Madi Babaiasl, Ph.D., is the founder of Mecharithm, a robotics and mechatronics company. Read on to learn more about her work in robotics engineering and how you can #BeThatEngineer!
For as long as I can remember, I was always interested in science. I liked math and physics in high school. When I wanted to go to university, I wanted to choose a major that involved math and physics, and also could solve real-world problems. The marriage between these two is engineering.
First, I chose electrical engineering as my major. However, I wanted to study something that I could actually see, so I went and worked in robotics, which is more tangible. I was really interested in that because I could solve numerous problems through that knowledge, including my father’s hand tremors.
I hold a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering with a focus on control engineering, a master’s degree in Mechatronics Engineering, both from the University of Tabriz in Iran, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on medical robotics from Washington State University.
During my bachelor’s degree, I had several internships where I learned about instrumentation, controller programming, mechatronics, and different sensors and actuators used in various industries. I also did several volunteer projects that I am proud of, including service to SWE and the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE). I was an eMentor for the IEEE “TryEngineering Together” outreach program and worked with middle school students to familiarize them with the engineering design process, which was a valuable experience for me.
I became fascinated by medical robotics during my Master’s. During that time, my dad suffered from hand tremors. His job involved working with highly delicate electronics on computer motherboards. This required him to have stable hands. I thought we could develop a device that could stop these tremors.
I started this project with my team. We developed a device that could suppress tremors through placing electromyography (EMG) electrodes on muscles and correcting the signals that caused the tremor. This project was really important for me since I wanted to help my dad overcome his tremors and be better at his job.
During my robotics career, I worked on a variety of projects that I believe impacted society in general. My engineering work during my master’s led to new designs in improving medical assist robots for those that suffer from strokes or Parkinson’s disease.
My Ph.D. research developed a new method for steerable needle insertion, namely water-jet steerable needles. The steerable needle can turn inside the patient and get to difficult-to-reach places in the body to administer drugs or perform medical operations. In addition, I was able to solve a fundamental physics problem of how soft tissue interacts with waterjet cutting. My research and robotics work led to several journal and conference articles, accumulating more than 230 citations from the scientific community and a patent.
Madi Babaiasl’s Career Path
I have always wanted to leave a legacy in this world and make an impact. Following my Ph.D., I was unsure of which path to take. It was my dream to both be a professor at a university and to start my own robotics company. Because of my background in two successful startups with my husband, our lifestyle, and my desire to work together with him, I chose to combine those two paths. The company I started, Mecharithm, allows me to be both a professor and a businesswoman while working on meaningful projects for the future.
Our team is currently working on developing an app specifically for robotics news and learning. We are also doing research and development for educational robots and how we can improve robotics teaching in schools and universities. Also, we are very active on YouTube and social media, and we publish really cool stuff in the fields of virtual reality, augmented reality, and robotics.
In our first year of business, we generated $73k in revenue and we hope it will grow every year. Additionally, we attracted investors to the platform who are willing to invest in future technologies, and it will be a reality once our first product is ready.
Research shows that Impostor Syndrome is more common among women than men. This means that women feel less confident and shy away from challenging situations due to doubts about their abilities. They also usually relate their accomplishments to factors other than themselves, such as luck. I know this is true because I suffered from this for many years until I learned my lessons the hard way.
To girls interested in engineering, it is most important to know that you are enough and you are capable of doing numerous things. It is essential to believe in yourself. Volunteer to be part of your school’s robotics team, participate in different competitions, and accept different challenges to grow.
Other factors need to be considered here as well. First, robotics is a vast field, and no one in the world can claim to have mastered all aspects of it. Therefore, you should not assume you must be an expert in every area. Work in a team and work on the parts of the project you enjoy. You’ll learn as the project moves forward. Project-based learning is a proven method for effective learning.
Second, when accepting a challenge, there is always a chance for failure. For example, when you lose a competition, you should not take the decision of the judges personally since it may have nothing to do with how good your work is.
I know this from experience as a reviewer and judge. The judges must choose a small number from a large pool of contestants. Furthermore, their judgments can be biased and influenced by their basic paradigms. That never means your work isn’t enough. Just work hard, and the results will come eventually.
Lastly, although human beings can be born into unfortunate circumstances, it is the choices we make that determine our destiny. Some people did not have the privilege of being born into well-resourced families, but they did work hard, and they created their own luck. Working harder does indeed make you luckier. Since I, myself, came from a challenging and not privileged childhood, I know this to be true.