Mentor Dave Rollinson, Co-founder of HEBI (left) and City High Student Ajani Mohanty (right) are seen her posing with a HEBI robotic arm that can automatically map the entire pipe for density applications
Recent Graduate Ajani Mohanty talks about his 13-week mentored internship with Pittsburgh’s HEBI Robotics.
It could be said that Robotics is where engineering and technology collide. So, it’s no wonder that self-described “STEM guy” Ajani Mohanty decided to take a closer look at a career in robotics during his 13-week City High mentored internship.
“I guess I really enjoy all sorts of STEM things. When I get home, I spend my time with computers and programming and games… and all that” says Ajani, whose dad also does software development. In his spare time, Ajani likes programming, mostly in Java Script and Python.
For this 4.26 GPA student who earned Adobe and Microsoft certifications in his freshman year, a stint in technology seemed like a foregone conclusion. He also took honors Calculus and Physics as part of his studies, helped the Tech Team repair student laptops and participated in SAGE (Students for the Advancement of Global Entreprenuership), Student Assembly and, of course, the Robotics Club.
|Ajani Mohanty about his time at City Charter High School “I don’t know how I would have survived having new teachers each year. It’s amazing! You develop an actual bond with your teachers.”|
Ajani Mohanty and Jackie Olson works on assembly of parts used to build actuators. Actuators are building blocks – renewable, reusable modules – to aid in creating robotic tools with different configurations, different connecting pieces.
Ajani remembers, “In 11th grade, I started thinking maybe I want to explore robotics, because I’ve been seeing all sorts of cool automation.” So robotics it was for his internship.
At HEBI Robotics, a technology company whose clients worldwide include NASA, Facebook, Carnegie Mellon and Cal Tech, Ericsson and others, Ajani got the opportunity to really understand this industry. Not only did he shadow various company principals to learn about the software and programming side of the industry, but also the business side, production and other disciplines. “A lot of my responsibility was learning how to assemble different parts of the little actuators they make.” Ajani adds, “I was also able to have hands-on experience with the actual developers, the people who make them, and that was probably the best part of the internship because I was able to actually be there while they were developing things.”
|Robotics team member Ajani Mohanty enjoyed the tech workshop for after school building and programming and also learning to use the3D printer at City High.|
According to Dave Rollinson, Co-founder of HEBI who co-mentored Ajani, “We basically make robotic building blocks here. We make tools that researchers use to make custom robots and we do everything in house, both hardware and software.” Because this is such a hot growth area, HEBI gets requests for internships from all over the world and most of the interns are college age. So this City High student was very fortunate to have an opportunity to work in a world-class robotics firm.
HEBI’s Jackie Olson, who co-mentored Ajani agrees. “To give a child the chance to have a glimpse of what we do and what it is, it might spark some interest. It’s a nice thing to do for the kids.” Ms. Olson supervised Ajani as he worked with the production team. He helped assemble parts and learned to use tools in the workshop, like a cutting press, dremel and calibration equipment. He learned to debur gears to make them smooth and ready for assembly.
Ajani may not have ever dreamed he would be making robot parts with his own hands, but he gain this and other benefits from the internship, like teamwork and attention to detail. According to Dr. Rollinson, “In this kind of dynamic work environment, learning how important attention to detail is to every little thing… that is even more important. Even though you are doing something that may not seem glamorous, it’s just as important. Every step of this is critical. It may not seem like it, but if those big gears don’t get deburred and a burr flakes off and jams in a gear – then boom! We have a broken actuator. There’s a stack of things and about 70 of them seem totally insignificant, but they’re all important. And understanding that in a hands-on way is hopefully what people take from the internship.”
Armed with his Robotics experience, Ajani will soon head off to college at Pitt, Carnegie-Mellon, Drexel or the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania. But the foundation for his success is right here at City Charter High School. A bit of an over-achiever, Ajani found City High the ideal place to really grow. “Here, they were adamant about propelling me forward,” he recalls. He took Robotics and every honors class he could. He just started working in 3D this semester, using cutting edge 3D printing for a project in his physics class.
Ajani also takes online extracurricular classes in computer science under the guidance of his teacher Ms. Dominguez-Murphy. And speaking of teachers, Ajani gives two thumbs up for City High’s “looping” of teachers. “I don’t know how I would have survived having new teachers each year. It’s amazing! You develop an actual bond with your teachers.”
|From left to right: Mentor Jackie Olson, Production Technician, City High’s Ajani Mohanti and mentor Dave Rollinson, Co-founder of HEBI.|
About HEBI Robotics
HEBI Robotics was founded in 2014 by a cross-disciplinary team from the world-renowned Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. The company is a spin-out of CMU’s Biorobotics Lab, led by Professor Howie Choset.
HEBI’s team of PhD researchers, engineers, and technicians has experience developing robotics tools for the military, sewer inspection, space flight, and the aerospace industry. Their expertise includes robotics, hardware, and software, with a core focus on motion control.
In 2016, HEBI released its X-Series platform of modular hardware and software tools, now used by dozens of global universities, researchers, and industrial partners to create custom, world-class robots quickly and easily.
It is no surprise that HEBI would mentor students from City Charter High School, such as Ajani Mohanty. One of HEBI’s co-founders from this team, Dr. Dave Rollinson was instrumental in growing the City High Robotics efforts while he was still working on his PhD in mechanical engineering and robotics at Carnegie Mellon.
“When I was shadowing Dave,” City High student Ajani recalls, “He was working on a robot’s arm that they designed that was able to test pipes… the density of pipes while sensing it from one side of the pipe. There was a lot more to it, but it demonstrates the kind of applications it could have.”
According to Dr. Rollinson, “Our platform enables researchers and industry partners to do in days what takes months with traditional hardware. We started out basically making tools for researchers. People or companies or universities have an idea for a robot that they can’t buy. So they want to make something custom. And so we are focused on trying to help them make systems that are collaborative – things that basically work alongside people or can be worn on people, like prosthetics, exoskeletons.”
The secret to HEBI’s success is they make actuators that can control the force as well as be very precise. Dr. Rollinson explains, “What people think of as industrial robots – can be very precise, but they’re also very stiff and very dangerous. So, what we make are tools, the kind of tools that are like a person who can control how hard they’re pushing, not just exactly where they’re going. Most of what we make are basic tools for researchers trying to make the next generation of robots. Also working on projects for oil and gas and trying to create tools were people can do things like industrial inspections much more quickly, much more safely. And we bring robotic technology to bear even if it’s not explicitly a robot that is needed.”