Dennis Hong of RoMeLa

Dennis Hong

Dr. Dennis Hong of RoMeLa presented a very entertaining keynote at BEI13. I had an opportunity to chat with him following his talk and asked a few questions about his inspirations and how he designs and builds his robots. Here is a short summary of our conversation:

Views on Failing forward

Dennis Hong: I do not know a single successful person who hasn’t failed. If you fail and give up then it is the end. But if you fail and learn from your failure then that failure will become a stepping stone in your development. This process of failure is a better thing than the dreaded failing and losing.

On building robots and his book of inspiration

I have lots of different types of robots. One such robot is STriDER, a robot with three legs. Think of a camera tripod stand; this robot swings its three legs to move. The idea for this complicated motion originated when I was a graduate student.  I was at a park and saw a lady braiding her daughter’s hair. Impressed by the way she was braiding, as the motion was unique, I sketched her action in my notepad.

I always carry a notepad and a pencil and sketch things that impress me. I refer to this book when I am challenged for ideas to get inspiration. When the time for building a robot with three legs came, and as I always do, I flipped through my book of sketches and this sketch of braiding was the foundation for my inspiration to build STriDER robot.

On Innovation

Innovation is about connecting dots and creativity is about connecting things that are not related to each other. The combination of connecting dots and connecting unrelated dots more often leads to innovation.

Surround yourself with diverse thoughts and keep an open mind. This is the source of creative thinking and innovation.

About Dr. Dennis Hong

Dr. Dennis Hong is an Associate Professor from Virgina Tech and the founding  director of RoMeLa – a Virginia Tech robotics lab that has pioneered several breakthroughs in robot design and engineering.  He is a serial innovator who is known for marrying robotics with biochemistry. He is named as one of “Popular Science’s Brilliant 10.” Hong is also a gourmet chef and a magician, performing shows for charity and lecturing on the science of magic.