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Ken Anderson with PR2
Ken Anderson, Sc’05, is currently living the high life in the Silicon Valley. At the moment, he is working as a visiting researcher at Willow Garage, a small, progressive, and completely unique robotics company in Menlo Park, California. “Willow Garage is jump-starting the robotics industry – moving it well beyond vacuuming robots,” says Ken.
Willow Garage, incorporated 5 years ago, has designed and built two different commercially available robots. “One of the things that makes Willow Garage unusual, is that almost all their software is open source,” says Ken. “This has enabled them to build up a community and attract talent from all over, but especially from the academic community.”
Ken’s road to a career in robotics research has taken some interesting twists and turns. He began with his ECE degree at Queen’s where he attributes joining the programming team in second year to a lot of his success. “Sometimes you have to pick and choose where you apply yourself,” he says. “Joining the programming team led me to summer internships in the ECE Department. I worked on Deep Green, a robotic pool-playing table, and the Canadarm 2, a robotic arm for the International Space Station. These jobs gave me new skills and an understanding of the practical applications of robots and robotic research – applications such as object localization and recognition, collision detection, and motion planning.”
After graduating from ECE, Ken did a Master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Alberta. When he graduated in 2007, he moved to Ottawa and worked on sensor0-network research at Larus Technologies before moving onto March Networks, who make high definition video surveillance devices. “I had been working incredibly hard on our new product line and once we got it out the door, I thought I needed a vacation. Instead I accepted a four-month visiting researcher position at Willow Garage,” he says, adding, “This is a great opportunity and my best advice to all aspiring ECE students is to jump on opportunity. Good opportunities are not always easy to spot and you cannot always know where they will lead you. If you think there is potential and you can make an impact, apply yourself and make the most of it.”
Ken will be moving back to Ottawa this spring to get married and resume his work with March Networks. In the past few months, he’s had a huge practical learning opportunity with Willow Garage. Ken Anderson is one of those rare individuals who is not only pursuing his dreams, he’s also following some remarkably sound advice – his own – and by doing so, he’s achieving great results.