I work on robotic manipulation. The ability to deal with almost any random object that comes along is the most astonishing thing that humans and other animals do, and the most intriguing challenge in robotics.
My main focus is the Simple Hands Project. Here's the idea. Most robot hands can be classified as either simple or complex. Simple hands are like pliers or tongs, but highly specialized. Often they are designed to handle just one specific object. Despite this limitation, simple hands are by far the most common in practical applications.
Simple Hands is primarily a computer science project, but with important contributions from applied mechanics. The main challenges are perception and planning. Perception uses all available information to determine what is in the hand, and planning chooses actions to achieve an end goal. Both are founded on a machine learning approach, employing experimental data from thousands of trials. In short, the robot messes with things to learn how they behave, how to sense them, and how to manipulate them.