Team Interview: João Freire

João Freire, Senior Robotics Engineer

The team at BotsAndUs is fully-equipped with all the necessary skills to bring full-stack autonomous robotics solutions to market.

We are delighted to introduce another fantastic team member with an extensive background building tens of robots throughout the years – João Freire. He recently joined our team and is already leading development of new features as well as improvements to the existing infrastructure. Not only that but he’s making robotics accessible to everyone with his great way of explaining how things work.

What is your role at BotsAndUs and what key areas are you working on?

I am a Senior Robotics Engineer and my main focus is navigation profiles to suit different environments and requirements. This covers path planning, execution and obstacle detection and avoidance. For each scenario, every part of the navigation has different requirements.

My role is multidisciplinary so rather than specialising in a very specific field, I am involved in everything that gets our robots from point A to point B. I often find myself dealing with optimisation of sensors’ placement or how the robots interact with different parts of our software infrastructure.

Why did you choose robotics and what use cases are you most excited about?

I don’t think I chose robotics but it rather chose me. As cliche as it may sound, it is true in my case. My degree was much more focused on automation rather than mobile robotics and my first jobs were mainly computer graphics and human-machine interaction. After a while, I got bored of just interacting with a computer so I tried a move into mobile robotics and that’s how I found what I’m really passionate about.

I find it very rewarding to program a set of behaviours the robot can execute and in a way that’s aligned with the project and the bigger picture. Instead of thinking that my work starts and stops with robots, it’s always about the project. I’ve programmed around 8-10 different robots in my career and each one had its set of skills it needed to perform whatever it was necessary for the project they were involved in.
Robotics shouldn’t only be about the robot itself – it’s about the hardware, the robot’s design, the software and interface. Ultimately, other people should be able to build on top of that robot their own research or work.

I was always a huge fan of social robotics; I even started my PhD on the subject. However, I think that, as a society, we are still far away from embracing robots as a normal entity that shares the same space as we do. You can program whatever you want and apply whatever social rules you want but ultimately a person will still try to figure out if the robot stops or not if I cross its path.

What new technology or innovation has recently caught your attention?

To be honest nothing recently. I still feel that other than computational power nothing changed dramatically since I started in Robotics. Cameras are still noisy, sensors are still unreliable, and a lot of work is still to be done to bring robotics to the level of science fiction we expect. Even with advances in AI, you still spend a huge amount of time fiddling with algorithms to locate yourself in a dynamic environment.

Perception and object recognition are maybe the areas that we’ve seen a lot of improvements over the years but I still feel that there are a lot of teams doing a lot of the same work that doesn’t “build up”. And maybe many of the problems we are trying to solve in Robotics are not a problem to begin with. Maybe we are just creating the problem so we can sell the solution. I would like to see more focus on the social aspect of Robotics, the advantages it can bring to elder people, to fight loneliness and mental issues, especially in these dark days we live in.

What qualities are most important to perform well in your field?

I think a natural curiosity towards things is a massive help. If you’re not keen on always expanding your tools, continuously building up and improving your skills and finding new ways to solve problems, you’ll get stuck in doing the same things over and over again.

The main quality has to be a thirst to always improve yourself and your code. In Robotics, I don’t think we’re ever done. We can fulfill whatever metrics we impose on a specific project but there is always something to improve on, some motion to smooth, some detection to be perfected. It’s up to you to set those bars as high as you can, so you’re always pushing yourself to do better and faster.

If you’re interested in joining our team, please check our careers page here for any job vacancies. Join the robotics revolution!