Getting into Robotics: David Atienza

David AtienzaI was always embarking people in new things… Especially my younger brother, who often was not very comfortable with these new “challenges”

I am a professor of electrical and computer engineering working on the development of the concept of smart wearable embedded systems, which must be able to provide autonomous and cost-efficient solutions for monitoring the health state (and “feelings”) of people.

I am convinced that these new generations of smart embedded systems can allow us to spend our time in challenging things and problems to be solved, and leave tasks that are well understood and repetitive to computers and machines. This interest started when I was very young, as I never liked to do the things that were easy or planned for my age but more complicated things… I was already born “in a hurry” two months ahead of time (in late December when I was expected by end of February of the following year).

Then computers crossed my life when I was a teenager. I received my first Commodore 64 at the age of 14 and learning programming and cracking games (I was not interested in making them, but rather understanding how they were done to be able to do something different) in less than a year. At that moment I realised I wanted to be a researcher and computers was the field I wanted to know more about. So at 15 I was sure I had to study computer science and engineering. So, I studied software, then hardware and later I received an EU Marie Curie scholarship to go to IMEC in Belgium to study integrated circuit design and computer manufacturing during my PhD. So I finished doing the “whole tour” of how computers are made! And I joined EPFL to build smaller and smarter embedded systems.

How do you think robots will help evolve computers in the future? In my Embedded Systems Lab.(ESL), robots are not the main area of research, but are very interesting complement to what I envision smart embedded computing systems can do in the near future. In particular, robots provide amazing interaction capabilities with people compared to classical computer interfaces (screens, buttons, keyboards, etc.). So combining robotics with smart embedded systems that can interpret human bio-signals provides the ideal synergy for natural computer-human interfaces to make them work together in a natural way in our everyday lives.

You like to try things that are not very easy to do, so it is likely that may not work out… But you are still always smiling, how does it work? I am indeed quite used by now to not having things going the expected way, and I adapt in real-time to whatever comes. However, I have to say it often works out (at least partially) for me if I try hard enough. So I do not see why I should not be hopeful for the future, the key in my view is always to believe in your ideas and never give up… The day clears up in the end!

What advice can you provide to those who would like to consider an academic career path? Never believe something is impossible, this will allow you to try things that people have never tried before and reach what you are trying to do. Also do not to stick to one research area, you must be very strong in one technical area, but be open to try new things in a multi-disciplinary fashion.

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