Harsh Bhakta: Undergraduate

Harsh Bhakta

How did you get interested in robotics?

I became interested in robotics after going to a mechatronics competition at UC Santa Cruz. After that I started researching how robots are used in daily life. Robots can be used to do pretty much anything and it’s also used for making tasks easier. Anything a human can do you can make a robot do. Also, in terms of medical fields, robotics is being used to treat a lot of diseases and things.

I’m currently researching path planners for self-driving cars. My interest in that got sparked when I was researching the ethics of self-driving cars. Let’s suppose there is a self-driving car with a really important person inside and then there’s another car that has civilians in it. Let’s suppose there was a landslide. Let’s say the two self-driving cars communicate with each other. Now, the question becomes, “should I save the more ‘important’ person or should I save the civilians?” When it comes to that, it’s not a matter of one person versus five people. There’s great concern surrounding this issue. What got me interested is how complicated this system is and making it think like a human. We can make split second decisions and making AI do that is doable but it’s tough.

What do you like about the robotics program at Baskin School of Engineering?

I think the robotics program has a lot to offer in terms of specific focuses. Michael Wehner and Mircea Teodorescu do soft robotics and Gabriel Elkaim’s lab works with autonomous systems. There’s Dehan Milutinovic’s Lab where they work on control systems for autonomous vehicles and mainly airliners for flights. Ricardo Sanfelice works more with hybrid systems which also takes into account the control aspect of engineering. 

What has been your favorite class so far?

I took a sensors class with Roberto Manduchi. We had to make an app on an iPhone. On the app, you tap on the screen to locate an object. You tap it and move it around and when you come back, if the object is in the scene, then the circle that was drawn on the screen should stay in that location. It’s tracking an object using your iPhone camera. It’s done using gyroscope and accelerometer on your phone. It was really cool for me to see that we have something in our hands every day we could use to build upon and make cool apps on.

Describe the process of building a robot.

First, you start off with a general idea of what you want your robot to look like. Get a piece of paper and start sketching out how you want to arrange things on it and after you’re really confident in your design, you either use CAD software and once you see that this 3D model is actually going to work, that’s when you start looking into the parts you’ll need to support the robot, like motors. You have a sense of how much power you need for the motor to overcome the force. It’s mostly about calculating how much torque your robot needs to drive itself. In order to do that you need to know physics, do a lot of calculations to get your numbers and using those numbers you can find motors that deliver the power. Once your motor is done you look into your motor controllers and all the different parts you need for the robot. If you want to make it fully autonomous, you also have to look into some sensors, which are like the eyes of the robots.

How did you decide to become an engineer?

I took a computer science class back in high school. I didn’t really know what computer science was but thought it might interest me. I took the class and it had a lot of logic and coding involved. Learning how to program in a certain language was a difficult task for me but it showed me what engineering has to offer. It’s not just programming in engineering. Engineering can be designing a car, designing a building. Since I was a kid I was interested in computers and really wanted to know how they work from the inside out. The curiosity is what led me to engineering.

Department: 
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Degree Program: 
B.S. Computer Engineering
Place of Birth: 
India
Undergraduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz