A Day in the Life of a Bear Flag Robotics Engineer
May 20, 2022
Welcome to the Bear Flag Day in the Life blog series, in which we showcase our talented team members – and look behind the scenes at what it’s like to work at Bear Flag HQ. This week, we sat down with Rahul Ramanarayanan, a Robotics Engineer here at Bear Flag for over two years. Rahul has five years of expertise in robotics, with a focus on human-robot interaction, computer vision, and product development. Here, we talk to Rahul about his engineering journey, the rise of AgTech, and the exciting world of robotics.
Hi, Rahul! You’ve spent five years working in the engineering business. When did you first develop an interest in the industry?
I’ve been curious about science and technology ever since grade school, and presenting my work at school science fairs and exhibitions helped reinforce, in my mind, that I would enjoy leveraging technology to affect the world.
The real decision to pursue a career in engineering came in my Junior year in college when I realized that I enjoyed the breadth of computer science, mechanical and electrical engineering. Robotics being domain agnostic in addition to being an emerging field that one could contribute and help define was exciting.
What is your educational background, and how did it set you up for Bear Flag?
My bachelor’s at SSN was a memorable four years; From theater, organizing events to performing a standup routine thrice for an annual fund raiser outside of engineering projects– I sampled the breadth of what the university experience had to offer.
The undergraduate thesis project, a human following quadcopter, helped me land my first job as a computer vision engineer at a startup that developed UAV for industrial inspection. A year later I made the leap of faith to land in Seattle at UW where I specialized in human robot interaction and robotics.
“The time I spent in the robotics lab, an internship at Dusty Robotics, and a co-op at Tortuga AgTech, – these all paved the way for me to eventually join Bear Flag Robotics.”
Could you further elaborate on your prior experiences? And what drew you to Bear Flag?
I’ve been fortunate to land in places that have had great people doing what they love, sharing a common goal. Starting with Detect Technologies where I was a computer vision engineer helping build autonomous drones, I spent a year there right after undergrad, which was formative in helping me understand the startup ecosystem and mindset.
A big break came in summer of 2019 when I had the opportunity to intern at Dusty Robotics during my Master’s program. It was like working with an allstar crew of engineers on a very early stage product in construction robotics which is doing remarkably well now! I helped test sensors and even sat at city council meetings for construction.
I learnt a whole lot about what it takes to be a great engineer and leader from the team at Dusty and think back to those months fondly.
“This set me up for another co-op in Denver with Tortuga AgTech who were building a strawberry harvesting robot. I enjoyed building the data collection and analysis pipeline for that robot fleet and helped support field deployments (working out of a shipping container!).”
These experiences have certainly helped me find my feet at Bear Flag as I continue the learning journey.
What does a typical day at Bear Flag look like for a robotics engineer? Could you go over your daily routine, responsibilities, and projects with us?
Days usually start off with a standup where we connect with the robotics team and go through what each of us are planning to work on that day. This morning bootup is also a great place to have discussions on relevant topics for that development period and help each other get unblocked. My responsibilities are to help develop the robotics software that controls the tractor and interface the machine with the cloud.
What is it like working at Bear Flag? Could you give us some examples of your favorite and least favorite Bear Flag robotics engineering areas?
“It’s been a powerful learning experience here at Bear Flag. The leadership team is full of people whom I deeply admire and it’s always a blast hanging out with the operations team who are experts in farming and agriculture.”
I’ve always been curious about learning new technologies. I love building features that enable a great user experience, and I also really enjoy the discussions phase of the development cycle.
What has been the most difficult obstacle you’ve encountered while working for the Bear Flag?
Dealing with uncertainty has been challenging at times but this is not unique to Bear Flag and more a function of being on the bleeding edge of technology with multiple stakeholders.
“With the company growing, the need to deliver great products adds a certain level of personal responsibility which is a fantastic character builder.”
What new engineering skill or robotics technology have you learned that have helped you in your work at Bear Flag?
My Biggest learning would be noticing the patterns in software development that were not obvious to me before along – with a host of technology stacks that I’ve had to learn and utilize.
A huge component of being an effective engineer is being able to articulate the problem with the reason and knowing how to break it down to its component parts: a skill that I’m (hopefully!) getting better at.
What are your long-term objectives for Bear Flag and for yourself as a robotics engineer?
I’ve always enjoyed dipping my feet into the customer’s shoes and had a penchant for design.
“Long term, I would love to be closely involved with leading efforts to develop seamless customer experiences at the interface of robotics and human beings.”
Any robotic engineering developments you’d like to share with us? Have any of them recently been incorporated in your work with Bear Flag?
We’ve been working on a number of cool projects to help the farmers control the tractor better and provide a greater degree of transparency into what is happening within the autonomous system. This is aimed at providing a better user experience.
Finally, what advice would you provide to young engineers and those interested in a career in AgTech or robotics?
Agriculture and robotics are two fields that have their own distinct career paths. I came into the field of agritech from the robotics side through internships and previous work experience. The projects I worked on during university helped me break into the industry and provided me a sandbox to experiment.
“Depending on where one is in their career, gaining that hands-on learning is key to breaking into the industry. A strong grasp of the fundamentals of physics, programming and a mindset to dive into the problem at hand while iterating quickly is necessary to thrive in this field.”
On the agricultural side, reading up on current farming practices, interacting with farmers and the folk who are out in the field really helps one bridge the knowledge gap. Personally, I was able to empathize with the guys out in the field when I had the opportunity to actually spend time in a tractor on a farm site.