After Hours: Bec Conrad

Bec Conrad works on a hovering autonomous underwater vehicle (HAUV) that she helped design and build.

Position: Advanced Research Technician, FabLab

Years at NCSSM: 1 month

Home: Originally from Australia, but now lives in Durham after a long time in the Northeast

What she does outside of work: Many of the same things she does at work. Conrad has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering specializing in control systems from the University of New Hampshire, as well as a master’s of fine arts in Digital + Media from the Rhode Island School of Design. Between degree programs, she worked for six years as an engineer. Since completing her second master’s, she works on projects that combine art and technology. Many of her projects are completed in the shop she built in her basement.

Right now, Conrad most often does contract work designing robotics systems with a company named Tellart. The company creates interactive products, installations, and exhibitions, one of which recently won the National Smithsonian Design Award. That crux of design, art, and engineering and technology is right where Conrad likes to be, and many of her past projects center on robotics and humans.

What coworkers may not know: Conrad has worked on all of sorts of projects in previous jobs, both in the U.S. and abroad.

“After my master’s in mechanical engineering, I worked with Dean Kamen, who started FIRST [including the FIRST Robotics Competition], on some medical robotics that were cool,” she says. “Then I moved to Australia and worked on large-scale animatronic dragons for a Dreamworks show.” The “arena spectacular” featured huge moving dragons based on the movie How to Train Your Dragon.

One of Conrad’s favorite projects was from her time at Bluefin Robotics in Boston, where she worked on prototypes for autonomous robots that monitor ship hulls for explosives, and large-scale autonomous robots similar to the kind that looked for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, she says. But her favorite project was a smaller robot: “ I really liked the hovering autonomous underwater vehicle. I really liked that because it was smaller, and you’d throw them off the dock, and they’d move around on their own, and then we’d test different ways for them to attach to ships.”

Her most recent project with Tellart is wrapping up now. “The final presentation was in Japan, so I got to travel to Japan for three weeks,” she says. “I went on the bullet train, which was amazing, and saw Asimo, the Honda robot.” Her next presentation is in January in Las Vegas, and she promises to reveal the details of her latest project then.

Best part of her job: “So far it’s probably the variety of student projects. Everything from prosthetic limbs to speakers made from Goodwill parts,” she says. Conrad moved to the Durham area after completing her RISD program. She is excited to be in the higher education environment after co-teaching a class and being a teaching assistant a number of times.

She is excited to spend even more time with students as the summer goes on, and hopes to work with the robotics team in the fall. In the meantime, she gets to spend time with students working on research projects this summer, and doing some training with students so they are ready to go in the fall. “I’m excited to see what they’re coming up with. I hope more students are coming in and using the equipment.”

Favorite perk of working at NCSSM: “Getting to use and learn more about some of the equipment,” she says, noting that there is some “really nice, amazing equipment” in the FabLab. “The resources are great.”

One thing about working here that she would do differently: “Probably a better dust collection system.”

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