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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Nathan Usevitch


Is it a man or a robot? Dr. Nathan Usevitch, one of the newest faculty members in the mechanical engineering department, works in his soft robotics research to blur the lines between the robotic and the real.

Talks with his grandpa who worked on the moon rockets sparked Dr. Usevitch’s interest in mechanical engineering when he was a kid. But it was a mechatronics class during his undergraduate degree here at BYU that led to his study of robotic systems.

“Robotics for me is like a nice intersection of all these things that I'm interested in like algorithm development,” Dr. Usevitch said. “Building new devices and then getting to see everything all work together all at once.”

His path from BYU took him from building a giant inflatable robot during his PhD at Stanford, to innovating virtual reality haptic gloves at Facebook.

Teaching was always at the back of Dr. Usevitch’s mind as he pursued his career. It was working with interns at Facebook that brought it to the forefront and inspired his shift back to
BYU. He’s excited to keep interacting with students.

“I wanted the chance to be more involved in students' lives, influence a broader group of people, and give back to a place where I had had a really good experience…I've always enjoyed teaching and working with people, and I think this job gives me the best chance to do that.”

While Dr. Usevitch is here, his research will focus on developing and designing new types of soft robots that look less like the terminator and more lifelike.

“I'm very excited about different ideas for different types of robots, anything from jumping robots to wearable robots to all different types of systems,” Dr. Usevitch said. “I think there's a lot of
space for creativity in my research.”

The Arizona native met his wife on a blind date during his undergraduate degree. They now have three sons and one daughter. When he’s not building robots, he’s on the court (basketball or volleyball) and in the mountains
camping and hiking with his family.

The value of being innovative and overcoming failure has been one of the greatest lessons Dr. Usevitch has learned in the field.

“When you're building new systems, things break all the time, things go wrong all the time, but being able to keep thinking and keep working has been very rewarding,” Dr. Usevitch said. “I've also really enjoyed it when I've had the chance to work with people to get through hard technical problems.”

Visit Dr. Usevitch during his office hours to learn more about his research.