Humans of robotics: Paul Murphy

5.23.19

At Vecna Robotics, we believe in giving people the freedom to build, explore and learn about the things that most interest them. Last month we shared our first employee spotlight, and today we’re excited to feature one of our Senior Electro-Mechanical Technicians, Paul Murphy.

Read our Q&A with Paul to learn about his background, his passion project (Star Wars fans will love it!)  and his favorite part about working at Vecna Robotics.

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Paul Murphy working on a Vecna Robot

 

Tell us a little bit about your job at Vecna Robotics.

PM: I’m a Senior Electro-mechanical technician. Basically, I get my hands dirty building, testing, servicing, updating and assisting with the development of our prototype and production robots. I work across all the hardware engineering teams including mechanical, electrical, firmware and manufacturing. I’ve been at Vecna for almost two years now.

What has your journey been like to end up at Vecna Robotics?

PM: I took a roundabout journey to engineering. After secondary school, I studied 3D modeling and classical character animation in Dublin, Ireland. I interned at a graphic design firm in Washington D.C. and then worked for many years in the architectural signage industry. I’ve always had a passion for new technologies, and after some further study I transitioned from manufacturing signs to building robots.

What is your passion project and how long have you been working on it?

PM: My passion project is building replica R2-D2 robots and other droids from the Star Wars universe. I’ve been working on my oddball hobby for about 12 years now. Twelve years sounds like a crazy long time when I drop it into a sentence, and I’ve surprised myself that I’ve stuck with it as long as I have.

The “R2 Builders Club” has grown astronomically since I got started, and some members might build their R2-D2 then wash their hands and put it on display somewhere; but others, like myself, are constantly developing new features and working away on droid after droid.

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Paul’s daughter with his R2D2

What made you interested in working on your passion project?  

PM: Growing up in the early 80’s, I was a huge Star Wars fan – it was impossible not to be enamored by that galaxy. Sometime around 2007, a like-minded friend had asked me to machine them some parts for their own R2 build, and I found myself making spares for myself “just in case.” One thing led to another and before I knew it I was knee deep in mechanical parts for a “fake robot.”

My past hobbies have included restoring old arcade and pinball machines, which gave me some basic electronics experience, but I always wanted to dive deeper and building a functional R2-D2 was the perfect excuse to learn the basics of electronics engineering.

What is your favorite thing about the R2 Builders Club?

PM: Initially I thought I’d build R2, stand him in the corner of my living room and have a cool talking point for parties. The constant tinkering, re-designing, and friendships in the club have helped to keep me involved. On top of that, once my R2-D2 was complete and I took him out to his first public event, seeing people react to him filled me with an immense sense of pride. When people unexpectedly run into a real-life part of their childhood that was once just make-believe, their reactions can be amazing. I’ve seen grown adults tear-up and cry with joy from a brief interaction with R2-D2. Others stare in awe. Little kids have conversations with him and give hugs. Some of them dance. It warms the cockles of my heart.

Over the years I’ve brought R2 to conventions, maker fairs, charitable community events, hospital visits, he has even been a ring bearer at a wedding. He has tagged along with the 501st New England Garrison (the local branch of the global Star Wars costuming group) and helped raise thousands of dollars for charities in the area. He has been a great addition to my family.

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One of Paul’s finished R2D2

Do you spend time on your passion project when you’re at Vecna Robotics?

PM: R2 has visited the lab occasionally, where I’ll sometimes make repairs after appearances. Getting insights from the mechanical and electrical engineering teams about the various gadgets I dream up for R2 has been immensely helpful though.

What is a typical workday at Vecna Robotics like for you?

PM: My workdays vary wildly, which is one thing I love about my role. Being a part of several teams and projects, I might be doing SMT rework on a prototype, PCB one day and focusing on a mechanical build the next.

What’s your favorite part of working at Vecna Robotics?

PM: Being surrounded by amazing people. Everyone that I work with daily shares a huge enthusiasm for what we’re doing and each one has a technical expertise that is unmatched. In such a driven environment you might think that people are too focused on goals to care, but I consider my co-workers great friends, and that makes coming to work each day a pleasure.

 

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