Developing ambitious technologies dedicated to robotics, AI, and cyber-physical systems. A chat with Dr. Roland Angst, Head of the ASUS Robotics & AI Center.
By Morgan Vallieres
poly-E-fair Company Relations
March 1, 2022
By Morgan Vallieres
poly-E-fair Company Relations
March 1, 2022
Roland Angst is currently the Head of the ASUS Robotics & AI Center and is leading efforts to develop ambitious technologies in the field of robotics, AI, and cyber-physical systems.
Roland joined ASUS in 2015 as a Senior Director in the New Product Division where he served as a lead software architect for Zenbo, an Android-based home robot. Prior to joining ASUS, Roland was a Junior Group Leader affiliated with the Center for Visual Computing and Communication at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany. From 2013 to 2015 he was a visiting assistant professor at Stanford University with the Image, Video, and Multimedia Systems group and with the Geometric Computation group. His research at Stanford explored ways of combining scene understanding and 3D reconstruction in a joint framework. Roland received his doctoral degree in 2012 from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, following research that focused primarily on geometric computer vision. In 2007 he earned an ETH Medal for his thesis in computer graphics and he received his master’s degree with distinction in computer science from ETH.
Roland, what are your responsibilities in your current role within ASUS?
As the Head of the ASUS Robotics & AI Center, my responsibilities include defining the long-term strategic goals, as well as ensuring that our tactical decisions align with them. On the technical side, my day-to-day work includes detailed, technical discussions with our team members, background research in various technical topics, and if time permits also some coding. On the non-technical side, I am involved in interacting with internal and external stakeholders including our highest level management, recruitment efforts to ramp up our ‘strike force’, establishing and maintaining a great work culture and environment that aligns with our core values, and organizing and structuring the flow of information.
How did your education and previous positions prepare you for your current role?
My current role requires a wide variety of skills: Leadership, management, and communication skills, as well as technical breadth and depth. As an ETH graduate myself, I know very well that an education at ETH is an excellent preparation in terms of technical requirements. When moving into a leadership position supervising multiple teams, having a solid technical foundation is still very important because the focus shifts from knowing all the answers to being able to ask the right questions thereby steering and delegating work tasks. Based on my experience, ETH is excellent at teaching exactly such skills: a solid technical foundation and the ability to connect the dots.
What is the vision of the ASUS Robotics & AI Center?
Our vision is to empower our business partners to rely on complex cyber-physical systems with confidence and harness the benefits of their increased responsiveness, robustness, visibility, automation, and agility.
There is quite a bit to unpack here. Most importantly, the ASUS Robotics & AI Center is working in the domain of cyber-physical systems. You might wonder how such systems are related to robotics and AI, given the name of our center. Interestingly, the result of combining robotics with AI is indeed a cyber-physical system. Using the term cyber-physical system emphasizes the distributed nature of such systems, though. More specifically, cyber-physical systems are intelligent systems-of-systems where each subsystem can operate on a different temporal and spatial scale. This means that we can’t just build isolated AI solutions, we rather need to coordinate multiple AI-enriched solutions so that the overall system becomes more than the sum of its parts.
The notion of cyber-physical systems has predated currently popular terms such as digital twins, digital thread, digital transformation, on-premise or hybrid clouds. All these terms are subsumed by cyber-physical systems; even AR and VR have applications within a cyber-physical system.
What is the ASUS Robotics & AI Center currently working on?
Thanks to drastically decreased costs and power consumption of embedded devices, we now have access to sensors, actuators, and edge devices that enable bridging the gap between the real and virtual world. Compute and storage infrastructure costs have decreased similarly whereas low-latency and high-bandwidth networks are ubiquitous. Developing for a distributed environment is nowadays the norm rather than the exception. These are clear signs that the hardware and software landscape is now sufficiently mature and ready to tackle the challenges entailed by cyber-physical systems.
At the ASUS Robotics & AI Center, we are therefore building software-focused solutions that combine algorithms and systems in an entirely novel digital fabric for cyber-physical systems. If you are equally excited as we are and want to be part of this journey, then join us so that we can shape the future of the coming decade together!
What makes the ASUS Robotics & AI Center unique?
Our core values and culture sets us apart from other companies. We put an incredible amount of trust in our highly talented team members and strongly believe in their intrinsic motivation. We practice hardly any top-down management, we rather empower every team member so that they can grow and reach their full potential. For example, I see myself more as a mentor or coach who is guiding our teams. In doing so, I am certainly utilizing my experience from academia where I advised many students.
Establishing such a culture allowed us to create an engaging and stimulating yet demanding environment where teamwork and collective wisdom reign. When we bring talents and independent thinkers from around the world together in such an environment, novel and better solutions will emerge, new opportunities will be discovered, and we will all grow together. Using a term coined by Ray Dalio, our culture embraces the power of idea meritocracy.
What kind of talents from ETH is the ASUS Robotics & AI Center looking for?
Our culture benefits from a positive feedback loop when fed with the right members. Identifying the right candidates is paramount for this and we have a very high bar – both in terms of technical and soft skills.
On the technical side, cyber-physical systems are incredibly interdisciplinary, so we encourage applicants from any engineering or science background. What is important is to have a solid foundation and technical depth in a certain area. We are often working on novel approaches, trying to push the boundaries. Being able to connect the dots, independent and critical thinking are therefore important qualities.
Regarding soft skills, being proactive, passionate, and a great team player is obvious. Being a great communicator maybe less so. However, in the interdisciplinary domain that we work in, communication skills are equally important to technical abilities. For example, when communicating with stakeholders, you need to know your audience, choose the right abstraction level and simplifications, and be aware of the time available to you for giving explanations.
Lastly, work is demanding, so you need to be comfortable being challenged or challenging others. Many new team members are surprised that they are encouraged and expected to share their opinion and technical expertise already in their very first week. However, this is in our DNA: even our senior members, including myself, welcome to be challenged in every decision.
What opportunities can the ASUS Robotics & AI Center offer to fresh graduates?
While we have job descriptions on our career website, it is important to stress that they serve rather as a starting point. Our hiring process is trying to identify the right candidates and the right candidates don’t limit themselves by a job description. We empower our team members and if you are motivated and proactive then the possibilities are limitless.
We have a startup mentality and yet, we are part of ASUS, a globally known and operating enterprise. Combined with our culture of idea meritocracy, this provides unique opportunities: your contributions can have a really profound impact, both on the technical and the business side.
In terms of career growth, our culture and flat organization means that you will interact with members on a daily basis, including myself. This means, if you wish to broaden or sharpen your technical skills, you will learn very quickly about best practices, tools, math, algorithms, modeling, system and software architecture design. If at some point you would like to also get more exposed to the business side, there are opportunities to work with internal and external stakeholders. Or if you want to make best use of your communication skills, we also have opportunities in the PR domain including working with government agencies.
“Our hiring process is trying to identify the right candidates and the right candidates don’t limit themselves by a job description.”
Dr. Roland Angst