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Why Civil Engineering?

Professor Vineet Kamat sees Civil Engineering as the field that defines a society’s quality of life, and that’s exactly why he enjoys it.

“Open the tap,” he says, “and there should be water. The bridges should function; the dams should function. All these things are expected and taken for granted and define the quality of life that we as a society enjoy. And I think that fundamental idea is quite satisfying as a civil engineer.”

What is your background?

Although many people may not think twice about civil infrastructure, Professor Kamat grew up with it on his mind. Born in Goa, India, both his father and grandfather worked as civil engineers for the city’s port authority, and Professor Kamat’s interests quickly gravitated toward construction.

“I had this bug about trying to build things,” he recalls. “I remember building houses out of cardboard and trying to connect batteries to a light to light up the house. I was pretty much interested all through my childhood, and I think that, combined with exposure to real construction sites, led to me choosing civil engineering as a profession.”

What did you study?

Professor Kamat would go on to study at Goa University in India before obtaining his doctorate from Virginia Tech and eventually accepting a position as a professor in Ann Arbor.

Can you explain what you do?

Today, Professor Kamat strives to find solutions for challenging construction problems through automation and robotics. He manages the Laboratory for Interactive Visualization in Engineering (LIVE), which focuses on the use of automation technologies to support civil infrastructure and construction projects. One project in development is a fully autonomous excavator that can operate in mines and hazardous construction sites.

“There is a very chronic shortage of skilled excavator operators right now, especially in areas where there is high demand,” he says. “For example, in the oil sands region of Canada, the area is so remote that few people want to go there. And it’s a risky business being in a mine or a construction site where things might cave in, or the material being handled is simply dangerous.”

How does your work help the society?

Through an ongoing collaboration with the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, LIVE is also exploring the ways robots could interact with a person’s living space. He believes robots have the potential to change people’s daily lives and foresees wheelchairs that communicate with building systems (e.g. elevators) and assistive living robots that help people with tasks as they age.

For Professor Kamat, this kind of collaboration makes U-M an ideal environment for research and development. He appreciates the University’s highly esteemed departments and encourages students to branch out and explore other disciplines.

“Solutions to today’s societal problems can only come about by a multidisciplinary engineering approach. So as they think about a career in engineering, students have to think cross-disciplinarily, and this culture of multi-disciplinary research makes U-M very special.”