Personalities of IAM Robotics: Meet Jason Geist

By July 9, 2019March 30th, 2021No Comments
Jason Geist
Mechanical Engineering Lead

We are excited at IAM Robotics to be at the forefront of the autonomous robot revolution. We’re the first company in history that has succeeded bringing Autonomous Mobile Manipulation Robots to market, and we’re going to do more.

We are able to do this because we have some of the most innovative professionals in the robotics industry on our team, who have come to IAM Robotics from a variety of backgrounds. We are who we are because of our people, so we wanted to start introducing some of them to you. Meet Jason Geist…

Growing up in Northern Virginia, Jason knew early on that he liked building things. While he hated “pure Math and English classes,” he loved to read and was good at figuring out how things worked. Hands-on classes at his county magnet school helped him to realize his interests were probably best served studying mechanical engineering, which he went on to pursue at Carnegie Mellon University. 

While at CMU, he took a class in general robotics taught by Howie Choset, which included weekly labs building more and more complex robots. The following year he was hand-picked by Howie to be a teacher’s assistant for the class, then later in his research lab. While Jason pursued a master’s degree he continued on as part of Howie’s research staff for several years, simply because he “got to do cool stuff every day.”  We had the chance to talk with Jason recently, about his career, life at IAM Robotics, and—of course—robots. 

The coolest project I worked on before IAM Robotics …
I spent several years working on various snake robot projects at Carnegie Mellon University.  These robots have gone on to be way more famous and interesting than I ever will be, having heroic adventures and creeping out celebrities and generally having a good time.  I am slightly jealous.

I am motivated by …
You mean beyond surviving the soul crushing responsibilities of adulthood? Just creating; nothing is cooler than putting together a bunch of parts you summoned out of nothing and having it come to life and do something amazing.  Or weird!

At the core of engineering is a novelty, right? There is the slow, plodding engineering of subtle and incremental organizations, and there are those magical lightning bolt moments. Nothing beats the elation of that moment, when you have turned your approach upside down (figuratively or literally), and suddenly what you thought was hard suddenly becomes trivial. Oftentimes, true technological advancement comes from having that unexpected lightning bolt moment—the paradigm shift. 

Truthfully, that is one of the draws of working at IAM Robotics. We’re attacking a really hard problem, one that many others consider years out. But we’ve built a group of really smart people here at IAM, and between some real solid engineering and a little asymmetrical thinking, we are making it happen now.

My go-to spot in Pittsburgh is …
Turns out that I am totally boring, and I am generally a homebody. Most of my spare time is spent with my kids or keeping my house from succumbing to entropy. However a sure fire way to get me out and about is FOOD. Shout out to Slippery Mermaid for my local sushi fix.

I first got interested in robotics when … 
I saw the movie Terminator when I was way too young.  Something about the shiny mechanical intricacy of that T-800 skeleton got me hooked.  In retrospect the world domination part of that is slightly concerning, but a few YouTube videos of robots falling over later I feel less concerned.

My favorite travel spot is …
Anywhere at least 10 miles away from a paved road. I enjoy hiking, primitive camping, rock climbing—quiet, solitary, meditative activities that can be as challenging or peaceful as you need that day.

My hobbies  …
I read too much and play guitar poorly. 

Favorite quote … 
“Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs,” I said.  “We have a protractor.”
“Okay, I’ll go home and see if I can scrounge up a ruler and a piece of string.”
Neal Stephenson, Anathem

Favorite part of working at IAM Robotics … 
I doubt I will ever have as much fun at work again in my life.  Everyone here is smarter than me and producing magic daily.

Jason Geist at work on a robotic device.

Favorite robot books/movies …
I can recommend Sea of Rust if you are looking for a sweet, post- apocalyptic robot western, but oddly enough I haven’t read much else robo-centric stuff recently. I do enjoy near-future speculative sci-fi books from the likes of William Gibson.

No movie will ever beat Terminator and RoboCop for best robot movies of all time, sorry. 

What do you think the future has in store for robotics?
This is probably not the time to mention Terminator again, is it? In all seriousness, I believe robotics and technology will continue to develop exponentially. Perhaps it will bring us enlightenment, but my cynical vision—and fear—is that it will just widen the social/political/economic divides we fight already. For better or worse humans are not robots and will always struggle against their natures.

Or maybe I just read too much cyber-punk.

Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to share your background, experiences, and interest in robotics. IAM Robotics would not be leading the way in robotics without team members like Jason Geist who are willing to take on “stupid hard” problems and shift the paradigm for a solution. And we are just getting warmed up.