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Alumnus Nikki Slaughter discusses future of autonomous robotic vehicles

Thanks to her M. S. in Engineering Management degree, Nikki Slaughter (MSEM ‘17, E ‘10) is working her dream job in robotics. Since March, she has been a project manager at Balyo in Woburn, MA.

Slaughter studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at Tufts, and after several years working as an R&D project manager and mechanical engineer at Vaisala, she returned to the Gordon Institute to get her MSEM, graduating in May of 2017.

The Gordon Institute recently spoke to Slaughter about her experience at the Gordon Institute and the future of the robotics industry.

Describe your current role.

I recently started a new position at a company called Balyo as a project manager. The company’s navigation technology powers autonomous robotic vehicles that provide warehouse logistics solutions. We supply our products to some high-profile companies worldwide in a variety of industries including auto manufacturing, warehouse management, and the food industry.

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

I get to be involved with the big-picture view of the company: How are we working as a company to provide a solution? I see things from the R&D side, from our field services group, from the sales group, and I’m learning how all of that fits together. I really like having that visibility into all the different divisions of the company. And in general, I’m a big fan of robotics, so it’s a dream job to be working in this field.

How has your role progressed since the MSEM program?

I landed my job in my last semester of the MSEM program. I was able to make the shift during school, and it wasn’t too much of an interruption. I think what helped me stand out to the recruiters was having the Tufts MSEM degree – that helped a lot.

What was your favorite class at the Gordon Institute?

I really liked Kevin Oye’s class on business strategy. Discussing the case studies gave me a lot of insight into how big and small businesses work. He gave us the lead role to say, what would you do in this position and why? We used everything we had learned in other modules, like New Product Development and Financial & Managerial Accounting, to build and formulate that strategy.

How would you describe the Tufts Gordon Institute community and the cohort experience?

Our cohort (the weekend group) was really close and we still keep in touch. We did bar nights, we did things over the summer – there was a boat cruise that we did together, and we went to each other’s weddings. We really bonded in a way that I wasn’t expecting. It was wonderful to be around people who are all interested in the same things – that was why we all came to the Gordon Institute.

Do you have advice for future students on balancing work and life?

The biggest thing that helped me was getting organized at the beginning of every semester, by making sure I mapped out all of the homework and assignments. I used the app Trello a lot – that saved me. It helped keep me on top of all the assignments, as well as on top of everything I was doing for my job.

What is a company or organization you admire?

Recently, I was really impressed by Amazon buying Whole Foods. They are trying to become the world’s one stop online for everything you need in life. I am interested to see where they are going in the future. They went from selling books to selling everything. It’s incredible how’ve they’ve built themselves up in such a short period of time.

What scientific or engineering innovation would you like to see in the next 100 years?

Force fields. I’m generally accident-prone, so I would love to have a force field for my feet or any part of my body so I don’t get hurt. It would probably have to be on the nanoscale level, using the energy that your body makes. Actually, in the medical industry already, they have some devices where they are creating power off of your own human body.

But before that happens, we will probably see autonomous cars. From there, we would see levitating cars and other innovations like that. What’s going to happen in the automobile industry is probably more realistic than my force field wish.

How about the field of robotics – are there changes on the horizon?

The biggest question in robotics is: How are robots making us as humans more autonomous? How do we interact with robots and not have to go through a whole programming routine every time? How do you make it more of a natural interaction? A big step will be humans learning how to program things that can actually learn from their environment. That will change a lot of things in the robotics industry.