A.I. duPont graduate Alex Broadbent finds himself on cutting edge of robotics field
When Alex Broadbent was a student at Alexis I. du Pont High School, the thought of a career working with robots was the furthest thing from his mind.
After all, he graduated in 1989, when there were no robotics organizations for high school students and well before schools in Delaware and throughout the nation began to intensify instruction in the fields known today as STEM—science, technology, engineering and math.
“I thought of myself as an artist. I took a lot of art and pottery classes,” he says.
But that artistic background has helped Broadbent get where he is today, as DI-Guy director for VT MAK, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that makes modeling and simulation software for the medical, aerospace, defense and transportation industries. DI-Guy is a line of products that places human characters into computerized combat simulations and other types of training exercises.
Broadbent’s journey into robotics started in Atlanta, where he earned an associate’s degree from the Art Institute of Atlanta and a bachelor’s from the American College for the Applied Arts. While in school, he interned at CNN, and found he had a knack for technology, working with the hardware and software used for audio and video special effects.
After seven years with CNN in Atlanta, Broadbent headed to Boston, where he got involved in several virtual reality projects, creating three-dimensional environments for a variety of clients. He further strengthened his resume by taking computer science classes at Harvard.
That led him to Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics design company best known for creating robots with potential military uses, usually through grants and contracts with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). Working as part of a team that included designers, mechanical engineers and programmers, Broadbent produced computer simulations of how the experimental robots should operate.
His simulations had a role in the development of robots similar to Big Dog and WildCat, whose exploits have been popularized on YouTube videos. Big Dog, a rough-terrain robot, runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs muddy hiking trails, walks in snow and water, and carries a 340-pound load. In test runs, WildCat has achieved speeds of up to 16 mph.
Broadbent, 44, who attributes his success in the industry to a unique combination of talents—“to be an engineer who can think like an artist”—shifted gears last year after Google purchased Boston Dynamics.
Google wasn’t interested in keeping the DI-Guy portion of the Boston Dynamics portfolio and sold that segment of the business to VT MAK, which had previously collaborated with Boston Dynamics on multiple projects, Broadbent says.
Broadbent, who lives in Cumberland, R.I., with his wife, Resa, and two children, still has family in Delaware—his parents, Carol and Dick Broadbent, and two sisters, Lisa and Kim.