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Terry Fong - Director of the Intelligent Robotics Group
November 9, 2009

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Name: Terry Fong
Job Title: Director, Intelligent Robotics Group
Education: Bachelor's in aeronautics and astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988; master's in aeronautics and astronautics, MIT, 1990; doctorate in robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, 2001
NASA Center: Ames Research Center
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Hobby: Ultimate Frisbee
 

Tell us about the project that you are working on now.

What attracted you to a career in robotics?

What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?

What prepared you for your job?

Are you involved in any student robotics projects as a mentor or advisor? If so, please tell us about it.

Were you a participant in any NASA opportunities as a student? If so, please tell us about it.

What advice would you give to students interested in a career in robotics?


Tell us about the project that you are working on now.

I am the head of Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames. IRG conducts applied research in a wide range of areas, including computer vision, geospatial data systems, human-robot interaction, interactive 3-D visualization and robot software architecture. In 2009, we co-developed "Mars in Google Earth" and "Moon in Google Earth" with Google; we remotely operated one of our K10 planetary rovers to scout portions of Black Point Lava Flow (in Arizona); and we used our GigaPan robotic camera for science, education and journalism.

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What attracted you to a career in robotics?

I've always been interested in learning about and doing many different things. Robotics is a perfect fit because it is inherently multidisciplinary: it covers everything from software to hardware to electronics to interaction and 3-D graphics. Also, robotics is a great way to explore places where it's difficult (or impossible) to send humans. That really appeals to me.

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What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?

Every day is a highlight! I really mean that. We spend so much of our adult lives at work that it's really important to have a job that is interesting, rewarding and makes you want to get up in the morning. I love my job so much that I can't wait to get to work every day!

Looking back, I would say that one thing that I'm really proud of is all the field testing I've been involved with. Since 1993, IRG has regularly tested robots in lunar and Mars analog sites, including locations in Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, the Mojave Desert and the Canadian arctic. Field tests are the very best way to prepare for future planetary exploration, and we've gained a tremendous amount of scientific knowledge by taking robots into the real world.

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What prepared you for your job?

I've been privileged to have had inspirational advisors in college. Their guidance, patience and wisdom are what really prepared me. In particular, I followed a pretty unconventional path in graduate school: At one point, I was a Carnegie Mellon University doctoral student doing research at a Swiss university (EPFL, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) while being paid by a start-up company in California. All that I learned and accomplished along the way would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of my advisors.

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Are you involved in any student robotics projects as a mentor or advisor? If so, please tell us about it.

I think it is absolutely essential for NASA to involve students at every level and every opportunity because today's students will be the engineers and scientists of the future. That's why IRG always has interns (from high school through grad school) throughout the year. This past summer we hosted 14 interns. Two summers ago we had 31! I'm always amazed and impressed by what students can achieve when they are given challenging problems and the freedom to innovate.

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Were you a participant in any NASA opportunities as a student? If so, please tell us about it.

No, but I wish I had been!

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What advice would you give to students interested in a career in robotics?

Learn everything about computers and programming that you can! Almost everything in robotics, whether control or manipulation or perception, depends on software. Having good software engineering and system development skills is really essential!



 
 
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Terry Fong - Director of the Intelligent Robotics Group
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Page Last Updated: February 27th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator