Benjamin Choi has always had a fierce interest in all things military. He remembers poring over books about great battles during his early years, captivated by stories of fiery contests and flashes of ingenuity. He also found himself fascinated with technology and dreamt of inventing things. "I really enjoyed the creative process of building new things, whether in wiry contraptions or reams of code. This led me to discover electronics and programming," shares the DSTA scholar.
His DSTA scholarship allowed him to marry his twin interests in military systems and programming. With his scholarship, Benjamin is today a Defence Research Engineer at DSO National Laboratories, where he works with a team to research and develop new capabilities for its robots and systems. To this end, the team transforms ideas into code, tests their methods in realistic operational environments, and integrates algorithms and software onto a robotic platform.
"In terms of military use, robotic systems allow us to perform autonomous dangerous missions which decrease the need for a soldier in the field, and aid in repetitive tasks without the need for more manpower," Benjamin explains.
While his job is indeed fascinating, Benjamin opines that research engineering can be frustrating and one will meet with instances of failure occasionally. He tells us about an incident in which he spent several months tracing bugs in a programme he wrote. "Each time I uncovered a bug, I would find a new problem. Prior to this, I had never written a programme that took hundreds of hours to debug," he shares. The incident made Benjamin realise that in the real working world there are no fixed solutions and one would oftentimes need to rely on sheer perseverance and determination to solve complex problems.
But instances of failure are not to be seen as deterrents to success. Benjamin measures success by his sense of fulfilment in turning those failures around. "While you might fail sometimes, the satisfaction in seeing your projects come to fruition makes it all worth the while," he muses.
He tells us about another rewarding episode, this time centered on a suite of navigation algorithms for an off-road autonomous vehicle. "The project had been quite a challenge for me from the start, and the demonstration was the culmination of many months of head-wracking debugging, ideas that turned out to be dead ends and had to be reversed, and some late nights toward the end. To see it work physically out in the field was extremely rewarding."
Much to Explore
There is plenty waiting to be discovered in the field of research engineering. DSO gives its engineers access to a range of resources to facilitate their advancement at work, and presents them with opportunities to work alongside some of the best minds in R&D.
This realm of possibilities within DSO’s research engineering work is empowering. "Becoming the go-to person for a specialised domain of robotics is at once thrilling and humbling. It makes me realise just how much more I can explore in the field," Benjamin rounds off modestly.
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