Mechanical Design, Robotics, Innovation
Part of the third graduating class of Olin College of Engineering, I hold a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. I'm interested in the R&D side of the engineering process; designing and executing novel solutions to a wide range of problems. I work best in highly collaborative environments, and posses a rounded enough skill set to contribute in all areas of a project, not just the mechanical. My Resume and more about me can be found here. (Click images to expand sections.)
What I Do
I design and build mechanical and hardware systems. My experience so far has been focused on prototyping and integration, which I really enjoy and would like to do more of. It's really exciting to start a project with nothing but a goal and a set of constraints, and then have the chance to personally take it through all of the steps that lead to a useful, functional device. My reason for going into robotics is the wide range of work that goes into every project, and the nearly limitless range of applications. A car is expected to look like a car, while a robot can look like whatever it needs to to get the job done. There's a lot of freedom and room for creativity in the field.
All that said, my knowledge of the different jobs in the engineering world is pretty limited, and I'm not married to robotics. Although that's where most of experience resides, I would gladly consider any challenging opportunity that peeks my interest.
How I Do It
I'm very hands on in my approach to engineering, there's a lot of value in testing design ideas practically and often, and I have worked on several projects where a crucial design decision was made based on the results of quick demo with a cardboard and duct-tape sketch model. Another thing that I feel is vital to good design is collaboration. In my experience the most promising ideas more often originate during a twenty minute discussion of the project with a capable engineer rather than during hours of solitary contemplation. Finally I believe that solutions are discovered rather than created, and so do not innately belong to the first person to stumble upon them. Of course credit and pride should be take in finding an elegant solution, but leaving your ego out of it frees you up to recognize a better solution when it comes along.
About this site
I was recently laid of from an excellent little start-up called Vision Robotics Corp when the ailing economy finally caught up with its investors and the company had to downsize. During my time at Vision Robotics, I was the only full time Mechanical Engineer at the company since the one other Mechanical Engineer, my boss and company co-founder, had to spend roughly half of his time managing projects, submitting proposals, and other such nonsense. This arrangement meant that straight out of college, I got to play a critical role in 80% of the company's major projects, be involved or more often responsible for all of the hardware aspects of a robotic system, and then on top of that I got use my video-production background to showcase the systems' capabilities to the company's investors on video. All in all, aside from getting laid off, the job was amazing.
On my way out, I started putting together this site as my portfolio, and since the company's true IP value is in its vision system and software, I got the official go ahead to put a lot of my work on here. You'll also find some material and examples of my non engineering interests.
A pdf of my resume is available here.
You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
SLAM Mobile Platform
A department of defense funded project focused on creating an autonomous urban reconnaissance and mapping system. I designed and built the mobile test platforms on which the relevant software is being developed. more
This robot was designed around a Segway RMP 50 platform, a powerful desktop computer, and Vision Robotics' proprietary vision system. The first step was to build accurate models of all of the components that were to go into the system using SolidWorks, once that was done I could start designing the robot's chassis. Before the parts were sent out to be machined and powder coated, I took a day to build a wooden version, this was accomplished by gluing full scale drawings to ply wood and simply cutting along the lines with a jig saw. This extra step lead to a few minor design changes that made the final version a lot simpler to assemble and maintain. Below are some exploded views of the robot.
Along the mechanical design, I had to put together the robot's electric system. This involved building a battery hot-swap circuit, putting together and tuning the noise filter on the voltage sensor that kept track of the battery charge, wiring up all of the lights for independent dimmer control, and custom building the robot's bumper system by modifying off the shelf sensors. Below are some images of the two completed prototypes.
The completed prototypes are able to autonomously explore and map an area of a building at speeds of up to 2 mph. The next generation of the device will be designed to be smaller, lighter, and will mount onto an all terrain system like the Talon or the PackBot.
Click here to download and view a 3D eDrawing of the model.
You will need the free eDrawings viewer.
Robotic Grape Vine Pruner
Arguably the smartest piece of equipment that has ever been dragged around a vineyard. I got to design and implement its computer-hydraulics interface, parts of the shears, lighting system, and generally spent several months of my life getting this thing put together and out into the field.more
Roughly half the cost of growing grapes is pruning the vines during winter months when they are dormant. Traditionally done by migrant labor, this project aims to give grape growers an alternative.
Nicknamed 'Snippy', this 1.5 ton prototype pulls itself along behind a tractor in 18 inch increments, with the aid of hydraulics. A cantilevered frame is suspended around a grape vine on one side of the machine. During each 18 inch move, multiple stereo images are taken of the vines, those images are processed to create a 3D map of the vine, and then while the machine stands still two off the shelf robotic arms move in and prune all of the canes coming off of the cordon to the proper length using custom made hydraulic shears.
My Role in the Project
The main structure and most of the hydraulics were built by Ag Industrial Manufacturing Inc, who is partnered with Vision Robotics on this project. Once this basic chassis was delivered, I got to wire up all of the components, put in a fail-safe emergency stop system, design and implement the way in which the robot's computer could control the 7 different hydraulic pistons and read in the multiple sensors on each of the shears. I used SolidWorks' finite element analysis tools to help design key elements of the hydraulic shears. I mounted cameras, put in a lot of lighting and blue backdrops to aid the vision system, and generally helped to operate and maintain the system. A lot of effort went into field testing the prototype on multiple occasions, which involved loading it onto a truck and transporting it 500 miles to a grape farm. Finally I got to produce a video showcasing the robot's methods and capabilities, which you can see below.
Apple Crop-Load Estimator
This device uses two vertical arrays of stereo cameras to count and size apples in a medium to high density orchard before they are harvested. I created the detailed system design for the hardware side of this project. more
For this project I got to tackle most of the system design. This involved talking with the vision software engineers to establish a set of very concrete specs for what the robot would have to do. That was followed by a lot of research and part selection. Once I figured out all of the mutually compatible components, I worked them into a large system diagram (pictured below) where everything could be seen at once, and held a design review with the rest of the team, where issues were quickly spotted, discussed, and addressed.
A crucial part of the design was the ability to move the camera arrays in three degrees of freedom, to be able to handle various conditions in the field. I designed a way to have closed loop control of the linear actuators using the same micro controllers that we used previously on the grape pruner (pictured below). I then put together a small test platform to demonstrate this control scheme on the actual components.
The frame of this robot will be manufactured by Ag Industrial Manufacturing Inc, the same company that built the frame for the grape pruner, that means that they were going to do the final iteration of the design that's compatible with their preferred ways of cutting and welding steel. This meant that I had to provide them with a control drawing that detailed all of crucial dimensions, tolerances, features, and ranges of motion, and yet left a lot of room for them to decide the exact details of the actual implementation. Below you can see pictures of the rough model that I created to illustrate the design intent, and the mission critical specs. Unfortunately, I got down-sized just they started to assemble the frame, but the final model looks very similar to my proposed implementation.
Click here to download and view a 3D eDrawing of the model.
You will need the free eDrawings viewer.
Fruit Picking End-Effector
This device was my year long senior capstone project. As the mechanical lead on a team of five seniors I was responsible for most of the mechanical design and fabrication. We took our ideas through four stages of prototyping, and by the end, the company that sponsored the project gave me a job. more
There are over 80 patents for fruit picking devices in the last hundred years meant to replace or reduce manual labor involved in the harvesting of table quality fruit, and exactly zero of them are actually used. So to explore the possibility of implementing the vision system to someday harvest both apples and oranges, Vision Robotics sponsored a senior project at Olin that I happened to be a part of.
The five of us spent the first semester learning everything we could about fruit harvesting, and doing a lot of prior art research. This was followed by several rounds of ideation, where we came up with a huge number of ideas and then slowly whittled them down just three, that we then presented to Vision Robotics as detailed sketch models. After discussing the pros and cons of each idea we settled on the most promising one and spent the second semester churning out, testing and redesigning prototypes. Over the course of a little more than four months we went through four complete design iterations and actually built and tested three functional prototypes. Below is the video that I produced as part of the final demonstration of the project. About a month after the end of the project and my graduation, Vision Robotics brought me on board as a full time Mechanical Engineer.
One of my less mainstream hobbies is fire dancing. I co-founded and ran a fire-arts club during my time at Olin. We performed regularly in front of crowds of 300+ people on and off campus. (The picture on the right is real, don't try this at home.) more
A friend of mine had seen a performance by a member of MIT's fire club, and decided to try it out with some practice equipment. Thinking that it looked interesting, I joined him, and for the next few months we practiced, built equipment, and generally used online resources to work our way up to spinning with fire. Once that happened, we were hooked and we started introducing other to it. Below are some pictures of me spinning fire-poi and a group photo of our initial band of fire enthusiasts.
We started out calling ourselves "Fire Hazard" but as the group got bigger and became an official school funded club, we changed the name to the more administration friendly "Olin Fire-Arts Club". We made a majority of our own equipment, including a portable sound system built out of an old tower speaker, a deep cycle battery, and a car amp that doubled as our illuminated fueling station. Our shows became a regular highlight at Olin's special events like the Parent's Weekend, and we were even featured as the grand finale at the Town of Needham's New Year's Eve Celebration, where over 500 of the local residents showed up to watch. The club was mentioned in a Boston Globe article. Below is a video demonstration of me performing with a fire staff.
A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million. I've always been interested in the movie making process, so when I got to Olin I chose to pursue the subject as my Arts/Humanities concentration. So far, I've produced around 40 videos ranging from half minute gags, to dramatic pieces in the short film format, to technical demo videos of various robotic systems. more
Concentration in Video Production
Olin does not give out minors, however since one of the founding principles is to make more rounded engineers, every graduate is required to complete a concentration in Art, Humanities, or Business. Having done some work with video in high school, I chose to do my concentration in Video Production. I took several Video Production classes, a script writing class, and completed a semester long capstone project. In the mean time I produced a score of videos with my friends for an annual school video competition where we came in first all but one year. One of our entries can be seen below.
Video and Robotics
There are only so many words in engineering for a bracket, so describing a certain system in writing becomes difficult. When it comes to something that utilizes fairly complicated actuation to accomplish a goal, you're in trouble. That's where video comes in. In five decently shot, and well edited minutes you can convey more about a robot, its purpose, and its methods than you can in an hour of hand wavy conversation. A video will never break 20 minutes before you have to demonstrate it to a key investor, and as can be seen by the grape pruner demo above, a video can take you inside the machine and give you a level of understanding that even a live demonstration can't touch.
Drawing, Sculpture, etc...
The ability to get something out of your head and onto a piece of paper is as vital to design as coming up with a clever idea in the first place. Besides being a satisfying creative outlet, I find art to be a great way to chip away at the thought-reality barrier, making it that much easier to show others what I can so clearly visualize in my head. more
I'm a huge fan of the Adobe software collection, so about a year after I initially sketched the drawing on the left as a conceptual idea of a really cool raft that I never got around to building, I scanned in the pencil work and went to town on it with Photoshop. I've had some experience with coloring sketches in high school, when I drew a short web comic as part of a 3 week senior project, so after only about 15 hours of work I got what you now see on the right.
It's a little ironic that although two dots and a line can a evoke a face :) drawing a person that actually looks right is incredibly counter intuitive and challenging. Below are my attempts. First a caricature that I drew in order to force myself to use dark, confident lines, and second a portrait of myself and my girlfriend, Brittany, that I drew using several photos for reference.
The Third Dimension
I made the candle holding statuette, pictured bellow on the left, out of pieces of 2x4 that I pulled out of the scraps bin at the Home Depot. After sanding and laminating them together to form a respectable block, I sanded, carved, and dremeled it down to size, stained the wood and put together the candle holder out of a 2$ necklace and some scrap stainless steel that I turned on a lathe.
The contraption on the right was a team effort that was the culmination of a User Oriented Design class. It is a model of a product idea that we developed called the "Climb Climb Revolution". It's a next generation climbing tread mill that changes the course as you climb and incorporates a lot of interactive games and such.