Please tell us about yourself

Robotic testing machines that can mimic interactions such as finger swipes, taps and pinches – and are essential to developing touch screen controller chips – can cost $80,000. Or more. But TIer (texas Instruments)  Gautham Ramachandran has designed an innovative tester robot that costs less than $1,000. The most impressive detail? It all happened while he was an intern.

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How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

Now a Tucson, Ariz., campus applications engineer, Ramachandran received his undergraduate degree from Anna University, in India. He trekked all the way to Texas to earn his master’s at Texas Tech University in 2010. During his Research Assistantship at Tech, Ramachandran was studying Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) and his thesis (under professors Tim Dallas and Richard Gale) included using automated motion control systems to control micro-sized objects via the Internet. Some of the equipment he was using had been donated by TI.

During his final semester of school, he was looking for an internship – and TI was looking for interns. When he arrived at TI’s Tucson campus, he saw his colleagues working on robots for testing touchscreen controllers. His manager, Uwe Voehringer, a touchscreen controllers test and characterization manager for TI’s Audio and Imaging Products (AIP) in the High Performance Analog business unit, wanted Ramachandran to develop a robot testing solution that was cost effective and easily deployable at multiple sites.

Tell us about your work

Ramachandran immediately got to work. The project required components and programming assistance from multiple TIers, and it quickly became a team effort, with weekly meetings and many TIers stepping in to help. Jason Bridgmon, a systems engineer, and Hugo Cheung, the group’s design manager, provided the needed hardware and software assistance. “We were really excited as it started to work, day by day,” Ramachandran says. “My group really listened to me when I came up with ideas, and everyone pitched in.”

The cost-effective prototype robot – based on a machine originally intended for making printed circuit boards — employs a TI MSC1200 chip. It will be used to test and characterize various touchscreen panels and verify the functionality of a TI touchscreen controller. The inexpensive solution could soon be deployed to TI campuses from India to China to Texas.

“Gautham had to find or produce a system that fit our needs and could be delivered quickly,” said Voehringer. “And that’s exactly what he did.”

What did you do after graduation?

Ramachandran wrapped his degree (and was named outstanding graduate student in electrical engineering at Tech) and is now back at TI Tucson, working on making fixtures to test different panel geometries and some minor design changes looking at stretching the boundaries of the robots. “That’s something I really like about TI – they are taking the initiative to grow this, and they are really open with sharing their knowledge,” he says. “It’s been a really fun robot project.”