Kenji Shimada, a Carnegie Mellon professor in mechanical engineering, has a passion for finding practical solutions.
"As a researcher it is exciting to receive a best paper award, but it gives me a far greater sense of satisfaction when my academic solution proves to perform well in industry," said Shimada, who was recently awarded the Theodore Ahrens Professorship in Engineering.
Shimada's research interests include computational engineering and robotics, reverse engineering, factory robotics and computer-assisted surgery.
"Computational engineering and robotics are usually considered two separate technology areas, but I came to appreciate a tight coupling between them in my previous 11-year career as a robotics researcher at IBM," he said. "When I came to Carnegie Mellon in 1996, I was pleasantly surprised that these two areas had been tightly integrated at the university."
In the robotics area, Shimada hopes to bring new academic solutions to two of the most practical applications of robots: factory automation and surgical intervention.
"In these areas, we try to create elegant and cost-effective solutions that can be used in practice in the next five to 10 years. Despite the seemingly different target environments — the factory and the operating room — the fundamental theories and problem — solving technologies are remarkably similar," he explained. "In my lab, therefore, when my graduate students and researchers come up with a good solution to one of the application areas, I encourage them to think how it can also be applied to the other."
Shimada believes that mechanical engineering is one of the most diverse and inclusive engineering disciplines.
"Students can, and should, choose their own focus areas of study according to their career goals from a wide range of topics," he said. "These topics include not only computational engineering and robotics but also medical, energy, environmental and manufacturing technologies."
In the area of computational engineering, Shimada's research group aims to make a positive impact on the design and manufacturing process in industry by offering more automated or easy-to-use computational tools. The tools he has developed with his students and fellow researchers — finite element mesh generation, interactive curve and surface design and three-dimensional shape reconstruction — are currently being used successfully in industry.
"For example, our physically based mesh generation method, BubbleMesh™, has been licensed to and used by over 50 companies in manufacturing industries," he explained. This innovative method for creating engineering analysis models, or meshes, was originally inspired by observations of regular geometric patterns in nature. BubbleMesh™ automatically creates a higher-quality mesh by mimicking nature's shape-fining process.