Meet: Keith Nicewarner
NASA Ames Research Center
Who I Am and What I Do
My name is Keith Nicewarner and I'm a robotics engineer
at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. I supervise several
robotics research projects, including an advanced Mars rover and the Personal
Satellite Assistant (PSA) robot designed for the International Space Station
(ISS). I spend most of my time on the PSA project, and I'm in charge of
all the software that goes on board the PSA
as well as the operator console and off board dock computer. I also work
very closely with the people building all the hardware for the robot.
For my job, I use my skills in software, electrical and mechanical engineering
as well as my project management skills.
Preparation for Career
I've always been interested in robots. When
I was growing up, I was always trying to build a robot. My first robot
was nothing more than a cardboard box with drawings all over it and Christmas
lights poking through holes in it. As I got older, I learned more about
mechanics and electronics. In high school, I built my first really functional
robot that could run around a room and learn by bumping into things.
My dad was in the air force while I was growing up,
so we moved around a lot. But we spent most of our time in Pineville,
Louisiana, so I call that my home town. When I wasn't building a robot,
I was always building something -- models, tree houses, underground forts,
I've always liked science fiction. Growing up, I liked watching
Star Trek. I was always reading sci fi books. Oddly enough, though, I've
never really liked Asimov books on robots. I never thought they were realistic
enough for me.
My Career Journey
I grew up mostly in Pineville, Louisiana, and went to the Louisiana School
for Math, Science, and the Arts (LSMSA) for high school. After that, I
went to Louisiana Tech
and studied electrical engineering. The more I learned, the more I liked
learning, so I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy,
NY, where I got my
Ph.D. in systems engineering.
After graduating from RPI, I started working for Lockheed
Martin in Nashua, NH. I worked on some automated flight planners for aircraft,
and then on a project to build a tiny 6-inch-wingspan airplane for the
military. I then moved to California and started working for SRI in Menlo
Park. While there, I worked on several military robotics projects. I also
was introduced to the PSA project, which had just started. I liked it
so much that I switched jobs so that I could work on it full-time.
The main advice I would give anyone interested in robotics is to never
stop learning. Robotics requires skills in mechanics, electronics, and
software, so the more you learn in each of these fields, the better. Also,
always try to apply what you learn in school. Even if you don't get graded
on it, come up with a project that you can build and use what you've learned. It will help make learning fun as well
as help you understand what you learn.
I currently live in sunny San Jose, CA, with my wife and kids. My oldest
is Ryan, who's nearly 20 months old and loves to help me build things.
Connor is only 3 months old and is trying to catch up with Ryan. We have
2 cats, Itchy and Scratchy, who don't have tails because they're part
My wife Dawn and I like to go hiking and rollerblading.
We can't wait until our boys are old enough to come with us! I still like
to build things -- whether I build from a model kit or with my huge Lego
collection. But building a robot is the most fun because it involves using
all my skills.
Plans for the future
My plans for the future include seeing the PSA
deployed on the Space Station. I eventually want to become a mission manager
on a space robot mission. I'd ultimately like to be involved in the commercialization
of space using robots. A commercial robotic lunar colony is something
I'd like to see.
A Favorite Quote:
Lead, follow, or get out of the way!