Thomas Gurriet (Cl 212), robotics engineer at Yamaha Motor Corporation, is our first interviewee for the new "People and Robots" series. Enjoy the reading!
AFAM: Thomas, first of all, congratulations! Since February, you have started working as a robotics engineer for Yamaha Motor Corporation in the state of Georgia. It coincided with the start of COVID-19 outbreak. How were your first months at Yamaha Motor?
Thomas: Thank you! Yes, I’ve been pretty lucky in that regard as I started there only 2 weeks before the confinement and hiring freeze. So far things are going great, plenty of work to do and things to develop which is exiting.
AFAM: can you tell us a bit more about your job? We assume, you were among several candidates for this position and the interview process was difficult. Why do you think you were the most successful candidate? How does being a gadz’art help you?
Thomas: I cannot give too many details as you can imagine but essentially I joined a brand new R&D division at Yamaha Motor US with the goal of developing Smart Boat features and products. We are still a very new and small team so we each have to take on multiple parts of the project at the same time, which makes the job super challenging and interesting. To be honest, there was no competition for the job. Yamaha is not really on people’s radar when it comes to tech companies, and Kennesaw Georgia is no silicon valley. I learned about the job from a good friend of mine I worked with while finishing my master at GeorgiaTech. He was looking for a robotics job near Atlanta right when Yamaha started hiring their first engineers for the project. He got the job and so we kept in touch until I finished my PhD and decided to join the team. If it wasn’t for the Gadz’art curriculum which emphasized the importance of developing a professional network I would certainly not be here now.
AFAM: Being in robotics today, is it just about seizing business opportunities or about changing the world?
Thomas: For me it’s about meeting great people, continuing to learn and develop knowledge and skills, so that hopefully one day we can make a difference. Though getting to a position where one can decisively impact the world for the better requires some form of financial success and prosperity so it’s definitely a bit of both.
AFAM: robotics is a very broad sector. There are a lot of industries impacted by automation nowadays – transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, services, food (read our interviews in Food for Thought series), to mention a few. Which of the industries are undergoing the biggest transformations today according to you and where to look for major opportunities? What robotics companies/startups were impressive for you in the past year – 2 years? Could you give us TOP 5 US robotics startups to follow?
Thomas: I think you laid out the major ones. I could add the entertainment/film industry where we are seeing an increasing use of drones and robotic manipulators for camera operation. In terms of opportunities I think preventive health care is the big one both in terms of business and positive impact on society. In terms of startups, in think Neuralink is THE company to follow in the years to come as what they are developing can really be a game changer for humanity. They are supposed to start human trials within a year so it will be interesting to see what they can achieve.
AFAM: we have a lot of students every year looking for internship and later on, job opportunities in robotics (including on the US market). What advice would you give to these students? What skills and knowledge are crucial to acquire to be successful searching for an internship in robotics?
Thomas: I think the most important is to develop your network as early as possible and get involved with people in your field of interest. Robotics labs in universities is where a lot of roboticists start their career and I would encourage someone who’s interested in robotics to join such a lab for a master or a PhD. It’s a one of a kind opportunity to meet smart people and find career/business opportunities while having time to learn and broaden your skillset. Getting into a good robotics lab can be just as challenging as getting a job in a top tech company because of the ridiculous ratio between spots and applications. What I recommend is directly go the lab’s grad students and help with their research. From my experience, the lab’s students weigh in the selection process much more than one might expect. A lot of prospective undergrads will try to get involved with the lab, but in my experience most will end-up not doing anything by lack of interest or because they are too focused on classes, so there is a real opportunity for truly motivated people that are ready to put in the hours to get noticed and secure a position in the lab. When it comes to knowledge and skills, I think it’s important to broaden them as much as possible while still focusing on one specific area of expertise. Robotics is the intersection of a lot of fields, and understanding these connections and interplay is fundamental when designing and building complex systems. In terms of skills, I consider programming to be a must so as to be able to develop the tools you need to solve problems you encounter. Having solid math and physics foundations is also important when it comes to designing the algorithms to control the robots. Finally, I think that having an up to date knowledge of the technics, tools and software than can be leveraged to solve engineering problems in your area of interest is also fundamental, and can make a big difference in terms of who can solve a problem and who cannot.
AFAM: Thank you, Thomas, for replying to our questions. Good luck with you new job and let's keep in touch!
Thomas on the test boat on Allatoona lake (Photo: courtesy of Thomas Gurriet)
Controlling Cartesian robot and single-axis robot with a single controller (picture credit: www.global.yamaha-motor.com)
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Other interviews in "People and Robots" series: