Grad’s robot dreams become reality


- Mitch Wright

Growing up in southern China, Hui Zhang had the same dream as millions of children around the world—robots to do the household chores and farm work. Zhang decided to pursue the dream of designing “intelligent machines” by earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from China’s Harbin Institute of Technology and Jilin University, respectively, and completing a PhD at the University of Victoria last June.

He transferred to UVic in 2009, after one year at the University of Saskatchewan, because he’d learned that the Applied Control and Information Processing Laboratory, led by Dr. Yang Shi, is one of the best in the world working on networked control systems. It’s a field he became intrigued with upon realizing that mechanical skills alone are not enough to design the best machines—he needed to be an expert in advanced controls.

His field, known as mechatronics, refers to the interdisciplinary integration of mechanical systems, control systems, electrical systems and software engineering.

“Mechatronic engineers have the most comprehensive knowledge in engineering,” says Zhang. “My supervisor, Dr. Yang Shi, told us that mechatronic engineers know everything about something and know something about everything.”

Zhang earned considerable academic recognition throughout his time at UVic, earning a number of scholarships and donor awards, including the prestigious 2010 China Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed PhD Students Abroad.

Zhang’s accomplishments are all the more impressive given that he started his PhD program with no background in advanced control systems.

“At the early stage, I knew nothing about my project and had no background on the project at all,” he says. “My supervisor and group-mates helped me a lot. With three years of hard work and constructive help, from zero background, I’ve become an expert in the field of advanced control.”

And his expertise is sought after.

Now working on the design of diesel engines and electric vehicles at the Center for Automotive Research at The Ohio State University, Zhang has published more than a dozen articles in leading journals, which have been cited more 130 times. Journals are also now turning to him to review and judge his peers’ work.

Zhang says he’s achieving his childhood dream, but the dream itself is becoming larger and larger as his knowledge expands. He’s also sharing his knowledge by co-supervising PhD students working to apply network control to electric vehicles.

“I am really enjoying the high-tech work and applying my theory to industry,” Zhang says, adding that he hopes to become a professor within the next couple of years.

“Then I can share my experience and knowledge with more and more students.”


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Keywords: robotics, doctoral research

People: Hui Zhang

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