Original Link :
At just 28 years old, alumna and current MIT Mechanical Engineering PhD student Sampriti Bhattacharyya launched startup Hydroswarm in the Boston area.
Hydroswarm is commercializing the football-sized autonomous underwater drones Bhattacharyya helped develop. These egg-shaped robots are capable of working alone or in tandem to map the ocean floor, inspect underwater nuclear reactors, search for lost planes and complete virtually any other underwater surveillance task.
She did her schooling from South Point, Kolkata, pursued electrical engineering from St. Thomas’ College of Engineering . According to societal expectations in her native India, not attending a top engineering school should have spelled the end of Bhattacharyya’s career before it even began, she said.
Originally she wanted to be an astrophysicist, but Bhattacharyya followed her mom’s advice and enrolled in engineering instead because it offered better career prospects. Like most small Indian colleges, her alma mater lacked resources that are standard in U.S. universities, she explained, such as well-equipped laboratories and hands-on learning opportunities.
“At the time the only jobs you could get were in IT,” Bhattacharyya said. “It didn’t matter what you studied, the jobs were in IT because there was no culture of hands-on building.”
How did you land your first job?
Knowing she wouldn’t enjoy IT work, Bhattacharyya began applying for other opportunities. She sent around 500 emails to universities and firms abroad of which only 4 responded . She was offered an internship at Fermilab, America’s premier particle physics laboratory. She calls it a turning point.
“That was the first moment that I realized what engineering actually is,” she explained. “You don’t just study and memorize books. Engineering is much more hands-on.”
What did you do after your internship? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Her passion for engineering fully ignited, Bhattacharyya decided to pursue a master’s in aeronautical and aerospace engineering at The Ohio State University.
“Knowing that it’s a big school, I realized that would really open up the power of connections for me and give me a very new direction in life,” said Bhattacharyya. “Ohio State is very research-oriented, has lots of students, and I found it very appealing and wanted to experience that life.”
Her master’s research with Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Rama Yedavalli involved using a particle accelerator beam to produce energy from nuclear waste. That process also made the waste less radioactive.
“Looking back, I did a pretty intense master’s project,” she said. “I really enjoyed it. I was working full-time from the lab on the feasibility analysis and beam control.”
What was your experience at MIT?
Bhattacharyya’s original plan for her doctoral research at MIT was to build the model system she had designed at Ohio State, but she soon realized the regulatory issues involved would be beyond the scope of her project. So instead she started working with Ford Professor of Engineering Harry Asada on a robot designed to look for cracks in a nuclear reactor’s water tanks.
One day, while reading about contraband smuggling, Bhattacharyya realized that their robots could also search ships for contraband hidden in cavities or fake chambers.
Then Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing.
She suspected those little robots might be able to do a whole lot more, like locate missing wreckage.
How did you first become interested in Robotics?
I first got interested in robotics around the age of 12 after watching a Discovery Channel documentary on the Mars Rovers. The Hollywood science fiction amazed me, but in India (Kolkata), there weren’t many, if any, young people who took interest in building things or doing something hands on, and we couldn’t imagine a girl working with robots or building things.
My senior year of high school I did my first science project called Mission Mars, and I felt more serious about the field. Unfortunately the majority of undergrad colleges in India are very different from here—most of them don’t provide any hands on experience and there are barely any resources available to do much. My first real robotics project was something I did as a hobby in my junior year of college when I built an autonomous sun tracking solar panel which could be integrated with a Mars Rover. A girl doing hands on project just for fun made me look weird, nerdy, and definitely out of place—but I thoroughly enjoyed it!
What has been your most interesting project to date?
I definitely find my PhD work on underwater robots very exciting. I see it having a lot of potential for the future—from monitoring contrabands, to rescue missions and exploration, as well as the inspection of nuclear reactor vessels to prevent radiation leakage. I would be thrilled if I can contribute something to make oceans and ports secure and safe. Particularly incidents like MH370 made me think a lot—that we need to step up in our technology to enable faster and more effective rescue operation possible.
But, to be honest, I think the first time I actually made my solar tracker work hands free, making decision and tracking the sun all by itself, that was one of the most amusing moments! Mostly because I had never done or seen anything like that before, and it convinced me that technology really works, it’s no magic, but a bunch of code and hardware.
Where do you see robotics going in the next 5 to 10 years?