Padmaja, you come from India and have already completed a mechanical engineering degree there, not a typical course of study for a young woman. So, what made you do it?
PK: All my life I have been fascinated by machines. My father encouraged this interest very much. When a table fan suddenly stopped at our home, he'd say: »Padmaja, why don't you see if you can get it running again?« Then I unscrewed the housing, had a look inside and saw that the principle was quite simple. When it was running again, my father praised me very much for it. That's what motivated me. The fact that I was a girl didn't matter to him at all. For us, in India, it's different from here anyway. Many young women study subjects like mechanical engineering or computer science at university. I don't understand why it's any different here. We women can do it just as well.
At the Bonn-Rhine-Sieg University of Applied Sciences you are currently finishing up a second master's degree in Autonomous Systems. You came to Germany especially for this program. Very brave. How did that come about?
PK: I wanted to keep learning. As a mechanical engineer, I couldn't program. Robots offer the perfect combination of both. That was the big goal I had in mind: to be able to work professionally with robots. And, in fact, I heard about the special Autonomous Systems program here at H-BRS in my university in India. It has a very good reputation. So, I enrolled, flew to Germany with no knowledge of German, and without knowing anyone here, and I began my studies. At the H-BRS I heard about the possibility of working with robots at the Fraunhofer FKIE as a student research assistant. I applied immediately, and it worked out.
And were you allowed to work directly with robots here at the institute?
PK: Yes, I was! The robots are incredible and it's so much fun, my fascination for them has no limits.
Currently, you are writing your master's thesis here at the institute. How would you sum it up so far? Is it working out well?
PK: Yes, it’s going great. I feel well supported all around and I am given a huge amount of time for my work. Scientists, technicians - all of them support me, I can always ask questions. And my colleagues are kind enough to proofread everything I write. Just in terms of the language, this is a huge help for me.
Do you also deal with robots in your master's thesis?
PK: Of course! The topic of my master thesis is »Dual-Arm Manipulation for Anthropomorphic Motion Mapping.« The task is to develop a method for the direct and intuitive control of a two-armed robot. The robot's movements should be as similar as possible to those of humans. In short: the robot arms should do exactly what I am doing with my arms - that is, they should replicate my movements 1 to 1. Very exciting. Let's see if I can do it.