Jack Silberman on the Reality of Robotics

By David Washburn

Jack Silberman
Courses taught: Embedded Systems for Robotics, Internet of Things, Introduction to Mobile Robots

Robots are no longer the purview of science fiction. Just ask Jack Silberman. The UC San Diego Extension instructor has had a front row seat to the growing field of robotics, even teaching the subject on two separate continents. He began in his native Rio de Janeiro during the 1980s, and now brings nearly three decades of experience to Extension. Dr. Silberman’s experience includes educational robotics, NASA-sponsored mobile field robotics, semiconductor automation, biotech and medical devices. Currently, he is the Commercial QA Area Manager for Canada and Latin America for Abbott Diabetes Care, and a lecturer at UC San Diego Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

How did you get started in your career field?

I was first introduced robotics when I was working on my electrical engineering undergrad in Rio de Janeiro. I didn’t want to do just computing -- what attracted to me was physical computing, which is computers interacting with the real physical world. Usually, when software crashes in a computer, the computer may crash and the screen just goes blue. When software in a robot crashes, the robot may crash into a wall, drive down into a canyon, or hurt someone.

While I was doing my undergrad, a robotics lab was established at the technical high school I graduated from and they asked me to help start a robotics program. While working at the school I realized I needed to expand my knowledge to mechanical engineering. So, I applied and received a scholarship to study automation and robotics in England. I came back to my job at the high school leading the robotics and advanced technology program, and I received a scholarship for a prestigious mechanical engineering master’s program.

Later I got a scholarship to do a Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University (in Pittsburgh). I had a chance to work on mobile robots that were deployed inside a live volcano, drove autonomous on MARS-similar desert, and another one that searched for meteorites in Antarctica. I’ve been in the U.S. ever since.

What did you most enjoy about your profession?

Solving problems that improve the quality of life for people. The most enjoyable part of my job is hearing how the work we do positively changes people’s lives.

What advice would you give someone looking to enter this career field?

To be open minded and make sure they have a broad education. Not just electrical engineering; not just mechanical; not just software -- but knowledge across all three fields. On large deployments, you most likely can’t do it alone. You will need to work on teams that need to communicate and have an idea what the others need from you to succeed.

How is your field changing?

It has changed quite a bit. Robots are no longer limited to just industrial applications. They are coming to our households, and as our cars. We’ve seen an enormous expansion in just the past five years.

Going forward, what are the main challenges facing those who work in your field?

The technology is changing very quickly and you have to keep up with the pace. You have to participate in communities of people in your field. Going alone will be a longer road compared to collaboration. Extension is a great way to quickly update your skills and network.

What do you like most about teaching for Extension?

Helping people to improve their careers, as well as the exchange of knowledge and experience. Keep the relationship after the classes.

You can learn more about UC San Diego Extension's Embedded Engineering classes and programs on our website, or you can contact the department at infotech@ucsd.edu.

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