Chris the Engineer

Last updated 2010-05-18

I work for the CSIR, the South African government's research organisation. I'm presently working within the Meraka Institute, an institute founded to promote information technologies within the framework of NEPAD. I work as a senior researcher in Artificial Intelligence, a field that I entered relatively recently.

I also run a small flying school part-time. The school is based at Kitty Hawk airfield, just east of Pretoria. I also fly as a volunteer pilot for the South African Air Force, mainly in Hawker and Gulfstream jets.

Past experience

My first eight years after school were spent studying and doing my compulsory military service, as well as doing a bit of professional flying. I completed my BEng degree in electronic engineering and Commercial Pilot Licences on aeroplanes and helicopters.

The next year was spent as a teacher, teaching an experimental project on behalf of Eskom, South Africa's prime electricity provider.

My first real job was with Nanoteq, a provider of information security systems. I started off on KeeLoq®, a range of ICs for secure remote control applications. In 1994, I spent around a quarter of my time in Europe and Asia, finding applications and customers for the new technology. However, when the product line was sold to Microchip in Arizona, USA around 1996, I stayed behind and started learning about new technologies.

My career has subsequently meandered through Internet firewall technologies and Virtual Private Networks, voice and data encryption equipment for telecommunications networks, secure pre-paid card phone systems, electronic cash and large-scale secure mainframe-to-mainframe communications systems. Apart from strategic planning, I was also involved in writing product specifications and making sure that the final product was developed to meet those specifications. I enjoyed the combination of hands-on technical exposure and global perspective that my job provided.

Nanoteq eventually sold our product group to Prism. The arrangement was short-lived, and most of us eventually ended up on the street.

I then spent a year as a freelance consultant, working mainly for the University of Pretoria and SensePost, while doing a fair amount of flying.

My first job with the CSIR involved trying to promote Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in the South African transport industry. ITS involves the use of information technology to improve traffic flow and safety, making it unnecessary to invest in new roads by using existing capacity optimally. The industry's growth is painfully slow, but foreign experience indicates that ITS can provide major benefits.

Most recently, I've landed up in Artificial Intelligence (AI). I manage a robotics research project on behalf of South Africa's Department of Science and Technology. The project involves four universities, and uses RoboCup as a vehicle for generating enthusiasm for robotics research.

I also spend a lot of time thinking about unmanned aircraft. These aircraft could be regarded as robots. The main challenge is to get them to the point where they can mingle with traditional manned aircraft without posing an undue hazard to other aircraft and to people on the ground. I am trying to determine on what we should be spending money to develop the necessary technologies.

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