I am currently a student in my fourth year at the University of Pennsylvania, simultaneously pursuing a master's degree in Robotics and a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics, with minors in Theatre Arts and Engineering Entrepreneurship.
My main interests lie in human-robot interaction, mechanical design, and entertainment. I am a self-proclaimed optimist, carrying a passion through to my work, in which I strive to find ways to break the mold and exploit that which is novel and unconventional.
In particular, I find much inspiration in the synergy of art and technology and the reliance of interactivity and true immersion in a product or production on thoughtful design and attention to form (which always follows function).
It is my firm belief that good engineering and design complements meaningful art, and vice versa. One is simply incomplete without the other.
Questions? Contact me!
The Competition: ImagiNations is an annual engineering and design contest sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering, the design and development arm of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. It is intended to foster diversity from a variety of disciplines, inspiring collaboration and creative output. Our team placed as one of six finalists from a pool of 231 applicants.
The Prompt: From the competition website: "There are many wonderful urban environments around the world where millions of people live, work and play every day. Select a large and densely populated urban area and design an experience that temporarily or permanently transforms the city for the enjoyment of its citizens and visitors. The experience must take advantage of existing infrastructure, and may be above, below or anywhere in between existing development."
The Project: Over the course of six months, I led a team of four in the design, development, and theoretical implementation of a fully-functional, multi-sensory immersive experience at Istanbul, Turkey. Our concept, titled Keşif and meaning "discovery" in Turkish, drew from the team's diverse set of backgrounds, which spanned mechanical design and animation, computer science, digital media design, and fine arts.
In addition to serving as the group's functional leader, my role involved the design and analysis of all mechanical systems in the experience, which included a massive kinetic sculpture that stemmed from a platform of spools winding steel cables beneath the Bosphorus Bridge. Our unique system allowed larger-than-life figures to materialize and physically move across the surface of the water. We also developed a free-roaming, autonomous "puppet" platform system that enabled the shapes from beneath the bridge float into the water and dynamically respond to guests on ferry boats.
Going above and beyond, we developed and manufactured working prototypes of both the individual elements of the puppet sculpture, as well as a set of physical tokens that would allow guests to carry away a tangible memento from the experience and engage with an augmented reality-equipped mobile application at a time of their choosing, thus allowing the "discovery" aspect to live on perennially.
The project was conceived by the University of Pennsylvania team and created for the 2014 Walt Disney Imagineering ImagiNations Design Competition.
This project is the sole property of Walt Disney Imagineering and all rights to use these ideas are exclusive to Walt Disney Imagineering.
The competition is a way for students and recent graduates to showcase their talents and for Walt Disney Imagineering to identify new talent.
MEAM201: Machine Design and Manufacturing is a semester-long course where students have the opportunity to design, manufacture, and test every component of a fully functional gamma type stirling engine from scratch. All metalwork is done in-house on a variety of machines, including manual mills and lathes and ProtoTRACK CNC mills (both two and three-axis milling).
Additional fundamentals of mechanical prototyping and tooling are introduced, such as fixturing, developing engineering drawings, and analyzing material properties. Design freedom is given for several engine components, including the flywheel and the base--two pieces in which I invested a significant amount of time and craftsmanship.
My design is inspired by a rising phoenix, and the bedplate was cut from an abrasive waterjet. The engine consists of a variety of metals, namely aluminum, brass, and steel. The final composite achieved a rotational frequency of more than 1500 RPM.
Collaborators: Dean Wilhelmi, Stella Latscha
Science Per Forms is an interactive performance piece jointly conceived by ModLab (Modular Robotics Laboratory) and Carbon Dance Theatre in Philadelphia. The show explores the relationship between man and machine, particularly how the actions and motions of one affect the other. In prototyping the idea for this production, we experimented with teleoperation and the responsiveness of the modules' controller, looking for ways to downplay the use of wires and tethered systems. My role on the initial development team led to the use of the 2 DOF robotic arms that could "breathe" in tandem with the dancers.
Images © ModLab and Carbon Dance Theatre
Collaborators: Wyatt Shapiro
PUMA Dance presented students in MEAM520: Intro to Robotics with the opportunity to create a robot art piece using a Unimation PUMA 260 robot (6 DOF manipulator). After deriving the robot's DH parameters and the appropriate forward kinematics, we used methods of trajectory planning to dictate the motion of the robot and how it interpolated between subsequent poses. The result is a choreographed dance routine that is then set to music and animated in MATLAB before running on the real robot.
Collaborators: See publications below.
VerroTouch is one of the largest projects currently underway in the Haptics Lab at Penn, and also one of the broadest. It is therefore fitting that much of my efforts over the past few years have been spent analyzing many different aspects of minimally invasive robotic surgery. The VerroTouch system, a novel device invented by the Haptics Group, enables touch feedback on different iterations of Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci robot.
Some of my contributions include: analyzing and visualizing data of robotic surgery simulations in Matlab, showing a statistical advantage to using haptic feedback in such simulations, and teleoperating a da Vinci surgical robot to obtain data for use with and without haptic feedback.
In addition, and rather unexpectedly in this context, I had the opportunity to experiment with various forms of mold making using Smooth-On silicone, a material commonly used for prop reproduction. In the past, I have had the pleasure of studying and modeling several human organs, including the stomach (and surrounding tissue), greater omentum, and small intestine, all of which provided significant challenges for accurately making an object that would pass for viable human tissue. In essence, each organ had to look and feel exactly like the real thing; if it ended up slightly off, much like the "uncanny valley" of robotics, seasoned surgeons and novices alike could instantly spot the difference.
Watch a video of my (homemade) stomach featured on TV!
W. McMahan, E. D. Gomez, L. Chen, K. Bark, J. C. Nappo, E. I. Koch, D. I. Lee, K. Dumon, N. Williams, and K. J. Kuchenbecker. A practical system for recording instrument interactions during live robotic surgery. Journal of Robotic Surgery, 7(4):351-358, December 2013. [pdf]
W. McMahan, E. D. Gomez, L. Chen, K. Bark, J. C. Nappo, E. I. Koch, D. I. Lee, K. Dumon, N. Williams, and K. J. Kuchenbecker. A practical system for recording instrument interactions during live robotic surgery. In Proc. Medicine Meet Virtual Reality (Acceptance Rate = 40%), 2013.
Collaborators: See publications below.
BOLT, or Broad Operational Language Translation, was a DARPA-funded research collaboration between the Haptics Group at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley. The goal was to teach a Willow Garage PR2 humanoid robot equipped with SynTouch BioTac sensors to classify a variety objects based on their tactile properties. By exploring the cognitive, psychological aspects of robotics, we hope to make robots more adept at interacting and communicating with humans, and slowly convey the extremely complex nuances of the human brain. Our work earned us the Best Cognitive Robotics Paper award at the 2013 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA).
V. Chu, I. McMahon, L. Riano, C. G. McDonald, Q. He, J. M. Perez-Tejada, M. Arrigo, N. Fitter, J. C. Nappo, T. Darrell, and K. J. Kuchenbecker. Using robotic exploratory procedures to learn the meaning of haptic adjectives. In Proc. IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (Acceptance Rate = 39%), pages 3048-3055, Karlsruhe, Germany, May 2013. [pdf]
I. McMahon, V. Chu, L. Riano, C. G. McDonald, Q. He, J. M. Perez-Tejada, M. Arrigo, N. Fitter, J. Nappo, T. Darrell, and K. J. Kuchenbecker. Robotic learning of haptic adjectives through physical interaction. In Proc. IROS Workshop on Advances in Tactile Sensing and Touch-based Human-robot Interaction, Vilamoura, Algarve, Portugal, 2012. [pdf]
Collaborators: Matt Gus, Molly Dee, Alyssa Eng (mechanical); Tyler Barkin, Mike Lo, Chao Liu, Chaitanya Bhargava (electronics)
TRANSFORM is the capstone project of IPD501: Integrated Computer-Aided Design, Manufacturing, and Analysis. The goal was to create a custom-built transformer mechatronic system that could "transform" into two distinct bodies, à la Optimus Prime.
Our team, operating under the guise of "Black Panther," opted to create a feline with 2 DOF gear-driven legs modeled after a Sensable Phantom Premium haptic device, in order to maximize mechanical advantage (see animation). The cat would then transform into a 1930s Bugatti Coupe and drive off into the sunset. On this team of four, I was primarily responsible for the automotive components. In order to maintain durability of the vehicle and to explore a new, unfamiliar area of engineering rife with practical knowledge, we opted to make the shell out of a composite material: pre-impregnated carbon fiber.
We proceeded to machine the negative mold for the car's shell using 3 axis settings on a ProtoTRAK CNC mill out of rigid polystyrene foam insulation, commonly found at Home Depot. Then, using the pre-preg carbon fiber sheets available to us, we baked the shell in place, and ended up with a relatively structurally sound outer frame.
This project marked one of the first times I got to use my engineering knowledge and apply it to an otherwise never-before-solved, "real world" problem. Taking on the additional challenge of using composite materials, though stressful at times, proved to be a valuable learning experience that I am extremely happy to have tackled in retrospect.
Collaborators: Kate Wessels (mechanical); Neel Shah, Larry Vadakedathu (electronics)
JUSTIFY is the very first project of IPD501: Integrated Computer-Aided Design, Manufacturing, & Analysis. The task is simple: justify the cost of whatever it is you want to build. Working in collaboration with two students from MEAM599: Advanced Mechatronics, our group chose to design a hovercraft—but not just any hovercraft! One theme of the semester involved learning new techniques of 3D modeling, advanced proficiency with SolidWorks, and working with new materials. As a class, we collectively decided to explore the uncharted realm of sheet metal design, an area of SolidWorks unfamiliar to most of us at the time.
Our team took the challenge one step further, opting to design the entire mechanical chassis for the hovercraft out of a single piece of sheet metal. My job was to design the chassis and lift propeller system that would enable the hovercraft to eventually (you guessed it) hover. We settled on a polyethylene skirt material that offered a good combination of durability and wear-resistance. The lift propeller as well as the two differential drive propellers at the rear of the hovercraft are all driven by brushless DC motors, to allow for maximum power while maintaining the smooth precision necessary to drive the vehicle.
Collaborators: Pete Furlong, James Sui
For PUMA Paint, students in MEAM520: Intro to Robotics were tasked with deriving the full inverse kinematics of a Unimation PUMA 260 robot (6 DOF manipulator). After doing so, a trajectory was chosen, tracing the outline of a team-selected image, which the robot then "painted" with an LED light attached to the its end-effector. The setup was photographed using a long exposure on a Nikon D40 camera. A MATLAB simulation of the robot's path helped the team visualize the PUMA's motion before running the code on the actual robot.
Collaborators: ModLab (Modular Robotics Laboratory)
TEMP, or Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform, is a DARPA-funded research project exploring the modular capabilities of large-scale shipping containers. In particular, the government is interested in seeing if these otherwise space-consuming structures can mechanically link to one another via a servo-driven arm-and-cable system while at sea to form platforms for land vehicles to drive on or aircraft to land on.
My role involved the mass production and rapid prototyping of 1:12 scale shipping containers, which were needed in a series of tests in an on-campus pool facility. Using laser-cut acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), modules were designed to quickly snap together and remain watertight. The boats relied on AprilTags, a visual fiducial system, to analyze their motion in realtime while in the pool for testing.
Collaborators: Dean Wilhelmi, Shai Revzen
ModLock was a project in the Modular Robotics Laboratory at Penn to re-design the locking mechanism that enables second-generation CKBot modules to dock to one another. CKBot consists of 1 DOF servomechanisms that can assume a wide array of configurations, from joining together to form a latitudinal snake that can then slither across the floor, to a hexapod with omni wheels that can traverse the span of an entire room, to a human-leg-inspired pendulum that can swing to climb a flight of stairs.
For the new modules, the robots needed the ability to dock and undock quickly without much effort; the project therefore necessitated a symmetrical design that provided a large mechanical advantage when locked in place. The resultant male and female plates were laser-cut from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic and later machined from aluminum.
Images © ModLab
Collaborators: Neel Shah (electronics)
VerroTeach is a haptic learning device designed to help dental students quickly acquaint themselves with the feel of human teeth, specifically in the search for cavities and other anomalies. It was conceived as part of a larger project in the Penn Haptics Lab to acquaint students in various feedback-based disciplines with vibrotactile cues about the subject of their work.
The VerroTeach system underwent a complete overhaul in the spring of 2013, requiring the re-design of the internal electronics, namely the printed circuit board that would now allow up to twenty practicing dentists to follow along with a single instructor at once. My job was to engineer a new mechanical enclosure to fit the existing electronics, while maintaining portability and aesthetics. The resultant system weighed just under two pounds and fit within a box of dimensions approximately 4"x8"x6", whereas the initial system filled a volume slightly larger than 12"x12"x6".
Our work with VerroTeach has expanded to encompass spinal surgery, another area of medicine where identifying potential problems comes with experience and "feel" for the appropriate signs. Through this work, we hope to reduce the learning curve for aspiring physicians, as well as mitigate the uncertainty in identifying issues, which would in turn allow doctors to operate more efficiently from both a time and cost perspective.
Collaborators: James Sui, Rob Ritchie
For the first lab of the MEAM347: Mechanical Design Laboratory in the junior curriculum, mechanical engineers are tasked with creating a vertical axis wind turbine that can harness and generate the most useful power. Historically, the majority of teams rely on a commonplace Savonius, or "two-cup," design due to ease of manufacturability and time constraints. Some teams pursue the more advanced Darrieus wind turbine, based off of the shape of a typical airplane wing airfoil.
Our team of three took a wholly unique approach, and instead developed a Savonius-like design with continuous blade angle adjustment, a feat never before attempted, let alone successfully executed, in the history of the course. Essentially, in order to maximize drag on each blade, each blade rotates around a central shaft with a 2:1 gear ratio, and, as a result, the blade is fully exposed to air in the free stream on one side of the turbine, and completely parallel to it on the other.
Several proof of concept tests are required along the way, chief among them being a fully-functional scale model that is subsequently tested in a wind tunnel to obtain drag coefficients and other significant values, such as Reynolds number. Data is then scaled up to a full-fledged model, and "wind" is simulated by teams running down a long corridor with the turbine attached to a DC motor generating current.
My main responsibilities included the mechanical design of both the model and the full-scale turbine, as well as fabrication of the model. All three team members contributed to testing, analysis, and manufacturing of the final design.
Collaborators: Sade Oba, Ashlee Anderson
PLAY is an interactive, multiplayer game, and the culminating project of the semester long course, MEAM101: Intro to Mechanical Design. Constraints for this group project stipulated that the device must:
– have at least one moving/moveable part
– use multiple materials and manufacturing techniques
– be mostly manufactured by the team
– fit within a 12 in x 12 in x 12 in cube
Our team challenged itself to create from scratch a fully-functional "crane game" by developing the product in phases, the first of which consisted of a mechanically-actuated XY-stage, and the latter consisted of the "claw" mechanism. The entire system was made up solely of laser-cut medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and acrylic. Users control the location of the claw by spinning a knob connected to the rack-and-pinion system on the XY-stage and then adjust the height of the claw via another knob linked to a scissor jack mechanism. Finally, the user clamps a handle to open and close the jaws of the claw to claim a prize.
My specific contributions included the design and fabrication of the retracting, scissor jack z-mechanism that attached to the claw, as well as design contributions to the claw mechanism itself. The latter proved to be an interesting challenge since we needed a way to translate linear motion (actuation of the "rack") to rotational motion (opening and closing of the "pinions," which were fixed to the jaws of the claw).
PRESS challenges students in MEAM101: Intro to Mechanical Design to create a three-dimensional object, incorporating no more than 50 square inches of laser-cut medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and acrylic. The challenge? Using no glue or adhesives, compose the model solely of press and interference fits.
Taking inspiration from Walt Disney World's Space Mountain, I opted to create my own reconfigurable model that would rival even the most intricate of K'NEX contraptions.
MOVE is based upon the ability to employ advanced modeling techniques, such as lofting and surfacing, to achieve a simple task: make something that moves. It is the second project in a sequence in MEAM101: Intro to Mechanical Design.
Inspired by amusement rides, I created a miniature Ferris Wheel complete with rotating wheel and pivoting seats that adjust as the central hub revolves around a fixed axis. The end result is 3D printed from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic on a Stratasys Dimension Elite machine, with a layer resolution of approximately 0.007".
Collaborators: Sade Oba, Danielle Orlowski
DISSECT is a group project in MEAM101: Intro to Mechanical Design requiring selection of a complex mechanical device and subsequent modeling of every component in SolidWorks, complete with a video animation exploded view. Our team chose a NuVinci continuously variable transmission (CVT) bicycle motor, which ranked 3.8 difficulty (out of 4.0) on a complexity of modeling scale developed for the class. Several useful CAD skills, including product data management (PDM) and collaborative design work, were attained through this project.
Collaborators: Alex Polyak (director)
Venue: Houston Hall, Class of 1949 Auditorium @ University of Pennsylvania
Tasked with creating a muted, icy world playing off of Goldman's smart dialogue and witty characters, I set out to make the space as dynamic a personality as the individuals inhabiting it. One particular challenge I ran into was balancing the "warm" feeling of opulence and luxury with the otherwise cold and chilling jolt strung throughout the play to highlight the underlying motives of a backstabbing family full of greed and jealousy.
Collaborators: Sarah Van Sciver (director), Devin Barney (mentor)
Venue: Houston Hall, Class of 1949 Auditorium @ University of Pennsylvania
A Year With Frog and Toad set the stage for my first experience as a Lighting Designer, providing a significant challenge in the telling of a story through the shift of seasons and weather effects throughout the show. In this musical production, an on-stage pit band provided background music for the animal critters and creatures nearby downstage.
Collaborators: Hannah Van Sciver (director)
Venue: Houston Hall, Class of 1949 Auditorium @ University of Pennsylvania
In a bold, modern re-interpretation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, as principal Lighting Designer, I was tasked with creating a manipulable, living, breathing universe that reflected the decay of 21st century urban slums. Using carefully placed up-lighting and a variety of special effects through unconventional distribution of light, I helped transform a mundane, on-campus theater venue into a believable alternate reality.
Collaborators: Sarah Elger (mentor and co-designer)
Venue: Rodin College House Underground @ University of Pennsylvania
Woyzeck provided the unique opportunity to transform a "found space" into a turn-of-the-century pub, essentially eliminating the fourth wall barrier between audience and stage in the process. For this production, I served as Assistant Set & Lighting Designer and Master Carpenter, helping to create an immersive experience that pushed the limits of the theater's current capabilities in reaching out to and connecting with audiences.
Collaborators: Sarah Elger (creator), Nikhil Menezes, Becky Chalsen, Anjani Vedula, Aaron Roth
Venue: Performing Arts Shop @ University of Pennsylvania
Labyrinth is a foray into the world of immersive, interactive theatre, and particularly the use of a user-controlled space and role-playing. Loosely based on the Greek myth of the Minotaur, the Labyrinth permits an audience of approximately fifteen to enter the space, explore hidden passageways, interact with actors, and rely on each other's respective roles to shape the outcome of the story.
In my roles as Assistant Creative Director, Assistant Set Designer, and Master Carpenter, I helped build the highly-ambitious set and transform Penn's on-campus performing arts shop into a forest, a king's throne room, a sinister dining room, and an eerie workshop over the course of a few weeks. I also had the opportunity to perform as a caretaker of the Minotaur, Daedalus.
Labyrinth was the precursor to and small-scale learning platform for a similar project, Pseudonym.
Collaborators: Sarah Elger (creative director), Nikhil Menezes (head writer), Luke Kelly (producer), Becky Chalsen (story editor)
Pseudonym is an interactive production crossing multiple platforms through immersive storytelling and game design. Developed as part of the Master's of Architecture thesis project for Sarah Elger, a creative team of four Penn students spanning multiple disciplines conceptualized a physical space that facilitates play and interpersonal interaction. The experience bleeds into the virtual world with a constantly changing space through a series of mobile platforms, for which a unique docking mechanism and track system was created. The story is loosely based on Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind and Andrei Bely's Petersburg.
In my roles as Assistant Creative Director and Technical Director, I was responsible for helping to shape the story and overall guest experience, looking carefully at what it means for a player to interact with the physical environment and shape his/her own story in the broader context of a pre-determined outcome, as well as leading a team of engineers and designers in developing innovative tracking technology to manage players within the space. I also developed a system for integrating 15'x15' mobile platforms with an innovative Jacob's-ladder-inspired docking mechanism. More info at: http://www.pseudonymproductions.org/
Inside this space, three types of people interact: the Actors, the Hearts, and the Minds.
The Actors are described as a video game’s non-player character, or a theater’s actors. They act out scenes, answer questions and progress the storyline for the audience. They are the living beings in our warehouse universe.
The Hearts are the players. The are essentially avatars within individualized games, or the lead characters in personalized stories. As the beginning, roles a distributed and the life of each character is detailed. It is then up to the Heart to dive in and explore the world. Each soul must search through the different rooms built within the space, converse with the Actors, and learn the truth about the life and the world around you, and then decide what to do with it.
The Minds are virtual players. They can sit anywhere in the world and log in to interact with the environment, thus playing a god-like role that allows them to affect the outcomes they see playing out before them. Each Mind is paired with a Heart. It is the job of the Mind to guide the Heart as a gamer guides an avatar. Minds are the eyes--they see a map of the universe and the goals of the mission. They have clues that the Hearts do not, and there are even some scenes with the Actors that only they get to see.
In my time at Penn, I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to perform in a wide variety of shows, ranging from children's theatre, to straight plays, to comedies and farces, to experimental theatre. All of these productions have no doubt helped shape my view of the theater and its necessary role in society, as well as my overall outlook on life.
As Shakespeare astutely observed: "All the world's a stage."