This is the next of a series of interview posts introducing our amazing Hanson Robotics’ team members to the rest of the world. You know us through our social and research robots — Sophia, Han, Little Sophia, Zeno, Professor Einstein, BINA48 and the list goes on. But the talented people behind the scenes are the ones who make the Hanson Robotics’ magic happen, day in and day out. It’s a very special group of people from around the world, all contributing through their own unique expertise who “bring our robots to life!”
Introducing Paul Bridges, Director of Hardware, Hong Kong
Tell us a little about yourself.
I left school at 18 and started making printed circuit boards. I was a laboratory assistant with a few ‘O’ levels. By the time I was 21 I was a Technical Manager in a circuit board company… Hard work and dedication does pay. I continued in the industry for 14 years moving into the role of Quality Manager in the mid-1990s. I transitioned into retailing in 1998 after being recruited to become a Technical Manager for a large UK retailer. I later moved to WH Smith as a Quality Manager who brought me to Hong Kong in 2002. Living and working here has its challenges. I also worked for a UK manufacturer in Hong Kong and China and then had my own consultancy business before joining Hanson Robotics.
What do you do at Hanson Robotics and what excites you about working here?
I started at Hanson as a Quality Manager to document and put procedures in place for the hardware team. I implemented a robust quality management system; however, it quickly became apparent that there was more to do. More structured processes were required first before documentation could begin. After initiating this, I transitioned into running the hardware department in late 2018.
I had to start from scratch to structure and develop the department. There was no history to deal with, so we could implement effective and smart processes to fast track the work right from the start.
What was the moment you knew you’d made the right decision to work here?
I like a challenge. Nothing is perfect, and Hanson Robotics is no exception. The turning point for me was when we opened the new facility in Tsuen Wan in early 2019, suddenly it felt like home. Everything I was trying to do seemed to gel. Operations became streamlined, and we started to make a difference. We had room to expand, and it opened up the team’s thinking and determination to make things better. We leverage this opportunity to enhance the robots with better arms and torsos. We also developed a process for manufacturing new Sophia robots, and we even started to build new robot characters. I now believe we have a stable robotics hardware platform to lead us into wherever the future takes us.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on many things! We are looking at how Sophia can move around more efficiently at events and how we can provide a fully integrated robot and stand. Many events have her sitting on a table or a chair, and she would look far more relaxed on bespoke bases. There are many ways we can do this through mobile fixtures on wheels and even fun autonomous options. We are also teaching Sophia to sketch people through a computational system developed by Patrick Tresset, a Brussels based artist who develops theatrical installations with robotic agents as actors. She can look at you, take a mental picture, and then draw this as a line drawing. Recently Sophia visited Malaysia and had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Mahathir. For his 94th birthday, Sophia drew a portrait of him and presented it to him as a birthday present.
What was your best day at work?
Every day! No two days are the same, and as an innovative company, there is always something new to discover. Seeing the results of design & development come to fruition is really exciting. Also, it was a significant achievement when we completed the new all-aluminum robotic arms.
What’s something that happened that can only happen here?
Sitting in an open-air restaurant in a busy Hong Kong night market and having dinner with Sophia was amazing. The number of people who didn’t even notice she was a robot was astonishing. Not sure she enjoyed it as much as the rest of us, she didn’t eat a thing!
What are you most proud of?
I’m incredibly proud of the Hanson hardware and operation teams. They love what they do and always try to go the extra mile to make the robots better. Making them go home is much more of a challenge than getting to come to the office! They are forever tweaking the robots to improve them even though the functionality is already very high. But, they still want to keep making improvements. You couldn’t ask for a better attitude towards obtaining perfection.
What is your dream for Sophia?
Sophia is already a great speaker, ambassador, and role model. We always are looking at how Sophia can deliver a “wow” performance, The future holds endless possibilities.
The Hanson Robotics Team
Photo Credits: Hanson Robotics Limited, Adobe Stock