In third grade, I did a research project on how to rescue people in the aftermath of an earthquake (a big one is pending for the PNW, and you can never be too prepared) and I settled on a little rover that could go into debris and check for heat signatures to identify people and report their location to rescuers. I made my little prototype to present and that was it, but that curiousity that it was possible to create things that could help people stuck with me.
I participated in robotics clubs throughout middle and high school but I don’t think it really hit me that I could make useful things until I worked on dog treat dispenser as part of an outreach project for nearby nursing home. A simple thing really, you pressed the button and a small motor with rotate pushing out dog treats. That was probably the moment that hit me and I started taking robotics more seriously outside of the club.
My aha moment was in high school when I watched a video of HERB, the robot butler, attempt to scrape the crème off of an Oreo cookie. The fact that it was possible to acheive that fine level of accuracy fascinated me. I realized that I wanted to be a part of work where I could be helping people. Much of the robotics that scared me away were things like Spot from Boston Dynamics, a robot that was designed to be used in industrial settings. While the concept of the 3 Ds (dull, dirty, dangerous) makes sense to me, it always felt like it was one step away from using robots for defense or security purposes. One episode of Madam Secretary specifically comes to mind, where the possibility of using “killer robots” to enter a cave filled with potential terrorists comes up. I hope we never have to get to that point, but the idea that something I created could harm people doesn’t sit well with me.
My programming prevents me from injuring a human being. —Baymax, Big Hero 6
Hence the search for robotics near the healthcare field. Having a love-hate relationship with biology I tried looking further and found what I wanted at the Personal Robotics Lab at the University of Washington. With the ongoing pandemic, I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would’ve liked here, but I know that with my current research experience, I want to do more in assistive robotics and so I’m applying for graduate school, with the intent to pursue it further.