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Mr James Mullins
Bachelor of Engineering (Robotics)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Building robots ‘to boldly go'
Technology and building robots have been James Mullins's passion ever since he can remember. He first announced he wanted to build a robot in grade two. Many years and many robots later, ‘Trekkie', his tenth, is a remotely controlled, all-terrain robot designed ‘to boldly go' where humans can't – on the surface of Mars, into the noxious fumes of active volcanoes, into war zones and bomb-disposal situations.
This robot won James the $1000 Vice-Chancellor's Prize from Deakin, for the best undergraduate piece of work for 2002 in any study area. He is now doing a PhD in the emerging field of haptics. From the Greek word háptein, to touch, haptics involves being able to control a robot remotely and actually feel what it feels. James explained: ‘Haptics is all about immersive environments, where your senses are immersed in an environment that may exist elsewhere, but doesn't actually exist where you are, created by visual, aural, and tactile sensors'. Beyond his PhD, James is very interested in the medical and exploration aspects of mobile robotics. ‘By exploration I mean deep sea, deep space, volcanic environments, and war-zone-type robotics', he explained.
Originally from Maryborough in central Victoria, James sometimes found it frustrating trying to access parts for his early work. ‘Getting parts to build robots was really difficult,' he said. ‘I had to get to Bendigo and Ballarat to order the parts, and then wait for them to come in'.
‘I had to use secondhand parts – people would give me old TVs and things', James said. Early on he learnt to order parts from the U.S. on the internet, and at high school, ‘a really good electronics teacher' nurtured his enthusiasm. ‘I just keep rebuilding robots because each time I do, I learn a better way to do things', James said.
On his time at university, James said: ‘I've loved my time at Deakin on the Geelong campus. I went to most of the university open days but I didn't like the idea of going to Melbourne. When I went to Deakin's open day I liked the look of the campus and the lecturers seemed friendly and down to earth. I'm very happy with the choice I made. ‘The course has been a good mix of hands on and theoretical work, and there was a sense of freedom, that you could move through at your own level. The lecturers are very friendly and approachable, and I've loved being in Geelong. It has all the benefits and none of the drawbacks of living in Melbourne.'