Awarded “2023 Scientist of the Year” from Canada’s International Achievements Research Center, Karthikeyan Yuvaraj is a ‘Roboticist,’ a term he’s made popular with his tremendous achievements in the field of robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence). A roboticist is a specialist who combines expertise in multiple engineering disciplines to design, build, program, and study robots, aiming to advance the field of robotics and create robots that can perform specific tasks autonomously or interactively with humans.
Addressing the concern that ‘robots will take our jobs,’ he tells us: “In reality, robots will help humans to have better jobs and work-life balance. Most of the labor force working in factories and delivery stations is on their feet for 10-12 hours, making repetitive motions like sorting and lifting heavy boxes, which takes a toll on a person’s body over time. The robotics systems I have developed in the logistics and supply chains can help take over these mindnumbing and repetitive jobs.”
Hard to believe, but Karthikeyan’s journey in robotics started in the small town of Neyveli (Tamil Nadu, India) through the encouragement of his parents.
Greatly inspired by Sci-fi movies, he built a robot for his senior design project, the only one among Computer Science students to do so. “I realized that robots are a blend of programming, mechanical parts, and electronics. My Frankenstein moment was the first time my robot started to move its legs and crawl around!”
Karthikeyan was thrilled to realize that some of the sci-fi concepts (which inspired him in childhood) could be brought to life. His robotic journey began in earnest, and he soon participated in the Robotics Challenge (DRC) inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster while at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), USA. Some of the competitors were NASA, Boston Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin. Karthikeyan developed the vision system for the humanoid robot DRC Hubo, which enabled it to drive a vehicle, climb a ladder, manipulate a drill, etc.
“At DRC, the goal was to demonstrate how we can use robots to neutralize nuclear disasters instead of sending in humans, which can be hazardous and potentially fatal. This kind of explorative robotics technology can be used for verticals like deep sea exploration, fire fighting, planetary exploration (like the Mars rover), military, volcanology, and archaeology.”
Post-DRC, he joined Honeywell as a Roboticist in the special projects group. The focus was to build a robotic truck unloader. The vision system he developed enabled the robot to navigate autonomously inside the trailer, precisely locate and grasp the cargo, and place it on a moving conveyor. His innovation led to many granted patents in the US and worldwide. Due to the lack of innovation in the robotic truck unloading space, Karthikeyan’s inventions got hundreds of citations and inspired similar inventions from tech giants like Amazon and Google.
He also worked as a Roboticist at Alphabet, the parent organization of Google, developing advanced robotics and computer vision solutions for industrial applications. The startup Vicarious AI, which he joined as one of the founding roboticists, was acquired by Google in 2022 for its groundbreaking technology in the intersection of AI and robotics.
Speaking about his passion, he says, “I am deeply driven to develop advanced robotics/AI systems to better humanity. Robotics is the most frustrating and rewarding field one can work on. The transported feeling you get when your robot works consistently as programmed is addictive.”
Karthikeyan published his first research papers in international robotics conferences and Springer’s highly reputed Intelligent Service Robotics journal. Since then, he has had several patents and publications in the field of robotics/AI, and his inventions have been featured in DailyMail, LA Times, and others. He also received various awards, such as – ‘The Golden Pinnacle Award for Professional of the Year’ by the Indian Achievers Forum and ‘The WCRC leader award’ for outstanding achievements in the field of robotics and AI.
Many top organizations have recognized Karthikeyan’s endeavors. He was awarded Senior Membership in the IEEE, a premium Engineering organization. Only 10% of IEEE’s more than 400,000 members hold this grade, which requires extensive experience and reflects professional maturity and documented achievements of significance.
He quickly reveals that he made some changes in the last decade, which spelled success. Listing them for us, he sums up:
- Working on the most complex problems is worth it – Be open to taking on the most challenging problems; they yield the most rewards.
- Don’t be afraid to be an outlier – Following your passion and doing something different may lead to an isolated or scary journey. Stay on track during these moments.
- Prove them wrong – Whenever I hear a no from someone, it motivates me to push harder and finish it.
- You are the best investment of your life – Regularly learn new skills to succeed.