Melonee Wise is a Robot Ninja. But Did You Know She is Also the Latest Winner of the Engelberger Award, the “Nobel Prize of Robotics”?!
Oh, how far she’s come since her first robot, which was inspired by a 1980’s catalog and held together with household items. Hear about her journey (and her advice for future roboticists).
Melonee Wise was a roboticist before that was even a thing. And she has been on the cutting edge of the field ever since she took a wild, completely unexpected offer from the head of Willow Garage while working toward her PhD. In fact, when you hear about her many internships in college, not one would give you the impression she would one day win an Engelberger Award, which is considered the Nobel Prize of Robotics. I mean, she spent her internships working on algorithms for detecting sheet breakage in aluminum plants, designing security mechanisms to lock family vehicle steering columns, and doing many different things with fighter jets. And she was working on Markovian models for emergency escape procedure development when she “tripped on luck,” as she puts it. So, how she ended up as a world-renowned robotics engineer who is leading international consortiums and steering regulations for industrial mobile robots is a story to behold, for sure.
Trust me when I say Melonee’s journey and leadership in the field of robotics automation is nothing short of spectacular. Better yet, listen to our 25-minute chat for yourself and find out what makes Melonee so incredibly interesting and inspiring…
Meet Melonee Wise, Robot Ninja
[1:37] the day she knew she wanted to be a robotics engineer.
[3:13] details of her first “beautiful disaster.”
[3:53] what her dream job was (and wasn’t) when she first started college.
[5:09] the wild offer from a stranger that compelled her to drop out of her PhD program and join now world-renowned robotics institution and incubator Willow Garage in less than a week’s time.
[8:01] what she would say to a college student who may be given the opportunity of a lifetime to join the workforce before graduating, like she was. (Her “risk assessment” recommendation is great advice!)
[9:32] the life and professional lessons she has learned over the years that could benefit us all. (Such as, “be prepared to face radical change and criticism head on.”)
[10:37] what inspired her to eventually co-found Fetch Robotics, which she went on to lead as CEO before Zebra acquired the company.
[12:32] the one piece of advice she wishes someone had given her sooner.
[14:21] the existential goal she contributes to her career success. (It’s probably not what you think.)
[15:10] why encouraging women to get into STEM won’t be enough to balance the scales. (Spoiler alert: Melonee knows from personal experience that the social norms and pressures applied to girls at a young age discourage exploration in certain fields. She actually saw her gender as a barrier to what she really wanted to do in life as she was growing up. Her advice on how to #BreakTheBIas is on point.)
[17:34] why anyone wanting to get into robotics needs to get into software, no matter what else you also study. (And you need to be willing to collaborate with others who have skills and capabilities you don’t.)
[19:40] what she actually studied in college and worked on during her many internships.
[22:13] why she sadly didn’t have any female mentors as she was going through school and starting her career.
[23:06] why we’re not encouraging high school students into robotics the right way today and why there’s such misalignment between classroom curriculums and the real-world skills needed. (Tip: Lead with software engineering, not hardware design, when teaching the roboticists of the future.)
[24:23] why the job market for robotics engineers is so competitive right now and it’s so difficult to hire in this field.
[24:59] what she and her team look for when hiring people to work in robotics automation at Zebra. (Surprised to hear that video game programmers could be good candidates?!)
Did You Know?
Melonee also received the 2022 Alumni Award for Distinguished Service from the Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois! It’s been a big year for her, to say the least.
If you haven’t listened to our chat yet, do so now. You’ll want to hear how she ultimately acquired the skills and experience she needed to become a robot ninja when robotics was widely considered a nascent field and physical or mechanical engineering were the only apparent formal education paths for engineers.
In Case You Missed It:
Exclusive Interview: The Real Reason Why Zebra Acquired Fetch Robotics
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