Becoming A Roboticist From Scratch
Meet Thomas Brolin
Roboticist | Student Mentor @ Udacity
Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, India
Thomas Brolin completed a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering in 2018, then went to the Indian Institute Institute of Technology Indore as a Research Intern during which time was exposed to Soft Robotics and co-authored some interesting journal papers.
Now he works on Software Deployment and little R&D software development for mobile robots.
What inspired you to pursue a career in robotics?
The amount of challenge and learning the field provides is what made me pursue robotics.
Robotics is very vast and it almost encompasses every field of engineering. Day in and day out I learn so many new things.
The thing that I like most about the field is that there will never come a time when you can that “Yeah, Now I know everything about robotics”.
The field of robotics is evolving every day and there is always room for learning new things.
How it is the experience of being a student mentor at Udacity?
An awesome experience I would say. I will say that learned more than I have taught students.
In Richard Feynmen’s words, “If you want to learn something well, explain it”.
And trust me that really works.
While mentoring students at Udacity Robotics Software Engineer Nanodegree Program I realized the gaps in my understanding of the subject.
Every time someone asks me something that I don’t know, the first question I ask is “Why didn’t I think of this?”; that makes me dive deeper into the subject to try and understand it more clearly so that I can explain it to a newbie.
I’ve always learned new ways of explaining the same idea to different students.
I believe that if you can explain the same thing in many different ways then you have a deeper grasp of the subject.
What is the biggest challenge you have found building a mobile robot?
The biggest challenge I faced while developing code was thinking like a software engineer.
Being a Mechanical engineering graduate it was a bit outside my comfort zone. But I pushed myself hard to learn all that I could in a small period of time.
Being with senior software people helped me a lot.
I soon realized that a coder thinks creatively, combining different ideas and coming up with something new to solve things. Still, I keep learning new things from my team every day.
Explain why Robots will not replace humans?
Robots will not replace human beings. The reason why I say that is because robots lack creativity.
Take for example AI that generates art.
I say “generate” because it was trained on different “Great Arts” and it generated something using the patterns found in those arts.
What AI generates at the behest of computer scientists is not art, it’s just a derivative.
On the other hand, humans are creative for instance coming up with the idea of giving machines consciousness (lol).
See, we humans always want to be on top of the chain. So we will be creative in finding new ways to always be on top.
Think, for instance, what will happen if the entire manufacturing process is automated.
There will be no need for people. So people have to improve themselves to stay ahead of the machines.
If you think from an employment perspective, yes people will lose the job.
Robots are, in a way, just pushing human beings to improve and be more creative.
There’s any project you are following and become an inspiration for you?
They are trying to create plant-based meat and dairy. Yeah, you read that right. They are creating meat from plants.
They use machine learning and genomics to predict the mixture of which plant-based ingredients will best emulate animal proteins. What a fantastic time to live in.
What are the obstacles to creating an autonomous humanoid robot?
Google for “Humanoid” and you will see“
Humanoid - from English human and -oid "resembling" ”.
We have created the “resembling” part and not the human part. From a technological standpoint, creating a fully autonomous humanoid is still far fetched.
It’s still in the embryonic stage.
We have understood only a minute fraction of how the human brain works. So, programming consciousness – something that we will don’t understand in its entirety will take a long time.
I think the biggest challenge of the next decade (or rather the next century) is trying to create Artificial General Intelligence(AGI) and there is the reason why its called “General Intelligence”.
The AI available today is good at only one thing.
Trying to create something like a human who is good at multiple things is a difficult task in hand.
We are literally trying to convert 300,000 years of human evolution into two numbers 0 and 1.
Mention a company that as roboticist is your dream to work for?
I’ve always wanted to do something crazy and really challenging.
The people at Boston Dynamics are not just crazy, they are “insanely crazy”. They simply keep pushing their boundaries.
The kind of things they come up with are things that I thought are far fetched.
I am pushing my boundaries to learn more and more and hope sooner or later I will be a part of their team.
What advice would you give to a student that wants to start in the robotics industry?
There are no “skills”. There is only one – open to learning.
From personal experience, I realize that being open to learning is all that you need. Robotics is not just implementing algorithms that you have learned in textbooks.
It’s all about how creatively you can think and come up with something that will solve the issue in hand.
You will have to learn new things and combine many ideas to come up with a solution to a problem.
Many a time you will have to learn new thing to identify why the problem arises let alone coming up with a solution to it.
Patience – Perseverance – Passion are the 3 key traits you must have to enter and survive in the robotics industry as a fresher.
This has personally been my quality so far in my robotics career and will surely help new students learn more in the field.
New students must not put on blinkers and focus on one particular vertical in robotics.
Initially be open to learning as much as you can. Once you build a strong foundation then go on to mastering a particular branch in the field.