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Heather Ker, BEng '06, MEng '09

Mechanical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering | From Space Missions to Pediatric Surgery

When it comes to robotic arms, there are none more iconic than the Canadarm. For 30 years, the remote-controlled mechanical arm assisted NASA’s space shuttle program to move, maintain and position equipment, cargo and satellites.

A second-generation Canadarm, as well as a robotic handyman known as Dextre are now installed on the International Space Station.

As an engineer working for MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), the company responsible for the ground-breaking space technology, Heather Ker is inspired by the accomplishments.

“Going to work every day in that building, working with the kind of people that worked on those robots is pretty amazing,” says Ker (B.A.Sc. ’06 & M.A.Sc. ’09, Mechanical Engineering).

“There’s just so much cool stuff we do.”

In 2009, after earning her master’s degree in medical robotics, Ker joined MDA. She started working with space projects, then moved into the company’s terrestrial projects, including cutting-edge robotics technology in both the medical and nuclear fields.

Among those projects was the development of the KidsArm, a robotic surgical arm designed for pediatric surgery.

Equipped with a variety of miniature tools, the arm is guided by surgeons who use hand controllers and imaging technology to under- take intricate surgeries on tiny bodies.

Capable of working 10 times faster and with much more accuracy than a surgeon on minuscule procedures, the arm also employs advanced imaging that allows for automated suturing of small vessels and other microsurgical tasks.

Ker also spent three years working in partnership with other agencies on a tool to remotely manage nuclear inspection and maintenance tasks at Bruce Power.

“We really specialize in working in unique environments,” she says. “It is fascinating work, and it’s really translating into helping a lot of people in a lot of different ways.”