Interview by Kelsey Archer Barnhill
Eoin, who is originally from Dublin, Ireland, joins the iMirabilis2 cruise along with his three teammates from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton to operate the AUV, Autosub6000. I sat down with Eoin to find out some more about him and understand the type of work an AUV Operations Software Engineer does.
Eoin O'Hobain, AUV Operations Software Engineer
Eoin is an AUV Operations Software Engineer in the Marine Autonomous and Robotic Systems group at the National Oceanography Centre, UK. He holds a degree in in Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering, and a Masters of Engineering in Electrical and Electronics Engineering.
Q: How long have you worked for NOC in your current role?
I’ve worked at NOC for two years. After my Masters I was working as a software engineer but was hoping to find a job in robotics. I saw a job advertised in a robotics newsletter to work at NOC on the AUV development team in a more electronic-based role. I applied for that position and the development team shared my CV with the operations team because they had a software-based role open, which became the job I have today. I actually had my on-site interview on St Patrick’s Day, which is a bank holiday in Ireland, so I didn’t have to ask for time off from my previous job at the time.
Q: What interested you in robotics?
I think I became interested in robotics at the start of university. But in primary school I would watch ‘Robot Wars’ and enjoyed playing with LEGO. I’ve just always thought robots are cool. You can make cool, clever systems that are mechanical and intelligent.
Q: What do you do as the AUV Operations Software Engineer?
My primary focus is the Autosub6000, but I’ve also gotten to do some work on the new system in development where I have helped out and written some of the code. My work changes from season to season, sometimes we run tests in person or are working in the hanger with the sub all day. Other days are spent in the office at my desk where I work the usual 9-5 with some flexibility. Tasks include development documentation, research, carrying out tests or sometimes just holding the motor while someone else works on it. We always have hard hats and steel boots prepared both in our lockers at work and in a kit for travelling.
Q: What do you think about working at sea and how often do you join expeditions?
I do enjoy being at sea. Not everyone who joins the team can get their sea legs, but it was fine for me. I like working on a boat and being so close to your desk in the morning and having the meals prepared for you! I also love the fantastic views and adventure you get where you can have morning coffees with ocean sunrises and get to hear a fun fact about deep-sea critters. I really get excited about the work we do, it’s very valuable and interesting – definitely the type of work you feed good about. This is my second expedition; the first one was just three months after starting so I felt a bit confused and scared but also excited. It was definitely a quick start after joining the team but I was happy to help out. This cruise I felt much more prepared for.
Q: What advice would you give to someone hoping to work with AUVs?
I feel silly giving advice, especially because there are lots of different ways of doing this job. I think my best advice to give to someone starting off at university and wanting to get into any field is to go niche in the area of work you want to do, but go wide in the geographic areas you are willing to work in and be ready to go travelling! It was a really big move for me to go from Ireland to England, but I’m happy I did it.
Q: What is your favourite part of the job?
I really enjoy going to sea, being on the ship, and getting to go through the work and see results after solving problems under pressure at sea. I look forward to finding out when our next mission will be and hearing the brief to know what will be loaded out or prepped. I also like the teamwork aspect of this job. The Autosub6000 is a complicated system where software feeds into electronics which feeds into mechanics, so it is very multidisciplinary and interconnected. When the sub goes into the tank for testing, everyone is there. When you are at sea and the Autosub is being deployed, it’s all hands on deck. It’s a really great team to work for and everyone stays positive and calm even when things don’t go to plan.