Programming humanoid robots at Tesla: Brandon’s co-op journey

A photo of Brandon standing by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.My name is Brandon Goh and I am a third-year Mechatronics Engineering student. I will be sharing my co-op experiences that range from debugging financial applications to programming cutting-edge innovations, such as Tesla’s humanoid robot!

What were your past co-op experiences like?

Before my first year, I had an internship at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) as an innovation developer intern where I refactored an internal talent management application for over 3000+ employees to connect co-op students and their managers through tasks, deadlines and messages. I also optimized the data transfer process between two internal applications through RESTful APIs, which reduced load times by 25%.

Soon after, I returned to RBC for my first work term as a software developer intern which consisted of automating export functionality for a wealth management application for over 5300+ employees to generate financial reports.

My second work term was at Prodigy Education - an educational technology start-up founded by two Waterloo Tron graduates. As a test automation engineering co-op, I pioneered the automation of game testing using JavaScript to create a test suite with 90% coverage of first-time user experience including authentication and game functionalities. This initiative increased productivity and decreased testing time by allowing quality assurance testers to focus on testing edge cases instead of regression tests.

I also implemented dispatch event signals based on user interactions to create data-driven player engagement metrics for the business. For example, when users clicked on a certain event, this action would be recorded with millions of other data points to be extrapolated and analyzed further.

Did you do anything to help enhance and prepare your on-the-job performance?

I’m also involved in a few unique extracurriculars at Waterloo. I was the RADAR team lead for 2+ years at WATonomous - Waterloo’s Autonomous Vehicle Design Team, where I led the implementation of a multi-object tracker to identify and classify readings, as well as various filtering experiments. These experiments were performed to determine the best azimuth angle and RCS threshold which increased point density and accuracy by 34% for the radar sensors.

I was also the co-director of technology at Waterloo’s Virtual Reality Club where I led Spark AR workshops to teach members how to interact and code in an augmented world. And of course, just for fun, I’m part of the Intercollegiate Poker Association — representing Waterloo and playing against students from Vanderbilt, UPenn, UCSD, Edinburgh and many more top colleges.

What are you doing for your current co-op? Walk us through a day in your life!

A photo of Brandon smiling and giving two thumbs up beside a Tesla sign.All these experiences prepared me for my third and fourth (current) work terms at Tesla Motors. At Tesla, I work on the Mobile Robotics team — tasked with designing and building humanoid bi-pedal robots (Tesla Bot) to automate repetitive tasks and wheeled robots for manufacturing and autonomous logistics.

A typical day at Tesla would consist of me waking up at 5:45 am, having a quick breakfast of oats and fruits and then biking to the gym at 6:20 am. After my workout, I bike for another 20 minutes to the Palo Alto office where I shower and begin my day at 8:00 am sharp. Although, when work gets a bit too hectic, I usually skip the gym to complete my tasks.

Throughout my last term, I learned an immense amount of knowledge from collaborating with mechanical, electrical, controls and software engineers, and these were my top 3 accomplishments:

  • Solo constructed a scalable robot API to send and receive commands with scale for 100+ Autonomous Guided Vehicles.
  • Integrated a full simulation with signal execution and spline calculations on manufacturing routes for any vehicle type.
  • Created the data model and fleet management simulation for Tesla’s general-purpose bi-pedal robot (Tesla Bot).

I usually get home around 6:00 pm, make dinner, hang out with my roommates and get ready for the next day!

Currently, I am on another work term at Tesla. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose what I’m working on now due to confidentiality, but I can say that it will be big in the years to come! Some very exciting stuff for sure.

What’s it like working at Tesla?

I do have to say working at Tesla was amazing, especially working on a humanoid robot that only existed in sci-fi movies. I got to work alongside some of the world’s best engineers and not only did I have a big impact through my work, but I also gained a colossal amount of knowledge.

The culture is also quite interesting, almost like a startup in a big company. For example, I was able to give my input on certain ideas and have a say in what I was creating and how I envisioned my project. At most companies, you get assigned a task and have a very rigid path to complete it. My manager gave me a great balance of autonomy and direction in which I was challenged to figure out the best solution but was also given feedback to steer me in the right direction.

If you could tell students one thing about making career moves, what would it be?

My advice to other co-op students would be to never be afraid to challenge the norm - be creative, innovative, and think outside the box. Take advantage of any opportunity given — it will open you to many more doors and opportunities to discover. The financial services, educational technology and automotive renewable energy industry gave me a whole new perspective to think about, which I consider when tackling new challenges.

A photo of Brandon standing on rocks by a body of water.Always think about what you can take away from the experience, and what you are giving — how much of an impact can I make?

Out of all the industries you’ve touched, which one is your favourite and why?

Something I love about robotics is how fast the industry is changing, from stationary industrial robotic arms to mobile autonomous robots and much more. Robotics is at the forefront of innovation and I believe it will truly revolutionize the world. I want to be part of that change, that global impact, and really make a difference in the lives of everyone. I love to learn, and with the constantly changing industry, there is always so much to learn!

Are there any key takeaways from your experience in co-op?

As you can see, I’ve been involved in a variety of different fields in the past few years. This highlights my passion to try new things and ultimately learn. Being involved in these different fields allows me to think outside the box and consider a wide range of factors that I may not have considered if I stuck with just mechatronics engineering. When considering opportunities, I always ask these 2 important questions:

  • What kind of impact can I have?
  • What can I take away from this experience and learn?

What’s next for you?

Next up on my list would be to explore the Venture Capital space. I have always had an interest in discovering the most innovative startups and by joining a venture fund I will be able to help fund these startups to turn their ideas into a viable reality. I also want to dive into web3 development and attend crypto conferences to keep up to date with the latest and greatest technological advancements! I’m very excited and optimistic about what the future holds.