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Coding drones to save lives

Dilani is a research and systems engineer at Herotech8. Find out how her work had led to live saving technology and get inspired by her top tips for a career in robotics.

Dilani Selvanathan


Hi everyone, my name in Dilani Selvanathan and I am a research and development engineer in robotics.

I work for a company called Herotech8, which is a start-up, so that means a small company. and what I do as a research and development engineer is that I get giving these projects, these ideas, and I have to make it come to life.

So to do that, I need to figure out if the project is hardware or software based. What materials that I need to use, how am I going to make it come to life? Do I need to buy parts for it, or do I need to use certain code or software packages to use?

Once I've completed my research, that's when the development happens. I have to develop my idea; I actually do what needs to be done. So if it's a hardware project, I have to build things. If it’s a software project, I have to write code.

I love that every day is different. So I'm waking up to new challenges and new projects and new work to do every day. Not every day is the same - it's always different, which makes me look forward to going into work and doing my job because I enjoy learning new things and challenging myself and just being curious.

I work with a lot of clients as well and communicate with different team members. I have the opportunity to work from home or go to the office, and even demo days - I'm sometimes outside in the field, just testing, playing around with a drone, my components, my code.

After receiving my GCSE results, I decided the engineering was the best route to take. So I went to a UTC, which is an engineering specialised school that I went to. and I studied engineering, maths and computer science. There I got a lot of hands-on experience, a lot of practical experience, and I felt like I would enjoy this, and I enjoy doing something more practical.

So after my A-levels, I decided to do an apprenticeship and I really wanted to go into the robotics industry, but there wasn't anything out there at the time. So I decided to do the closest to robotics, which was software engineering. So I actually started my career as a software engineer, where basically I just did a lot of coding related things.

My day-to-day job would be using a laptop and code, but I also was going to university as well. So I did a degree apprenticeship. So I was working for BBC, and I studied at Queen Mary. After my apprenticeship, I had decisions to make. So did I want to continue working at the BBC as a software engineer or am I going to take the leap into something that I enjoy - robotics. So I took the risk and I was at a company called Herotech8, which is the company that I'm working for now.

I started off as a software engineer and at the start of this month, at the start of this year, I actually moved into a new role as a research and development, where I'm doing a lot more robotics related things as well as software.

The last exciting project that I worked on was a missing persons app for emergency services. So the current method is when a person is missing, they send a search party to that location, and this is very time consuming, and the person's life can be at risk. You don't know what's going to happen - so my job was to create a questionnaire - a software - the emergency services can use.

And once they fill out that questionnaire, someone from our team will make sure everything's okay, approve it, and then a drone will go into that location and show in real time what it's seeing to the emergency services.

This saves a lot of time because a drone can go to the location quickly and see the latest known location by using thermal sensors, so heat signatures - to follow them around and let the emergency services know and then pinpoint the exact location where the missing person is.

It saves a lot of time and cost, and you can save a lot of people's lives using this method.

Engineering and technology is a fast paced industry. It's always changing - 100 years ago, we don't have computers or phones or cars, but now we do.

Think about what's going to happen in the next hundred years, so you never know what's going to happen.

You're always going to face a lot of challenges and you just need to be up for it! So you need to push yourself to learn new things, challenge yourself, be curious, think outside the box, just work hard. I know it's going to be a very hard start - educating yourself and doing exams and not being able to understand the logic.

But once you get there, you will be able to implement what you've learned into what you're doing and what you're working on. I’d say take your time, having ability to adapt is really good. Then you can pick up things much quicker, don't give up.

If you're really passionate about going into engineering, then go for it - work hard and trust yourself.

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