Personalities of IAM Robotics
Josh Moore, Mechanical Engineer
Drawn to hardware because of both the challenges of it and the satisfaction of a job well done, Josh Moore wanted to be an engineer since he was a kid. From an early age, he took apart whatever he could and knew he was mechanically-inclined when, as he says, “I started to put those things back together and they worked at least as well as they originally did—if not better.”
But there’s more to this engineer than a love for tinkering. In addition to designing and building things, Josh has some moves on the dance floor. He’s a competitive swing dancer, saying it really “tests how well you can communicate on the fly with someone.” And for reasons he’s not really sure of, he’s met a “disproportionate number of people” in swing who are also engineers.
We recently talked to Josh about his career, his other passions, and what he’s looking forward to at IAM Robotics.
What is the coolest project you worked on or contributed to prior to joining IAM Robotics?
I worked on a mobile robotics platform for industrial inspection. It was a wall-climbing robot with very powerful magnetic wheels to climb ferrous infrastructure. It had a bunch of different sensor payloads it could carry, with the primary being ultrasonic to measure the wall thickness of assets to know how they’re wearing down and when they need to be replaced.
The last thing I worked on was a tightly-integrated electronics housing unit that held our custom electronics, DAQ, power distribution, etc.. It had a lot of aggressive requirements—cool the electronics, remain watertight, and serve as a mounting point for other subsystems while remaining small and lightweight. There was a really neat telescoping rotating suspension (one part of a rocker)—that was pretty slick. It combined all these different disciplines into one system and they all had to “play nice” together.
To be able to see that system come together from a sketch on a napkin to a whiteboard list for marketing to a final product was really fun. I was involved from conception to final product with several iterations along the way. It was fun to see how far we were able to come from building robots with parts from Home Depot and Hobby Lobby to fielding a system like that.
I’m drawn to hardware because although it’s a little bit harder to get to the point where you can see and hold it, when you do, it’s really satisfying.
What motivates you?
Learning and designing new things to satisfy my curiosity.
What is your go-to spot in Pittsburgh?
Tartan/Panther Swing is a weekly swing dancing get together held on the Carnegie Mellon University Campus in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and local community.
I love the music, and it gives me the opportunity to travel all around the world, anywhere from 3-day weekends to full 2-week sessions that include travel, swing dancing for 14 hours a day, and the chance to meet cool people.
Swing dancing really tests how well you can communicate on the fly with someone—it’s a way of communicating back and forth within the framework of the dance. For whatever reason, there are so many engineers that participate. It attracts a disproportionate number of people in that field of work!
What is your favorite travel spot?
Anywhere with mountains. I really love the Rockies, but the latest one that I really like is the Karst Mountains in China—it’s where everybody shoots sci-fi movies with just pillars of rocks and trees on top of them. It just looks like it has to be CGI, but it’s real.
I got to see them when I went to China to see my old college roommate who was teaching English literature there for a few years. I stayed for a little over two weeks—just long enough to get over the jet lag!
Any favorite quotes that reflect your personality?
“Any idiot can build a bridge that stands, but it takes an engineer to build a bridge that barely stands.”—Anonymous
How did you choose your career?
I’ve always enjoyed designing and building things, and this seemed like the best way to do it professionally. Some of it was natural inclination and family influence. My grandfather was a mechanical engineer and my uncle was a software engineer. A lot of my friends’ dads were engineers, too. So I was able to talk with them and see what they did.
A formative experience was probably FIRST Lego League. Before that it was, ‘He likes Legos,’ but then someone asked if I’d thought about joining FLL. From that point on, I pretty much decided that I would be an engineer, and then it was just deciding what type of engineer I would be.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an engineer pretty much from the start. As a kid, I was always taking things apart—manifested originally as just breaking stuff. It was usually somewhat supervised—like, I used to knock down towers my dad would make. Any toy I received, I immediately took apart…like fishing rods, clocks, Tonka trucks…any toy I could readily take apart.
The sign I was leaning toward engineering was when I started to put those things back together and they worked at least as well as they originally did—if not better. I became the go-to person in my house to assemble things, and I’d fix fishing rods and bikes for my friends. I also volunteered to fix bikes through middle school and high school, participated in FIRST Lego League through middle school, and FIRST Robotics competitions through high school. As soon as I could get my hands on any sort of robotics thing, I was hooked.
Do you have any hobbies?
A hobby now is building drones, more as a means to fly them. But I also have a side project that’s turned out to be more challenging than I originally thought. I’m trying to find a way to leverage 3D printing technology and topology optimization for a more customized approach to building a quadcopter frame.
I also enjoy powerlifting and swing dancing on a social and competitive level. And I’ve been trying to learn jazz piano during quarantine. Engineering-wise, I’ve gotten into watches. The latest thing I’ve been trying to do is to fill watches with an immersion cooling liquid that basically makes it look like the front of the glass disappears. It is a pretty cool optical illusion, so I’ve been filling anything I can get my hands on. It’s a wild material—a liquid that can carry oxygen effectively so you can submerge in it without drowning. That scene in The Abyss was inspired by this material.
What is your favorite part about working for IAM Robotics?
For the longest time, I was one of the most experienced engineers at my previous employer, which was kind of a weird place to be almost right out of college. Everyone always has different areas of expertise that you can learn from, but as far as someone who has been there, done that, and can provide perspective overall—there wasn’t anyone at the company who could provide that. On one hand, it was nice because you could figure things out on your own, but the downside was that you spent a lot of time reinventing the wheel.
At IAM Robotics, there are some real OG robotics people who have seen everything and have a lot more expertise and experience than I do, and I’m just trying to soak up as much of that as I can.
What do you think the future has in store for robotics?
My dream is for robots to handle non-creative work, to free humans to pursue their creative interests.
Are you a sci-fi fan?
My favorite sci-fi movie (series) is probably Star Wars. It’s probably a little cliché, but it’s just solid. I’m watching The Mandalorian, but am only a few episodes in and I’m trying to avoid spoilers.
Thanks to Josh for sharing your unique path to IAM Robotics. We wouldn’t be leading the way in robotics without team members who are passionate about their work and committed to making a difference in the future of robotics. The best is yet to come.