- Molly Gardner
Ava Team Insights: Working in Robotics 101
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Guest Blogger and Ava Spring Intern, Nicole Li
At Thayer High School, completing a senior project is the final thing seniors do before they graduate. This project is designed for seniors to experience something they are interested in and passionate about, outside of the classroom.
As a potential Electrical and Computer Engineering major, I have always wanted to see what this field of study looks like, in real-world action, before college.
Originally, I was going to investigate programming languages with my computer science teacher, but that turned out to be more like a classroom theoretical session rather than real world experience. Later, I learned from my teacher that there was an opportunity for me to meet the team and check out engineering (and more), at Ava Robotics in Cambridge. Because my major can be applied directly to robotics, I hoped to discover different roles in robotics and how members of the Ava team's previous experience helped them to enter the industry and shape their careers.
I interviewed the following Ava team members, both in-office and via Webex:
Nicholas Cassetta, Engineer
Greg Lagana, Mechanical Engineer
Advait Patil, Software Engineer
Sara Schwarz, Customer Success Manager
It was exciting to learn about these different job responsibilities and to hear unique perspectives, ranging from Hardware, Design and Development, to Software, and Customer Success - all in the context of robotics technology.
Engineering & Hardware Service
Under many circumstances, hands-on experience can be more important than theoretical ideas. Nick, who is in charge of hardware and robots testing, explained how it is possible to learn many great theories in college, but applying those to physical entities involves a unique skill and mindset. There is nothing “typical” about the robotics industry.
Things change fast, and it is important to enjoy having dynamic work and work environment, despite the challenges.
Additionally, working on the hardware side for a startup means exposure to a variety of situations and problems to solve, which increases your ability to adjust, understand, and relate.
Design & Development
Robotics is truly a multidisciplinary industry. Greg emphasized the importance of being open and willing to approach things outside your primary competencies as part of the team. Greg also mentioned, for example, that engineering training in college might cover every small detail; however, what is more important is knowing the bigger picture - understanding the WHY.
Another awesome perspective I learned from Greg is that, other than software, the design thinking behind robots is extremely important. How to make robots fit into a particular space, alongside people who need to feel confident, comfortable, and productive, is crucial. The more people trust and understand robots, the closer this turning point in our society toward robotics in daily life can be.
A specific challenge in robotics is the software dependency. It can be really challenging to maintain developer and the framework because if one fails to work, the whole framework can be impacted. Advait also referred to a few excellent examples: robotics may be able to transform our society, from being able to bring medical care to rural areas through telepresence robots, to sending robots to accomplish tasks that might be life-threatening for humans.
Effective communication between customers and the technical team is key. Sara's role in customer success involves technical issues, product feedback, building trust and many other factors. Being able to prioritize and achieve the shortest response time is essential.
"Technology does not work flawlessly, and fixing a seemingly tiny issue can take a lot of time and energy, so entering robotics means staying patient, paying attention to all the details, and approaching things with insight."
It is also significant to highlight and balance what people expect and what can actually be done within the budget and current product capabilities. Talking to customers who may not understand technical terms and robotics be challenging, but patience and clarity go a long way.
Technology is for People
After talking with this fantastic group of professionals at Ava, one huge takeaway I had is that as a technical person, being able to effectively communicate with different audiences is an indispensable skill.
In high school, my computer science teacher used to tell me, “Don’t ever be the kid who lives on the laptop,” and my experience at Ava revealed what that means.
Technology is not simply designed for professionals; instead, it is designed to benefit everyone and contribute to the common good. Therefore, how to make technology accessible and user-friendly for the public is the most important thing. I believe that through people’s continuous effort in both the design and implementation of technology, there will be a time, soon, when humans coexist with technology - like robots - in a natural and mutually beneficial way.