Interviewed for the Fall 2009 ECE Current newsletter
Yulun Wang left UCSB in 1988 with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and a desire to develop products rather than papers. He has since founded two companies – Computer Motion and InTouch Technologies – and the products of his work have been busy in operating theaters ever since he invented the first FDA-approved surgical robot. Wang maintains close ties with the College of Engineering and ECE as an advisor, donor, mentor, and recruiter. His support has been recognized with the 2009 College of Engineering Alumni Award. We talked with Wang about why he is so committed to the college.
It is in fact quite multidisciplinary. There is good collaboration between the different departments: mechanical engineering, material science, electrical engineering, etc.
The College of Engineering has been pretty fundamental to my life. The education allowed me to start two companies, both of which have been quite successful, and it's been a source of new talent. I have hired a lot of engineers from UCSB, some of our top engineers, and I think the constant dialogue with various professors here has been very helpful.
I was in school in the 80s. The personal computer came out and then I was thinking to myself that robotics was the next step. I also enjoy things that interact with the physical world, so I kind of put two and two together.
As a finishing Ph.D., I kind of had the choice of going into academics or going into industry, and I decided that I really wanted to develop products, as opposed to do research and publish papers. I started learning about different market needs and it turned out that surgical robotics was a great opportunity to build a company and a new marketplace.
It was really contacts affiliated with the school that helped me take this academic knowledge and couple it with the business expertise that I needed in order to start the company. Also, a UCSB engineering education is very broad and it really allows you to do anything. I spend very little time now (as CEO of InTouch Technologies) doing what you would call "core" engineering, but I'm always participating in the engineering meetings and I can understand what's going on. In the meantime, I still have to run the financial aspects, the manufacturing, the sales, the marketing aspects of this company. I have no MBA- I've never taken a business class-but an engineering degree gives you a logical thinking process. I think that's been very helpful to me in trying to figure out how to drive all of the different areas of the company.