NASA, Trinity College
Assistant Professor (lecturer) in Design in Trinity College Dublin
Trinity College Dublin
I design, build and program robots that help elderly and disabled people to live independently in their own homes.
For a long time people have fantasied and prophesied of the day when automata will be able to perform tasks that are currently being done by people. My research is to design, build and develop robots that answer to this dream. I envisage a day in our lifetime where our robots will live in people’s homes, be capable helping their users with practical tasks and possess the social intelligence to provide companionship and emotional comfort.[myimage2 left]
In particular, my team and I are developing robots be used to prolong the independence of elderly people, an often forgotten demographic that commonly live alone, have high incidence of depression/loneliness and have a high-risk of suffering falls/sickness. As the proportion of elderly people in our society continues to rise, it is unlikely that these problems will reduce without the adoption of different, more ambitious approaches such as robotics.
My Typical Day
Get up at 7am. Work in College til around 7pm. Go to gym, have dinner, hang out with friends til 11pm. Maybe do a few hours work before sleep.
A ‘typical’ day… There isn’t really such a thing. Although my job title is ‘assistant professor’ or ‘lecturer’, the vast majority of my time is spent conducting research. This effectively means that I am working on problems that either currently don’t have answers, or the answers we currently have aren’t good enough so I’m working on finding new ones. So everyday is different – for a period of time I might try a certain approach, then when I see it fail I’ll try something else. Sometimes you can test a theory/idea in a few hours. Other times it takes weeks/months. So like I said, everyday is different.
Because of the nature of my work, I don’t really have a daily routine. If I’m writing journal papers (basically articles describing research I’m doing), I generally get up early and try get that over with before lunch. Otherwise I’ll sleep in til around 9. I live 5 minutes from the University so I’m usually in my office/lab by around 10am. From 10am til 5 or 6 I’m doing such things as reading about research other groups are doing, teaching myself new techniques/skills, developing software programs for the robot, working on robot designs, teaching class, meeting with students etc. At 6 or 7, I will usually leave the lab. I’ll maybe have some dinner, go to the gym, hang out with some friends for a few hours. At 10/11pm I’ll usually make coffee and sit back down at my desk in my room. I work well at night and at this time it’s quiet and there are usually no distractions. Depending on my mood and the work I’m doing, I could be at the desk for less than an hour or until the sun comes up the next morning.
What I'd do with the money
Use it to help develop my robotics website and podcast
I’m currently in the process of developing a website that will showcase some of my research, share open-source teaching materials. It will also contain a blog and podcast where myself (and invited guests) talk informally about technology, education, research, science as well as recent robotics/AI related discoveries and developments. To get these things off the ground, some funding is needed to buy equipment (microphone, decent webcam, editing software) as well as costs to cover website development and hosting.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Passionate, determined, curious
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
That’s tough… So far maybe working on the GROVER robot (a NASA rover that was sent to Greenland to measure the rate at which the ice was melting).
What or who inspired you to become an engineer?
Nothing and everything. I answer this differently every time I’m asked. It’s my calling, that’s all I can say…
What did you want to be after you left school?
Professional rugby player
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No, never got caught. Haha. Jk I was an ok student
If you weren't an engineer, what would you be?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Old music – definitely bob dylan. New(er) music – maybe Lana Del Rey
What's your favourite food?
Got to be my mammy’s lasagna, nothing can beat it! :D
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Probably going to the DARPA Robotics Challenge (look it up!) in LA last year
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
(1) That I can spend my time doing what makes me happy (2) That my work will serve a real purpose (3) When I die my body to be frozen and resurrected successfully in ~200 years (nobody said it needed to be realistic!)
Tell us a joke.
Why did the mexican man throw his wife off a bridge? He wanted tequila ;)