Dr. Kimberly Hambuchen is a robotics engineer in the Software, Robotics and Simulation division at NASA Johnson Space Center. On Wednesday, October 8 she gave a talk about “Exploring Space with Robots: Do We Need People?” to the Fall 2014 Lennox Seminar Women and Technology class at Trinity University.
(0:12) Did you play a lot of video games when you were younger?
I didn’t, I had this conversation at lunch today and somebody was telling me you obviously play some kind of game, I don’t know. I played Nintendo Super Mario Brothers and that was it. I take that back I did play quite a bit of Atari when I was very young. But I was’t like a gamer. I would not call myself a gamer at all. I actually went to arcades and played the big machines, that was big when I was in middle school. So I did that sort of thing, everybody did that. So no! I really didn’t.
(0:52) We were all wondering about it because you said that joysticks were used to control the robot’s movement.
Yeah and you know honestly I makes me crazy to run these robots, I just ended up in this position because that’s the software I develop, but it makes me crazy. When I can hand it off to somebody off I’m like yee-haw you go for it just make sure you don’t crash the robot. So it’s not really that I enjoy the running of the robots so much it’s the human interaction side. How do we make these robots easier to operate.
(1:24) Would you say that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of you job? What would you say is the most rewarding and whats the coolest technology you’ve ever used?
I mean I going to nerd out and say coming and doing things like this, getting to spread the word on what we’re actually doing, especially when we have little kids come, and girls who are really interested in robots. They want to participate in their first robotics team but they don’t know if they just want to hang out with all the boys, they don’t know. Seeing girls get really excited to see another girl telling them about you know what she does in robots and this advanced work, so thats really the best part of my job. And i get to do that a lot because we do a lot of tours at NASA. Coolest technology, I was recently blown away by something we did, I want to say it was when we finally got Valkyrie walking and it actually walked over to something, like a valve, and it turned the valve, we were all just stunned, we couldn’t believe it was actually happening. So really that robot, in the time frame we put that thing together, I can’t believe we did it and actually made it do some stuff, you know, more than some other teams actually were doing at the competition, so Valkyrie is a really cool robot, its gorgeous when you see it move it also is mechanically and control wise, which is getting really technical, it is the best robot we’ve ever built.
(3:24) And she’s a she, which is original in itself.
That was someone’s idea on the team and we were like thats beautiful, that’s a brilliant idea lets go with it. I would say Valkyrie is probably the coolest piece of technology I’ve seen so far.
(3:41) And speaking of Valkyrie and the failure you experienced at the DARPA competition, what kind of advice would you give to young students, especially girls, because a lot of times girls will get into math or computer science classes and they’ll get impostor syndrome, where they feel like they’re doing worst than everyone else. So what advice would you give them about accepting failure and learning from it?
I have lived impostor syndrome for years, its only in the last few years, that I was like okay you can stop doubting yourself, you’re not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes. I think it may be a process of maturity, because I also know a lot of guys that I work with who still are like, somebody is going to figure me out soon, I think its a personality type, because I know a lot of guys who think they’re the greatest and they don’t know jack. They don’t know what they’re talking about, and I also know women who do that too. I don’t know how you get the experience into someone to tell them that they really are good enough, earlier than they’re going to experience it. I don’t really know, just at some point in your life you will realize you belong. But the failure thing its, in robots everything we do is a team effort, so the failure was everyones and its a lot easier to deal with when your entire team has failed. You’ve got people who can finally start to make jokes with you when you’ve stopped drowning your sorrows. Almost everything I do in robotics is a team effort, most of the time failure is a combination of everyones failures. It’s pretty easy to deal with failure when you’ve got a bunch of other people who are in your same boat. It’s not just one person who caused the failure, its a collection of issues that developed over a specific period of time, but then personal failures well I screwed up that, just keep chugging along. I don’t take set backs very hard or personally, but then I also don’t really celebrate the huge major achievements like I should, which is part of the impostor syndrome, they’ve never really effected me that badly, everything I’ve screwed up or failed at was, so cliche, a learning experience.
(6:45) Is that the advice you would give students, young girls especially, you just kind of learn from you failures?
Exactly, just go out there and do it jump off the bridge, because what’s the worst that can happen, I mean you fail and then you move forward.