SOMETHING THAT MAKES ME GO "AWW": Baby animals! WHAT DO I DO WHEN I'M STRESSED: Take a nap or go on a run. HOBBIES: Cooking, Snowboarding, Video Games, Hiking.
Humanizing the world of robotics
HAVING A BIT OF MOXY. For Vivian, learning to love technology was actually born out of her exposure to robots. “Both of my parents are engineers and that allowed me to have a love for sciences, but my first approach to the space was practical, learning electrical engineering and microelectronics, both of which didn’t really excite me.” That was, until she took her first robotics class, where her first real project was to reprogram a Roomba to see how far you could push the little vacuum to perform any number of tasks.
“I’d spent a full month getting a robot to squeeze and slide something with its arm and kept asking myself if there could be a better way to do this when I learned my co-founder and PhD Advisor, Andrea Thomaz was doing exciting work in human-robot interaction.”
After joining Andrea’s lab, Vivian was excited about their work, exploring the functionality of robots in side-by-side settings with humans to learn where they can be most impactful. This quickly led to the idea of their company, Diligent Robotics, an A.I. company creating robot assistants that help healthcare workers with important, routine tasks.
Spending hundreds of hours in hospitals shadowing nursing staff to learn where they are spending their time and where robots can add value, but not take away jobs, was no small feat. “It became clear early on that running around and fetching or gathering supplies was a huge, wasteful part of a nurse’s role that could be automated by a robot helper.”
This realization helped them create Moxi, a socially interactive robot that can aid nurses in critical ways, but also without making humans feel uncomfortable along the way. Assisting clinical staff with non-patient-facing tasks like gathering patient supplies, delivering lab samples, and distributing PPE, Vivian and her team allow hospitals to truly live the dream: to work smarter, not harder.
DISPLAYING DYNAMIC DIVERSITY. Co-founding Diligent Robotics was more than just about building better robots, it was also about building a better company. “As a women-led company, with an Asian and LGBTQ co-founder, we’re already often seen as different looking and that’s reflected in our hiring and team. When people interview at Diligent, they’re often excited that we don’t look like other tech companies. We’re more diverse in a wide range of ways. That’s never lost on me.”
This celebrated difference isn’t just praise-worthy, it’s also often helpful in the entrepreneurial space, Vivian shares, “Women and people of color are always fighting for space when pitching to investors. In these environments, we have to ask ourselves ‘who am I going to be seen as?’ I’ve learned that people are always often struck to meet a female, Asian co-founder, let alone the technical co-founder, let alone someone with a wife. So they have a lot to consider, but they also have a lot to value, you hope and assume.”
When Vivian is feeling her most philosophical, she admits that while she often checks a lot of boxes, it could sometimes be one box too much, but that doesn’t bother her. “What Diligent Robotics does is groundbreaking work. What I’ve accomplished is grounded in science and successes. I know it can be a bit of a man’s world at times, but you can’t ignore our accomplishments and our work.”