Shaping the Development of an Inventive Mind
Andrew Stewart, Ph.D. (WWS Class of ‘94)
Andy readily admits he spent quite a bit of time in the Headmaster’s office at Warren Walker. “Not to discount the value of the curriculum, but those hours spent with Mr. Volker discussing strategies to resolve conflict [with teachers] diplomatically were foundational to my success in Academia and in business,” remarks Andy. He reflects that exposure to the scientific method at an early age and development of critical thinking skills were foundational, but learning to “manage up” changed the course of his life - ultimately preparing him to work effectively with leaders of all types (including university presidents, Navy Admirals, and titans of industry).
After obtaining his diploma at The Bishop’s School he headed off to the University of California, San Diego where he earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. An appreciation for the fundamentals of physics and mathematics, an interest in robotics, and a love for sailing, led him to join a research group at Princeton University focused on undersea robotics. At Princeton he earned a Master’s Degree in Dynamics and Control Theory in 2008, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering in 2012. His thesis introduced new ways for humans and robots to work together.
All this gained him a faculty position at the University of Washington where he built research programs in undersea robotics and renewable energy. He invented and created a number of technologies there including a robot that explores subsea hydrothermal vents (video) and devices that harness energy from the oceans waves and currents (article). His work drew interest from the Pentagon and the private sector where he found a calling after spinning out a company, Olis Robotics, from the university.
Recently Andy joined a team of entrepreneurs at Amazon focused on building robots that use Artificial Intelligence. He describes his job as “bridging the gap between hardware design and algorithms,” but notes that “people skills” are at the core of what he does in working with a diverse team of scientists and engineers to deliver the best possible experience for customers. So the next article about Dr. Stewart might be called “The Power of Pragmatism in Delivering What’s Best for the Customer.”
At this time, Dr. Stewart is working from home where video-conferencing connects him with colleagues around the world, and he makes occasional visits to warehouses where his robots are deployed. He and his wife, Emily, live in Seattle, Washington with their young children, Kai and Maya. Emily grew up in the Seattle area, and the family enjoys spending time outdoors exploring the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest. They spend summers sailing in the San Juan Islands and are introducing the kids to hiking and rock-climbing. He looks back fondly on his days in San Diego, but reports that Seattle’s spirit of innovation and adventure has stolen his heart.