2024

Yecheng (Jason) Ma, a fourth-year doctoral student in Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been awarded an Apple Scholars in AIML Ph.D. fellowship for his contributions in computer science and engineering.

Under the guidance of his advisors Dinesh Jayaraman and Osbert Bastani, both Assistant Professors in Computer and Information Science, Ma has focused his research on training and deploying foundation models for robotics. Specifically, he has explored methods to enable robots to learn from internet-scale multi-modal data, with the aim of enhancing robot perception and control.

“One of the most promising areas within robotics is to use data-driven machine learning methods to learn robot perception and control. Given my interests in interactive systems and robotics, embodied machine learning was a natural choice for me to pursue in my Ph.D.,” says Ma, reflecting on his research path.

Ma’s exceptional academic background, which includes an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Harvard, led him to work with Jayaraman and Bastani at Penn Engineering. The world-class faculty, interdisciplinary collaboration, and state-of-the-art GRASP robotics lab were key factors in his decision to attend Penn.

“Ma’s research has been paving one particularly promising route to general-purpose robots: automatically constructing task specification rewards to train a robot, and then developing safe and efficient learning methods for the robot to learn from such specifications,” says Jayaraman. “His work has been received with much excitement in the robotics research community because it holds out the promise of a future in which a layperson end user might be able to teach a robot new skills simply by speaking to the robot or showing a picture of what they would like the robot to do.”

Ma’s selection as an Apple Scholar in AIML marks a historic achievement for Penn Engineering, as he becomes the first student from the institution to receive this prestigious recognition. The Apple Scholars in AIML Ph.D. fellowship acknowledges the contributions of exceptional researchers in computer science and engineering at the graduate and postgraduate levels. As part of the fellowship, Ma will receive funding to support his ongoing Ph.D. studies, internship opportunities and mentorship from an Apple researcher in his field.

Expressing his gratitude, Ma says, “Being selected as an Apple Scholar is a tremendous honor for me, and I am very grateful to Apple and my advisors, mentors and collaborators for supporting me in my research career. It feels great to have my body of work recognized by one of the premier technology companies in the world.”

To learn more about Ma, please visit his site at