Jason Fong, Junior Control Developer
Role: Junior Control Developer
Academic background: Master's and bachelor's degree in electrical engineering
With Kinova since 2019
What is your role?
As a control developer, my work focuses on developing algorithms and code to control the robot’s movement so that it can meet the desired performance requirements. I work specifically on controlling the actuators of the robots, which means developing control systems for the motors and transmissions.
How would you explain it to your grandmother?
The physical construction of motors and gears in transmissions will always have imperfections. In some cases they are from the manufacturing process and in others, they are a part of the design to save on costs. If we don’t compensate for these limitations, the robot can lose the accuracy of its movements or even behave in unexpected and dangerous ways like shaking violently. So with that in mind, my work starts with identifying what kinds of imperfections are happening in the actuators. Then I try to find a set of physics equations (a model) that can match what is happening inside the actuator. If the model is good, I design and write code (that uses the model) to change the way we command the motors so the undesired effects of the actuator’s limitations are canceled or reduced.
What do you like most about your job?
I appreciate most the opportunity to work with and learn about so many different aspects of robots. I’ve learned so many mechanical engineering concepts in the past year and a half which I wouldn’t have had the chance to in school unless I had specialized in a completely different area of engineering. In the same way, I also greatly appreciate the mentoring I’ve been given by my colleagues.
What brought you to the field of robotics?
When I was still in primary school I used to go to summer camps and I really enjoyed the robotics courses I took. In university, I was drawn towards computer coding and was happy to find that control systems engineering was a way to combine both of these interests. I think robots are the future, or at the very least they are very cool.
How is your role different from your other colleagues?
Robotic control systems developers (and engineers) mainly need to know specific mathematical theories and how to simulate systems using computer programs. However, I think the more important skill is that control systems engineers need to be really adaptable since designing a control algorithm for a robot requires a broad understanding of both its electrical and mechanical components. I also have to know how to code in the actuator’s firmware and write tests. It’s definitely a position that requires you to be well rounded.
Does your role exist outside of the field of robotics? If yes, is it different in our field? How?
Yes, control systems developers work in many different industries! I think what makes control systems for robotics much different from other control systems is the applications of robots and also the potential usage of robots autonomously. Robots should be versatile enough to work without issue in many different situations. A robot used for manufacturing needs to be fast and efficient, but if a user wants to use it for surgeries then the robot should prioritize precision and safety. Robots also need to be able to work autonomously, like what is usually the case in factories as an example. A control system for a chemical plant, on the other hand, might only need to work in one way, and control systems for most cars will be working with the driver instead of alone.
How were your studies helpful to prepare you for your role?
I use the basic concepts I learned in my control systems classes frequently at Kinova. Learning programming was also extremely helpful since that is the majority of my job. However, learning to collaborate with others on technical projects was probably the most useful skill school taught me.
Outside of school, where did you acquire the knowledge and skills useful to your job?
I learned a bit about programming in my free time when I was growing up, but to be honest I think working at Kinova has taught me the most outside of school by far. I get to work with so many talented people from different areas of specialization that it’s impossible to not pick up new things and apply them to my own work!
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