My family would take me on trips to Disneyland, and I remember being on those rides and seeing my favorite characters moving along next to me. I always wondered, “How are these characters moving? How do they make that?” As time went on, my questions led to a passion for automation and, ultimately, robotics.
My high school didn’t have a robotics team, but I had a passion for STEM, and in college I studied mechanical engineering because I knew I wanted to get into robotics. I wasn’t always the only girl in the room, but as a woman I was always in the minority in my classes, in the projects I did for internships, and even when I went to work after college. I was fortunate to grow up with a female STEM figure in my life, my mom. She studied computer science as an undergraduate and hearing her stories about her experience made me know that even if I was in the minority, I could pursue studies or a career in STEM.
I worked for two years at Eli Lilly and Company in their robotics program, but I wanted to come back to school – specifically Stanford – to learn more about machine learning and decision making and how we can apply that to robotic manipulation tasks. I’m doing precisely that kind of research as one of six recipients of the Amazon Robotics Day One Fellowship. Right now I’m working with Dr. Monroe Kennedy in the Assistive Robotics and Manipulation Lab to develop a sensor that would be the equivalent of a human fingertip. As a human, I know how to hold and handle different objects, and much of that ability comes from a sense of touch, something most robots today don’t have.
There’s so much potential in this work. Robots with a sense of touch and the ability to handle various types of objects could help humans in everything from exploration to rescue missions. It’s personal to me; my grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease and relies on live-in nurses who couldn’t come to work when COVID hit. A robotic assistant able to handle flexible material such as clothing could be so helpful in assisting disabled people with things like getting dressed or getting in and out of bed.
To me, part of being an engineer is solving problems that advance the future and improve the lives of everyone, whether it’s on a local or a global scale. The work takes patience and time, but we’re making progress in a positive direction that could really impact human lives, and that makes all the effort worth it.