Amy Underwood deploys a Bluefin SandShark Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) into the Charles River. This lightweight AUV can swim up to five knots and dive down to 200 meters.
Amy Underwood is a senior systems engineer working at the General Dynamics Mission Systems’ facility in Quincy, Massachusetts. For the last four years, Amy has served as the principal investigator and lead engineer for the a new autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) called the Bluefin SandShark.
Tell us a little about your background and how you became a systems engineer.
It’s not a long story. I graduated in 2013 with a Master of Science degree in engineering, focused on systems modeling and control. At about the same time, I was hired by Bluefin Robotics as the sole employee of the Concept Development department. At the time, the Concept Development director had recently received a research and development contract to build an “Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) reference design” using a computer, the likes of what is inside your phone. The UUV reference design would eventually become Bluefin SandShark, and I became its systems engineer.
What is a “typical” day at the office?
There is no “typical” day at our Quincy location. The only constant is that lunch is at noon. Some days, I am focused on the program management of the Bluefin SandShark’s Research and Development project. Other days, I am diving into the technical aspects of a vehicle, helping to define requirements and architecture, formulating test plans or supporting in-water testing. I have the privilege of being able to stretch all of these skills in my current role.
What is your most memorable experience working as a senior systems engineer?
I often look back fondly on the early days of the Bluefin SandShark: the test platforms I made, the long days in the electrical engineering lab with my teammates, and the days out on the boat. I can’t believe it’s only been three and a half years.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I really enjoy collaborating with my teammates. I get to creatively solve problems with a bunch of people who contribute in different ways and see things differently. It’s great to learn from them and vice versa.
How does your job challenge you?
As the principal investigator for the research and development on the Bluefin SandShark, I wear many “hats.” My current role includes program manager, technical lead, and systems engineer. I’m a systems engineer at heart, but I’m definitely learning a lot about program management. Working at General Dynamics has given me many new opportunities and my leadership has been really open to giving me more responsibility. I’m always being challenged and learning something new.
What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a systems engineer?
If someone is interested in being a systems engineer, I would say the more you teach yourself about the other major engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, and software engineering), the more successful you will be. As a systems engineer, you have to always be thinking about the entire system and how each part of that system will interact with each other. For example, it’s my responsibility to observe and recognize when an electrical engineer might be building a component that will affect the entire system and then get them together in a room with the mechanical and software engineers to talk through a creative solution. That’s why it’s really helpful to understand how the entire system works at the technical level. You have to be able to speak everyone’s language, because you are ultimately the translator.
Could you share more about the launch of the Bluefin SandShark and what comes next for the team?
The launch of the Bluefin SandShark has been over three years in the making, and we are excited to be getting to this point. We’ve gone through four design iterations to create the product that we are now offering. The Bluefin SandShark is bringing new technology to AUV operators. What’s next? We will continue to help mature and grow the Bluefin SandShark as a product. We also have bigger AUVs in our sights.