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Steven Kay: Autonomous Systems Engineer


Steven Kay: Autonomous Systems Engineer

RAL Space — Didcot

"I had always been interested in engineering and building things, even from a very young age!"

Steven Kay

(Credit: STFC)

What do you do in your job?

I work in the Autonomous Systems Group (ASG), part of SET, RAL Space, and have a very varied and interesting job! I primarily work on Hardware design and continual developments for a number of interesting and varied projects for the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA). This requires me to have a deep understanding of mechanical and electronics principles as well as an up-to-date knowledge of what is cutting-edge in the robotics Industry. Other roles I fill involve planning and conducting field trial work for robotic systems and flying ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ (UAVs) as part of those activities.

If you had to summarise the impact your job has on everyday life – what would you say in two sentences?

I get to develop and integrate technologies onto robotic platforms in a way that makes a positive impact on people’s lives, primarily in the agricultural industry. Through ASG’s past, present and future work in agri-tech, we hope to increase the feasibility of utilising robotics in the industry to monitor plant health and potentially actively participate in farming activities in the near future.

What’s the best thing about your job?

There are several things I love about my job.

First is the diversity of projects I get to work on – from activities for ESA to agriculture and participating in RAL Space projects.

Second is the opportunity to travel for work, both for field trial work in some amazing and remote places, and also for the conferences and workshops which follow on from the hard work in the field!

Lastly is the opportunity to work and actively collaborate with engineers and scientists from around the world and in many different industries, from NASA JPL to ESA and universities both nationally and internationally.

What did you study at school?

I studied Robotics and Cybertronics at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. At school I studied maths, physics, technological studies, and computing at high school.

What inspired you into a career in science/engineering?

I had always been interested in engineering and building things, even from a very young age!

My passion for both robotics and space really came from my awareness of the emerging potential of robotics as I was growing up, and from NASA’s successes with exploration missions to Mars. As I progressed through high school, I discovered I really enjoyed mechanical and electrical topics in tech studies as well as computing, making the choice of studying robotics at university very easy -- it turned out that it was a really good fit for me!

What top tips would you have for people wanting a job like yours?

  • Go out and get all the experiences (both engineering and non-engineering) that you can! Leadership and communication skills are equally important to succeeding at the job that I do!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Questions are really important for development, both in terms of understanding systems and how they work, but also having the confidence to ask a difficult question is important!
  • Try out a bunch of robotics topics and see what sits best with you. Robotics really is a melting pot of disciplines and it may be that a specific discipline or specific application is really interesting for you.
  • Try to have a vision for where you’d like your career to go and plan a path for getting there, it is alright if this path takes a turn. The important element of this is that you’re driven towards achieving what you want to do!
  • Stick in at school! The basics you learn in school will come up again and again, and robotics topics always build on these fundamentals! You will see them again and again and sometimes in some very strange places such as robotic navigation!

Science and Technology Facilities Council
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