Mechatronic Light Saber

I was watching Return of the Jedi the other night for the 723rd time and was amazed at how well the original 3 are holding up in terms of special effects given advances in the field over the past 30 years. There’s a scene in the movie where Darth Vader hands the Emperor Luke’s light saber, to which the emperor responds

“Ah, yes, a Jedi’s weapon. Much like your
father’s. By now you must know your father
can never be turned from the dark side. So
will it be with you.”

Now for those uninitiated geeks out there, one task every Jedi must do on their path towards Jedihood is to build their own light saber.  Because of this every light saber is unique, and carries the distinctive fingerprint of the Jedi who constructed it.

But what would be the appropriate mechatronic “light saber”? It would have to be something that encompasses mechatronics (software component, electronics component, and mechanical component), something that every mechatronics engineer builds at some point during their training (also known as grad school) and something that would bear the distinct mark of the engineer who built it. The more I thought about it, the more the answer seemed obvious …


an autonomous robot.

An autonomous robot, perhaps better than any other product, completely captures all aspects of mechatronics. It needs a well designed mechanical system in order to move around and interact with its environment, it needs electronics in order to sense the world around it and drive all its actuators, and finally it needs software to take all its different inputs and make decisions. At some point during their mechatronics course work every mechatronics engineer has had to build a robot. Because the design of a robot can take so many different shapes and forms, it would be almost impossible for two engineers designing independently to design the same robot.

So, I would like to propose a challenge to the world: before you become a true mechatronics engineer, you must build your own light saber robot. Now, unlike with Jedis, there is no Yoda figure to judge and pass your robot (actually there is, Professor Ed Carryer of Stanford, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his days deciding which robots are worthy enough to allow their designers to call themselves a mechatronic engineer), so it is up to the individual engineer to judge his robot worthy of mechatronic acceptability. If this catches on, this actually shouldn’t be a problem, because employers would expect potential hires to bring their mechatronic light saber to all interviews.

Ultimately my dream of having all mechatronic engineers build their own robot in order to be considered a true mechatronics engineer is to help foster a sense of community and fraternity around mechatronics. I believe the more mechatronics engineers feel tied to one another, the more we will collaborate with each other, leading to greater and more ambitious projects.

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