Robotics Engineer: Navigating the Past and the Future

By Vangelova, Luba | The Science Teacher, January 2018 | Go to article overview

Robotics Engineer: Navigating the Past and the Future


Vangelova, Luba, The Science Teacher


Robotics engineers design and build robotic devices that perform various functions, such as controlling vehicles on roadways. Robotics is a growing field that "integrates different types of technologies and requires a broad understanding of how systems work," says Kevin Dowling, CEO of Kaarta, which makes real-time 3-D mapping systems that help robots navigate and provide maps and models of buildings and structures.

Work overview

As CEO, I manage the company's strategy and vision, hire people, make decisions, coordinate meetings, set priorities, and ensure that projects get done. I also confer with current and prospective investors.

My favorite part of my job is working with teams to solve problems involving business, manufacturing, and technology. There is never a perfect answer to a problem; you're often just trying to find a good balance among different variables.

Career highlights

I've worked with teams that overcame incredible challenges. At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), we built new kinds of systems, including autonomous vehicles and a robot that could navigate in unstructured environments.

It was fun to work with technologies that I knew would eventually become part of our lives. While working at a company that created the first intelligent LED-based fixtures, I was able to travel the world and visit interesting places such as Egypt's Valley of the Kings.

Career path

After graduating from high school, I took both engineering and math courses at CMU while working toward a degree in applied mathematics. During the summer of my junior year, I helped assemble workstations for the first robots at CMU's newly formed Robotics Institute and, after graduating, spent the next decade building robots at CMU.

During that time, I earned a master's degree in robotics and decided to get a PhD, intending to become a professor. Then I realized I wanted to work outside of academia, where my work would more directly benefit people.

I took entrepreneurship classes and wrote proposals for startups. After completing my PhD, I moved to Boston and built robots for clean rooms, where computer chips are made. A couple of years later, I led the engineering team of Color Kinetics, the pioneering LED-lighting company. …

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