Keynote Talk

Session overview & Review presentations 

Charting the unknown: Personal reflection on professional journey

dr. ir. Abeje Y. Mersha
Professor - Saxion University of Applied Sciences
Smart Mechatronics And RoboTics (SMART)


During this keynote, I will share insights and lessons learned from my professional and personal journey through the academic and cultural landscape of the Netherlands. In addition to highlighting the indispensability of applied research, my primary aim is to inspire young researchers, particularly expats, in navigating their pathways in the Netherlands, especially in the Twente region.

My quest for cutting-edge technology led me from Ethiopia, where I completed my bachelor's in electrical engineering, to the Netherlands. Over a decade half ago, I arrived with little knowledge of the country, inspired mainly by its renowned footballers I heard about during my youth. After dusting off the initial cultural shock, I - as most expats- immersed myself in the UT bubble to excel in academia during my master’s and PhD.

It was only after deciding to stay in the Netherlands that I realized I had both the opportunity and the need to better understand the people and learn the culture. Jumping to the “unknown” world of higher professional education and applied research at Saxion was instrumental in pushing my personal development further. Learning the Dutch language, which I never thought I could, opened multitude of opportunities that I didn’t even know existed, and it gave me practical tools to make similar impact that I made in Ethiopia.

When I joined Saxion as a lecturer and researcher in 2014, I knew little about the institution and was one of its handful of international employees. Both the educational department and the research group were in their infancy. Over the past decade however, our group has grown substantially, establishing itself as a key player in mission-driven applied robotics, mechatronics, and artificial intelligence in the Netherlands. I am honored to lead this team as the chair and professor.

Our innovations span autonomous flying hand and firefighting robots to weeding agrobots and intelligent industrial cobots. We specialize in autonomous navigation, optimal path planning, safe physical interaction control of robots and industrial automation. Currently, our research group comprises over 40 research engineers, around 300 students, 25+ public-private funded projects, and boasts an annual turnover of approximately 3.3 million euros.

Many people attribute success to luck, and I consider myself as one of the luckiest, primarily due to my personal blessings. Nevertheless, as the Roman philosopher Seneca said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Preparation is within your control, and fully capitalizing on opportunities requires stepping out of your comfort zone and making an effort to acclimate to your environment, particularly the people and culture.

See you on the 27th of June 2024!


I’m a passionate and empathetic entrepreneurial engineer and scientist in Robotics and AI, with particular interest and expertise in autonomous unmanned systems. I have a 15+ years experience in high education in Ethiopia and the Netherlands. I am currently professor of Smart Mechatronics and Robotics at Saxion University of Applied Sciences, and a fellow of the Netherlands Academy of Engineering.

I received my BSc. degree with Very Great Distinction from Mekelle University, Mekelle, Ethiopia, in 2007. In 2008, I received a full Huygens Scholarship to pursue my graduate studies at the University of Twente. In 2010, I completed MSc. in Electrical Engineering and graduated with honors (Cum Laude). I obtained his PhD in the field of aerial robotics from the University of Twente in 2014. During my PhD research, I have developed novel control algorithms for autonomous as well as teleoperated aerial robots and aerial manipulators in the context of the AIRobots European project, a pioneering project in the field of aerial interaction. The applicability and performance of his algorithms have been tested in extreme conditions, including in the longest intercontinental haptic control of a drone in the world (Netherlands-Australia). The results of my research have been published in various peer reviewed journals, conferences and professional magazines.

I use my scientific knowledge and applied research insights with my engineering, team building and leadership skills to conduct multi-disciplinary projects to provide innovative and sustainable solutions for urgent societal challenges. All my projects are mission-driven that are conducted together with public-private partners, researchers, engineers, teachers and students, and, as such, knowledge sharing is structurally embedded to boost innovative capacities of our partners and to keep higher professional education up to date. The impacts of our activities are reflected in numerous innovative solutions integrated with a number of partners, especially SMEs, with their products, services and processes.    
I’m an out-of-the-box thinker, a direct and bold communicator and a reflective person. I have a large (inter)national network and actively take part in regional and (inter) national clusters/associations as (board)member and advisor. Within these clusters/associations, I co-initiate new research and development programs and co-define operational action plans to respond to current and future trends and external geopolitical developments. I am a firm proponent of open access to research outputs for peaceful perpetuation of life and betterment of our planet.
My personal mission is to inspire people from all walks of life by sharing knowledge equally to all and in all forms, so that they discover and use their “Unknown” potential for the betterment of our society. My fundamental moral values-sharing, empathy and loyalty, in which people are always the focus. I get a kick from making the “Impossible” possible.