Robotics is for Everyone
From being an engineer to a designer
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“I will be riding a huge robot like in the cartoons in 100 years, and I’ll live forever,” smiled Professor Han Jea-kweon (Department of Interdisciplinary Robit Engineering ). Han in his office in the late afternoon gave two vastly contrasting impressions of a pure child and an agile scholar. News H met with Han to hear more stories about his recent developments and insight in robotics.
Get out of the library
“It’s really sad that most students ask me the question because it implies how much the young generation of our society is suffering from uncertainty, especially on their future.” When asked, ‘What made you become a robot engineer?’, Han answered both sarcastically and empathetically. He did have a special reason on becoming the person who he is now, but he wanted to make sure that the readers do not fall into the frame of thought that a person needs ‘the moment’ or ‘the reason’ to decide what to do in the future. Han went on to explain that a person passes by hundreds and thousands of opportunities in his or her lifetime, but it is what gives them fun and joy that they are truly attracted to. And ‘the thing’ is not found in books but in experiences.
Han himself has also accumulated abundant experiences as a foundation of being one of the leading scholar in the field. Han has always wanted to make robots, but due to the lack of opportunities in Korea at that time, he proceeded with his study in graduate school in automobiles. Then, he got a job in a major company as mainstream society had told him to. “But there was always this unfulfilled thirst inside telling me, ‘this is not your life! You are not born to do this, go on and do what you really want to do,” recalled Han. So, he chose to study in the States to overcome such lack of opportunity. “At that time, I did not foresee my salary to be cut in half,” laughed Han.
Geek in the lab
Han expressed the most enthusiasm and seriousness when he talked about his work. “I really was a geek before. Watching robot animation is still one of the most important parts of my day,” said Han. The first robot he ever made was a ‘Humvee’, a transformer-like robot. The Humvee was made over the course of one week, during my summer vacation back in 2007, when the movie Transformers (2007) was first released. Han and his wife rebuilt an RC car ‘hummer’ and gave it arms and legs.
The Humvee video ‘Real Transformer NO C.G. Upgrade Version -Humvee Bioloid-‘ uploaded on Youtube hit more than 342,000 views to this date.
Han’s passion for robots only grew over time while he studied in the United States for his doctoral degree. After coming back to Korea, Han participated in DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Robotics Challenge that lasted for three years from 2012 to 2015. Coming back from the States, Han was bitterly surprised at the situation of the Korean robotics field. The biggest challenge he felt was the lack of intelligence. “The people we had, one by one, were brighter than the ones I’ve seen in the States, but the absolute number was too small.” Han compared the situation with the professional baseball league, where other countries such as Japan or the US have lots of back up players to change in every match, but we do not. That is the moment when he decided to get involved in education.
Robots WILL create jobs
“Humanity has been worried about robots and machines taking their jobs since the 1760s,” smiled Han. He advised that we need to search for what we can do ‘with’ the robots instead of being worried about what they will take from us. Traditional elites good at calculation and memorizing will lose jobs. But people with intuition, sense and creativity will flourish in unlimited possibilities. That is because robotics requires people from all fields with the aforementioned qualities. For instance, it took a designer, psychologists, and screen play experts in creating a Human Robot Interaction (HRI) robot EDIE. “Robot is a tool needed in our daily lives. Students now need to contemplate on how to progress one step ahead with robots and create social values.”
Kim So-yun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Park Yong-min
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