My name is Judy Qi Zhu. I received the Ph.D. in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering with a focus on construction robotics and informatics, under the supervision of Dr. Eric Jing Du. My research interests lie in the next generation of the human‑robot interaction for automated and intelligent construction. By advancing knowledge about human-robot interaction (HRI) in construction robotics, I am dedicated to improving the collaboration between future construction workers and polymorphic robots to bring increased operational efficiencies while enhancing construction workers’ safety and capability.
As a female international student who has received degrees in quite different disciplines and is finishing a highly interdisciplinary Ph.D. degree that builds on knowledge of civil engineering, robotics, Virtual Reality (VR) and cognitive science, I have developed a unique understanding of diversity. I received a BA degree in Advertising when I became highly interested in human-centric UI/UX design through a university website development project. Then I made a brave move to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Science to enrich my knowledge in VR and explore multimedia methods that could transform future works and augment future workers. After about two years of industry experience as a software engineer, I switched my career path again to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Florida. Inspired by the enduring loop of human technology, I am now working on human augmentation technologies for the construction industry’s future.
My research is strongly positioned for better accessibility and inclusion because it aims to lower the career barrier for construction, a traditionally highly professional area. Considering myself an interdisciplinary scholar, I am investigating and creating innovative human-robot interaction (HRI) methods that will simplify the requirements on engineering, science, and robotics knowledge for future construction and engineering jobs. The construction industry has been deemed mainly dominated by male workers. The new job opportunities, directly and indirectly, benefited from new HRI methods, technologies, and workflows, will greatly ease the inequality in gender, with that more women will feel more welcomed because of the safer work environment created by the virtual telepresence technology and cyber-physical systems. The current construction works also pose strict age requirements because of the mental and physical load in many operations. The sensory augmentation method I am working on based VR and cognitive science for robotic control will mitigate the age requirement, promoting career longevity. The new technology will also help salvage the careers of experienced construction workers who have suffered from career injuries, such as occupational diseases. Furthermore, because our investigation will focus on reskilling and upskilling the workforce threatened by automation, lessons learned in my research will help workforce transformation and secure job opportunities for workforces in various industries.
We are at the dawn of a new era where emerging technologies will transform the construction industry unprecedentedly. No innovation can be delivered without an in-depth understanding of the industry’s challenges, characteristics, needs and its existing and future workforce. Indeed, many traditional jobs will be replaced by robots and AI, but new jobs will also be created with the development and adoption of these technologies. There is a pressing need to help the existing workforce gradually adapt to this transformation and evolve with it. I expect my research to bring innovative, human-centric perspectives to civil engineering research. In the meantime, I am looking forward to working together with those who have a strong background and deep love in the construction industry to make this new era more accessible to both human workers and robots.