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5 questions with Jeff Ota: From NASA to Intel, improving lives through automation and robotics

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Jeff Ota is building a safer world through automation to reduce deaths and prevent injury —with a disciplined approach to innovation and entrepreneurial experimentation.


What is your job at Intel and how did you get into the field?

I lead the program for autonomous driving and sports research at Intel Labs, and run the research efforts in computer vision, sensor fusion, autonomous robotics, and sports applications.

I’m an aerospace engineer by training. At NASA is where I first started combining computer vision into autonomous control systems. Later I spearheaded computer vision and sensor fusion research at BMW and Nike for autonomous driving and sports performance applications.

JT3_7372.jpgHow does your work make a difference to society?

An engineer’s fundamental role is to make life better through the application of science and technology. My group is making life safer and better by designing robots that can reduce traffic deaths and scientifically train athletes to prevent unnecessary injury.

Autonomous driving flips the way society views basic transportation. This will have a huge societal and economic impact. Mobility on demand, and as a service, will change the dynamics of consumer choice. It does it in a way that more efficiently and effectively uses public and private transportation resources. This allows people to be free from excessive car costs and better manage dangerous driving conditions.

On a personal level, I hope this makes the eventual conversation with my parents about not driving anymore much easier. It’s good to know they will have a viable option to maintain their transportation independence in a way that’s still economical.

What is it like to work at Intel Labs?

I’ve worked in a lot of different industrial research groups, and Intel Labs is the best run and most efficient, productive, and impactful research group. The environment at Intel Labs enables free thinking, but within a framework and context that rewards ideas that result in product development. It helps that the people here are awesome too.

What sets it apart is a mix between a disciplined approach to innovation and entrepreneurial experimentation. Risk-taking and business impact is a difficult balance to strike. Having experienced the extreme ends of hyper-disciplined and undisciplined approaches in my previous jobs, I do appreciate the balanced path Intel pursues for its industrial research approach.

What does it take to be successful at Intel?

A diverse set of work styles can be successful at Intel. Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, there’s a place for you here. The common trait is drive. People who succeed at Intel are self-motivated. They want to make a real-world impact and are willing to put the effort in to make that impact.

What else do you want to share about Intel?

I’d like people to know that Intel is a great place to work. I really do have fun, and I get to work with amazing people on topics that I’m passionate about.

My colleagues push and inspire me and serve as role models in technical excellence, integrity, directness, and congeniality, which is also very important to me. In short, I enjoy working with my colleagues. That’s the “Holy Grail” for anything I work on.
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