ECE Profile of Distinction: Yulun Wang

Photo of Yulun Wang

An Interview with Yulun Wang
Chairman and CEO InTouch Technologies

Interviewed for the Fall 2009 ECE Current newsletter

  • UCSB Degree: Electrical Engineering (specializing in robotics), 1988
  • Companies: Chairman and CEO InTouch Technologies (2002 - present) and founder in 1989 of Computer Motion
  • Inventions: principal architect and inventor of the voice-controlled robotic arm called AESOP (the first FDA-cleared surgical robot) and the ZEUS robotic surgical system (performed the world's first transatlantic surgery)
  • Honors: elected in 2011 to the National Academy of Engineering; National Academy of Engineers selected him as one of the nation's top young engineers to participate in the Frontiers of Engineering program; Ernst & Young has twice named him Finalist for their Entrepreneur of the Year award
  • Publications: has more than 40 publications and over 70 patents in the areas of robotics and computers
  • UCSB Recognitions: 2009 College of Engineering Alumni Award; Venky Narayanamurti Entrepreneurial Leadership Award; and member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Advisory Boards

play video icon Video of Interview with Yulun Wang

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.

What do you think is unique about the engineering program at UCSB?

It is in fact quite multidisciplinary. There is good collaboration between the different departments: mechanical engineering, material science, electrical engineering, etc.

How has it shaped your work?

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.

How did you become interested in robotics?

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.

How did you come to start your first company, Computer Motion, in 1989?

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.

How did your grounding at UCSB help you launch a company?

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.