Dr. Bob Crockett
Co-founder and Lead Engineer, AxonVR
When Jake Rubin came to me with the idea of building a full-body human machine interface, one thing was quickly clear: We were going to need a multidisciplinary team of engineers to have a chance at succeeding in his vision. Choosing the right people for a team is hard enough, and it’s more of a challenge when you’re trying to find engineers with the experience, breadth of expertise, and ambition to tackle a problem as big and revolutionary as what we aimed to do.
I was working as the Director of General Engineering at Cal Poly, as well as managing Proof of Concept, an R&D startup lab I’d founded years earlier. We had access to some of the best talent coming out of the university, so we looked for engineers who could do a little of everything. Since we didn’t have the money or time for detailed experiments, we had to be creative in how we solved problems. We hired a lot of mechatronic engineers, people who could do both electrical and mechanical engineering. They were creative and pragmatic and could accept risks. Some engineers can freeze if a problem is too unknown, so we looked for people who could blast ahead despite the uncertainty of a solution.
As the team grew, we looked for more specialized engineers. At the highest level, we were building a human-machine interface, so we needed biomedical engineers who understood how the body interacted with robotic systems. For developing our HaptX skin—the wearable layer of our system that delivers high-fidelity tactile feedback—we needed people with a strong background in material science. And, of course, we hired more mechanical and electrical engineers who could design the hardware control in the system.
These engineers were responsible for constructing the HaptX hardware, but to make the components integrate, we had control engineers building the firmware and software engineers working with game engines to develop SDKs. Ultimately, everyone we bring on the team must be able to think holistically about our system, because so much of the job is about building components that combine into something much greater than the sum of its parts.
Part of what’s made AxonVR successful is the culture we’ve inherited from the many Cal Poly graduates who’ve joined the company. Cal Poly has a learn-by-doing philosophy; Cal Poly’s students are very practical in how they address problems, which results in AxonVR’s rapid “design-build-test” approach to design. Although a lot of engineers are tempted into heading to the Valley, we like to think that AxonVR’s culture, its location in San Luis Obispo with all that the Central Coast has to offer, and its opportunity to work on pioneering technology gives us a leg up over the many other startups out there.
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