SoftBank Robotics Women's Week: Interview with Béatrice Verlhac
Béatrice Verlhac: “What I find very exciting in the field of robotics is the ability to have a global view of the system“
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate women and girls around the world for their determination and achievements. This week we are also honoring extraordinary women in our company by sharing their career success stories. Hopefully, these interviews will also inspire you to pursue your dream career, perhaps also in robotics!
HEART: What’s your current role and can you describe your typical day at work?
Béatrice: As a Manager of the Mechanical team I coordinate a team of 10 people, mostly mechanical engineers. Typically my workday is split between team management, dealing with technical issues, contributing to technical notes, making sure that deliverables are validated and ready for project milestones and gathering inputs for the Mechanical department in meetings with other teams.
You have a PhD in the field of Structural mechanics. In what way does your academic background help you succeed in your current role?
I did my PhD in an industrial context: numerical modelling of elastomers in car suspensions. This was a very fruitful experience. Although it’s quite far from robotics, it gave me a technical background that helped me in each of the positions I occupied in my career. For example, optimizing a robotic moving platform is quite familiar.
Doing a PhD also made me understand the tradeoffs between industrial and research stakes.
It also helped me organize my way of thinking to analyze and make research on scientific or technical topics (how to read a patent, an article, the information you can catch in a symposium or from academic publications). Understanding both academic and industrial worlds is very useful and relevant in R&D departments.
Tell us more about your team members and their missions! Can you share with us an anecdote from your work together?
There are 10 members in our team, mechanical or mechatronics engineers and techs. Our work spans aesthetic parts, structural parts, small mechanisms such as gear boxes or mechatronic devices integration.
We work a lot with the Exterior Design Team for aesthetic plastic parts. From their sketches and surfacic CAD, we design cover parts, adding technical constraints without degrading the visual aspect of the robot.
For structural parts we ensure both design and numerical simulations and work with the test and validation teams to validate both mechanical dimensioning and ageing of mechanical parts and mechanisms.
Finally, we collaborate with all mechatronics teams to integrate electronic devices, sensors and actuators. We take into account all design constraints for motors, sensors, speakers, microphone, screen to ensure their performance.
You worked in various industries: automotive, aerospace… What motivated you to continue your career in robotics?
When you work on cars or planes, you usually work on only one small part of the whole system. Besides, development of new products is long term in aeronautics, where I spent most of my career. What I find very exciting in the field of robotics is the ability to have a global view of the system and to see several developments in a very short time. The complexity of some technologies is also challenging, you have to know various fabrication processes, materials and mechatronics devices to fully understand and optimize their integration on a robot.
What kind of advice do you have for engineers who’d also like to transition one day to a managerial role?
They must keep in mind that they serve their team and the company. A manager must listen to their team members, do everything possible to make people progress and learn. You must appreciate team work and be both able to be relevant in the technical field you aim and be ready to deal with more administrative problems, such as time scheduling or optimizing internal processes between departments.