Dream Jobs 2011: Where Are They Now?
Four technologists check in
This profile is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on Dream Jobs 2011.
Diverted by Displays
In February 2007, Mary Lou Jepsen (Dream Jobs '07) was circling the globe in support of One Laptop per Child, a not-for-profit group that had designed a laptop for children in developing countries.
That year, a computer maker approached the team to buy its energy-efficient displays. "Painfully, we said no," she recalls.
In 2008 Jepsen left to start Pixel Qi Corp. to produce those displays. In deference to her former employer, Pixel Qi cross-licenses with OLPC "anything that we ever invent."
Jepsen hopes that her company will serve both consumers in the developed world, who demand long-lasting batteries, and those in developing countries, who may lack the infrastructure to have it any other way. "The solution was clear," she says. "Create for both groups at the same time."
Computer scientist José Antonio Losada (Dream Jobs '10) is unique among his colleagues at Gran Telescopio Canarias, on Spain's Canary Islands. "I'm the strange guy who dances," he says. His software, too, must execute graceful moves. It controls the world's largest light-collecting mirror, orchestrating the 36 hexagonal segments to focus on the far reaches of space.
A year ago, Losada had hoped that other telescopes might use his code, but that has yet to happen. So he's moved on to other projects, such as a mid-infrared imager built by the University of Florida, in Gainesville. The "CanariCam" collects infrared light to unmask cosmic bodies hidden by dust and gas. With his software, the new imager moves in sync with the rest of the telescope—another task, it seems, that's well suited to a dancer.
For Robin Murphy (Dream Jobs '09), a great day starts with a train wreck. At Texas Engineering Extension Service's 21-hectare Disaster City, a rubble-strewn training ground, she is still testing rescue robots, such as autonomous helicopters and robots that crawl like caterpillars.
This past fall, when 33 Chilean miners were trapped underground, rescue teams asked Murphy if her robots could help. But she says the mine's boreholes were only 7 centimeters wide—too slim for anything bigger than a camera.
Murphy is confident that a robot will soon rescue a human, marking a first for her field. But now she wonders how the robot and the victim should interact. "What do we do when we find somebody alive?" she asks. "How should we talk to them?"
Accelerating from 0 to 96 kilometers per hour in 2.9 seconds, Ian Wright's X1 electric supercar leaves most sports cars in its dust. For Wright, the vehicle has met its goal: "To bust the myth that electric cars have to be heavy, ugly, and slow."
Three years ago, Wright (Dream Jobs '07) had hoped to raise enough money to build a production model. But his company, Wrightspeed, has since changed its game. Now it focuses on building hybrid power trains to sell to other carmakers. Wright thinks trucks, too, could become a potential market.
"It is actually the right time for this technology," Wright says. "It seems like all of our needs to make this dream happen are coming together."
To Probe Further
For more articles and special features, go to Dream Jobs 2011.