In 2019, I completed an Internet of Things project for an agriculture organization. Our system captured relevant field data (soil moisture level, temperature, crops conditions) that allowed the field managers to utilize their resources better and reduce operational costs. A year later, I used the same data for few other projects; to enhance their water management system (irrigation), improve the utilization of their fertilizer drone, and help set up a Blockchain-powered e-contract system for them to maximize profits and reach new markets. 

That got me thinking; information is all around us, in our fields, factories, hospitals, buildings, homes, cities, and infrastructure. If one data set from one agriculture field could benefit four or five different projects, imagine what we could do with all the information all around us. It was then that I decided to restructure all my research activities at the time, particularly on Automation, Robotics, and the Internet of Things, to answer the following questions; How can we capture all that information? and how to turn it into something useful to our society?

The Past: The building blocks 
In the early days of my career (2001-2004), I experimented with a few fields and disciplines; engineering mechanics, manufacturing, materials, till I settled on mechatronics and robotics. In 2008, a year after I started my teaching career, I focused on humanoid robotic grippers. I was fascinated by their paradoxical design requirements, to be complex enough to perform human-like movements yet small enough to fit at the ends of the robots' arms. I published a paper on the subject and presented two more at two international robotics conferences. 

For my PhD (2012-2018), I focused on the Robot Operating System (ROS), the world's leading open-source platform for robot system development. At the time, ROS primarily supported only indoor robots, such as industrial or social robots. So, I decided to tackle this challenge and bring ROS to the outdoors, specifically for open-field outdoor agriculture operations. Food security is a global concern, and agriculture automation is a potential solution to maximize agriculture output. By bringing ROS to agriculture, I hoped to contribute to that cause. From my work on ROS, I published three papers; detailing my works on ROS hardware, the ROS-android HRI framework, and the ROS remote network (which was later added to ROS). I also presented two more in international conferences, filed one patent, and am about to publish my first book: ROS for Agriculture.

Towards the end of my PhD (2016-2017), I discovered many overlapping technologies between ROS and the Internet of Things (IoT); Python, Linux OS, cloud computing, and more. So, I started to work on IoT projects (late 2017) even before completing my PhD. Initially, I continued with agriculture, focusing on Agriculture Precision, then I ventured into other projects; Centralized water management through IoT, IoT for renewable energy (Solar, Wind, and Hybrids), IoT Robotic Cameras for TV & Film, smart factories for Industry 4.0, and vehicle management systems for the transportation and logistics industry.

My work on IoT was fruitful; I published 6 papers, filed 3 patents, and won 5 GOLD medals for innovation. I conducted two training sessions on IoT in Hsinchu, Taiwan (2019, 2020). I am also finalizing my second book: IoT for Mechanical Engineers (with CRC Press), which introduces IoT to those, not from the software/electronics disciplines, due in late 2021. 

My work on TV Robotics incorporated elements of social studies, particularly on the Impact of Technology on Society and Human-Robot Interaction (social). With my social science colleagues, we explored themes of fear of technology, adoption, and acceptance. Our paper discussing these themes is currently under review for the IEEE International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN 2021).

Today: The restructuring 

Having worked on various research projects from different disciplines, I have realized that data is the superglue that holds all of these fields together. With properly structured data, we can configure that robot, streamline that operation, and enhance that service. Therefore, I decided to restructure my research activities to become an engineering data scientist.


Fig A: My definition of the Engineering Data Scientist (Art created by me) 

As an engineering data scientist, I would perform three tasks; create systems to capture raw data, employ advanced analytics algorithms to convert that data into valuable insights, then utilize these insights to develop/enhance the engineering applications for our society. Through my work on Automation, Robotics, and IoT, I am confident in my experience and ability to complete these three tasks. However, I feel there is room for improvement, particularly in the area of data processing and analytics. 

So, starting from October 2020, I embarked on a learning mission to master data science and analytics specifically for engineering applications. I am attending extensive hands-on courses on Machine Learning (Just Completed), Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, and related topics. I am targeting to obtain certifications in all of these areas and more. I envision this learning phase to last till the year's end. During this time, I would also complete my IoT book, participate in two conferences, and conduct more Training. By 2022, I hope to start a new chapter in my career and tackle new challenges as an engineering data scientist.  

Tomorrow: endless possibilities

Though I have experience working on data-driven projects for Sustainability and Infrastructure (through my works on IoT for renewables and water management), I look forward to participating in new projects with larger scales and scopes. I welcome the challenge of venturing into new areas, exploring new ideas, and collaborating with new colleagues, as long as that results in bringing great benefits to the people in our society and communities.