Dongshuo (Tony) Li

Tell us about some of the work you’ve done with robotics

I was working on building a soft robotic arm that can pick up stuff. I worked toward adding fingernails to these arms so it could pick tiny things up things more easily. I noticed that whenever I cut my fingernails very short, I can barely pick up tiny things but if they’re not too short, it’s easier. So I thought it would be a good idea to design the soft robotic arms to be more useful by adding nails. It’s a simple but works.

What study tips would you give other students?

If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to talk to people: the TA, the professor, your classmates...because UCSC is a really friendly place. Your professor may set some barrier for you in a class to make you struggle, but without the struggle you can’t learn anything. On the other hand, they’re really nice people who want to help students get through their struggles. Also, I recommend students take breaks and go outside to rest your brain because it can really refresh your mind and make you feel better when you go back to work.

What advice do you have for incoming students?

Anyone studying engineering should know that during the first two years of classes, you really need to get your basics down really well. If you don’t master the basics, it will delay you during your senior design project and other projects.

If you’re an engineering student, I recommend joining an engineering team or organization at UC Santa Cruz. One of these teams, Formula Slug, designs racing cars and it’s really fun. There’s also the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP) which has spaces for students to meet and talk with each other. These organizations are important because you talk with engineers and share your experiences and ideas and that’s all helpful and you could use that later in life. Also, students in these programs have priority if people come to the school to conduct interviews because some companies already know what they’re doing and what they’re about so they have background information on them already. It’s a chance for you to get a job.

What do you like about Santa Cruz?

It’s such a quiet place, I love the climate. It’s not too hot during summer and not too cold during winter. It’s a good place to study. It’s not noisy so you can focus on what you’re doing. I also enjoy all the nature around us here. Once I was working all night in my lab trying to finish my senior design project. I was really frustrated and really struggling and at 7am I decided to take a deep breath and get some fresh air so I stepped out of the lab and sat on the bench in front of the engineering building and suddenly I saw deer eating grass there and everything was so peaceful. At that moment I felt like, “Oh, I can survive this. I can finish this project.” Before I experienced that, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to graduate and I’d fail the senior design project. But at that moment, I calmed down and was able to think of new ideas I didn’t think of before. It’s a great pleasure to have all this in Santa Cruz.

What’s the most exciting thing about engineering?

You’re definitely going to struggle a lot while you’re trying to achieve something. Later, when you recall everything, the only thing in your memory is what you learned and what you struggled with and you can memorize it really deeply in your mind to make sure that you won’t have this same kind of bug in your projects anymore and if you do have it, you can fix it. These are the treasures that come out of the process of engineering projects. At the beginning, we all consider the final result as our goal but after we finish, the things that happen during the process become your treasure. Right now I really enjoy the struggling and suffering and the frustration of engineering and I’m not afraid of anything that will frustrate me in the process. I understand that this all can be my treasure, finally. These treasures make me different from other engineers because I know struggling is valuable.

What do you think the future holds for soft robots?

In the next 10 to 20 years, most of the robots we’re using in our daily life will be soft robots. The cleaning robots and robots used for rescue for the fire department, for example, can use soft robots to save lives. If an earthquake happens and they want to search for people in tiny spaces, soft robots can do this. I think soft robots will be widely used.

Department: 
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Degree Program: 
M.S., Computer Engineering
Undergraduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Graduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz