Having spent many years enjoying warm climates—moving from his home in Ghana to Florida, and then spending time in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Nigeria–Kobe Boateng is pleased to have experienced and enjoyed his first winter in Massachusetts.
“I came to Boston for a Harvard-Africa business conference and told myself, ‘I’m never ever coming here again.’ And guess what? Six months later, I was offered an opportunity that was so exciting that I moved my family to Boston from Atlanta. Now, I have pictures of my kids playing in the snow. It’s been a fantastic experience.”
Boateng’s circuitous route to the Boston area—one of the robotics centers of the United States—led him to a critical role as a senior manager involved with control systems design and safety across Amazon’s suite of fulfillment center robots.
“We’re just scratching the surface of how robotics can impact humanity. Whether that’s eliminating activities that result in repetitive stress injuries or workflow, medical, or automation processes—the diversity of application is exciting. My responsibility is to ensure that robotic systems are designed in a way that respects human dignity.”
In his current role, Boateng leads product safety and regulatory compliance teams, but his robotics journey began in a different industry.
“My first job was in the energy sector. I was interested in working in high tech, but at the time, there was a hiring freeze. At a career fair, I decided to practice my interview skills with the recruiter, and ended up being offered a job on the spot.”
The opportunity gave Boateng his first exposure to process control instrumentation, working at a large facility in New Orleans. In response to Hurricane Katrina, Boateng played a role in the plant recovery team. Boateng then shifted to actively developing and evaluating new technology—as well as producing the standards and guidelines to make the tech safe. In this new phase of his career, he gained critical experience in high-risk facilities in countries including Angola and Nigeria.
Learning, being curious, and exploring has been an integral part of my journey.
His work created a strong foundation for his role at Amazon, which he views as a way to transfer his skills into the world of robotics. He understands the importance of his work as he and his teams evaluate the breadth of technologies that are often synthesized into a single robotic solution.
“We’re not just tinkering over here,” said Boateng. “We’re solving problems in a company that is customer obsessed. We’re always learning, and we’re always pushing the boundaries.”
Boateng also takes pride in being able to build a team that has a high regard for the safety of people and is integral to the design of safe systems across Amazon.
“From the functional safety of the autonomous mobile robots to ensuring that any modifications to existing robots don’t impact their safety integrity to the control systems for Robin, the manipulator arm—we do it all. Anything that has any intelligence or electronics, my team supports it,” said Boateng.
As a science enthusiast who excelled in math, physics, and chemistry at a young age, Boateng said the Amazon experience is rare, offering a unique immersion into the world of robotics.
“We don’t just design—we also manufacture, and we deploy. So, you get to see the entire life cycle, and you’re able to learn from how customers interact with the robots. That’s incredibly valuable,” he said.
Boateng initially travelled to the U.S. to study engineering at Florida A&M when the lecturers in Ghana went on strike. He’s now passionate about other Africans and Americans participating in cultural and educational exchanges. To that end, he is the founder of a program, African Diaspora Nation, that gives African students access to African and American universities and vice versa.
The initiative encourages curiosity and open-mindedness among the next generation—in particular, underrepresented youth. Boateng believes in the benefits of learning through new experiences.
“Learning, being curious, and exploring has been an integral part of my journey. The program I support has proven to be a powerful and transformational experience for many young people,” said Boateng. “I had the opportunity to take some students from the United States to my home country of Ghana, and it was a life-changing experience for them. They came back energized, with a different perspective of the world. Now, I’m at Amazon. I’m keen to introduce a science, technology, engineering, and math component to encourage the next generation of technologists.”