Position: Deputy Head of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, Field: Mechatronics, digital electronics, embedded controllers, Organisation: Victoria University, Wellington

Professor Dale Carnegie’s first degree was in theoretical physics and applied mathematics, but he realised he preferred to be able to see and experience his work, so he moved into the more practical field of electronics and computing. This led him onto working with robots.

I was attracted to working with robots as they were the perfect blend of physics, mathematics, electronics, signal processing and computer science.

Dale particularly enjoys the tangible outcomes associated with robotics. He says, “Rather than solving equations all day just to be left with formulae on a bit of paper, you actually get to see the results of what you had achieved.”

Dale’s team works on a variety of robots that have many uses and vary in their appearance. The team have been involved in developing robots that can cut meat, underwater rover robots, an all-terrain robot that can lay its own track and robots named Itchy and Scratchy that can co-operate with each other.

Dale’s main interest is in the development of ‘intelligent’ robots – robots that are capable of making their own decisions and adapting to their environment. One robot they have developed, called MARVIN, is able to act as a security guard. If MARVIN is not convinced that a person has a valid reason for being somewhere, he increases his height to loom over the intruder and changes his eye colour to a menacing red. MARVIN can also cower in ‘fear’ if he detects a threat to his wellbeing.

Dale enjoys using the robots to teach students at the university because it is such a creative process and the students can experience how their knowledge of electronics, mechanics and programming all work together.

Dale’s goal is to be able to develop robots that can learn and adapt and are capable of operating without human intervention. He thinks that the study of mechatronics and the development of new devices in the future will free us up from boring and/or dangerous work and also increase safety in workplaces.

“Mechatronics will also take over more of the control in cars,” says Dale. “As it is, you can't properly control the brakes in your car when it's an emergency. That’s why you have ABS braking, controlled by mechatronics. The airbags are mechatronic devices. In fact, new cars coming out have 80–100 microprocessors to control all kinds of functions. That will increase, and driving will become safer."

This article is based on information current in 2010.

    Published 2 September 2010