In this new blog series we celebrate the most STEM-azing minds of the future, who are tomorrow’s visionaries of technology. Get to know these young minds up close and personal, as they share their dreams and what it takes to follow their passion and pursue their vision.
Meet Daman Yang, a 17-year-old from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA, who has been dreaming of being a roboticist as early as he was 10. Let’s take a sneak peek of his journey so far as he walks us through what got him hooked into robotics.
April 30th, 2008, was the day when my eyes opened to the world of engineering. My dad took me to see Iron Man the day it hit theatres in Taiwan, and for the first time, I had a superhero within my realm of possibility. I had previously admired Spider-Man with his acrobatics and web-slinging, but I wasn't sure where to acquire radioactive spiders and I didn't know if they would be willing to bite me in the first place.
However, Tony Stark was a mere mortal, and his powers came from a real, tangible place: electrical and mechanical engineering, a hands-on approach, and an attitude of determination, conveniently backed by a multi-billion dollar fortune.
““Among the numerous disciplines of engineering, I love robotics the most because it brings together myriad skills. Critical thinking, design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and programming are all vital to being a roboticist, and I am eager to learn all there is to know in these fields.””
Others, such as Simone Giertz, William Osman, and the people at Boston Robotics, show me that robotics can be a lot of fun. Their videos of the frustrating but hilarious process of prototyping that leads to an amazing final result are inspiring and motivating me to create.
Prototyping is a process that I’ve come to love. Although the design may not work at first, troubleshooting and then solving those problems by building a better prototype will eventually lead to a working model and a feeling of immense gratification. Each new prototype, each new identified problem, and each new solution urges me onwards to create something better.
A facet of robotics that I particularly enjoy is automation, and how robots are able to create on their own. It has always fascinated me, as evidenced by hundreds of hours I’ve logged on Factorio. I believe that robots are the next step in making our lives easier. While robots are good at high-accuracy and repetitive tasks, humans have the ability to design and innovate.
What’s even cooler is that some AI systems are able to create designs that are completely revolutionary through machine learning. Through more work, I think that humans and robots can be working together side by side to further innovate, solve the world’s problems, and make it a better place.
“"My love for robotics and hope for the future is my incentive to learn as much as I can to become a roboticist."”
To take the first step in learning more about engineering and building robots, I joined a local FTC (First Tech Challenge) team in the summer of 2015, just before I went to study abroad in the States. I loved it at first sight, so I then joined the VEX robotics team at my school.
At the USA Science and Engineering Festival, Washington, DC, held in April 2018, I met Gurpawan Mand, the founder of Mand Labs. He was very enthusiastic in showing me the different devices he had made with the Mand Labs KIT-1. It made me realize that all the fancy gadgets used in everyday life consist of simple electrical components. It took away the hesitation of approaching electronics significantly, and made me want to delve deeper into learning about them as well as making my own.
Since my school doesn't offer much in the way of electrical engineering, I decided to purchase a Raspberry Pi, some wires, switches, LEDs, and a small breadboard online. I learned Java from my Advance Computer Science class, so Python wasn't particularly difficult to pick up. Since I purchased these components, many afternoons have been whiled away crouching over the parts and building simple circuits.
I then moved onto slightly more complicated (but still quite rudimentary) projects, such as building my own Twitter bot. It doesn't do much, other than send a tweet when I push the big blue button on my desk, but I treasure it nonetheless. I later decided that soldering would be a useful skill, so I bought a cheap soldering kit. These humble components would provide me with hours of entertainment and acquiring new skills. Through some sparks and a near-miss with my dorm’s fire alarm, I've learned a lot in a relatively short amount of time.
“I love robotics. I love the thrill of prototyping, the joys of wiring electrical circuits, the delight in programming, and the satisfaction of the final product. I have a great deal more learning ahead of me before I become a roboticist, but I think that electronics is definitely the right first step.”
Learning about electronics strips away the complexity surrounding machines and how they work, and I am able to think through the proper steps to create a working robot much more easily. Undoubtedly, there will be challenges on the road going forth, and I am eager to take them head-on. Electrical and mechanical engineering, a hands-on approach, and an attitude of determination. Billion dollar fortunes naturally follow.