DisclaimerI've gone back and forth about whether I should write this blog post or not. I know these are difficult economic times and that people are lucky to have any job at all, especially one that allows them to support a family. I'd like to add a disclaimer that it's not my intent to come off as being conceited. I just want to use this blog as a forum to express how supremely blessed I feel to have this job.
When people ask what I do, I usually tell them that I have the coolest job in the world. Most people give me a smile that seems to say, "uh huh, sure you do." To which I respond, "no really, I do." I work for a company that is basically building an Iron Man suit for people who are paralyzed to help them stand up and walk.
I work for Ekso Bionics. Even if I don't have the undisputedly coolest job in the world, I can probably say this is about as close to my dream job as I can imagine. The company started as a research project at UC Berkeley. Their first product was the HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) a robotic exoskeleton that allows soldiers to carry more weight safely. This is a big deal. If I remember the statistic correctly, more than half of all injuries to infantry soldiers are some sort of lower back injuries that are probably a result of the weight they carry.
The product I've been most closely involved with lately is Ekso. This is a robotic exoskeleton (think Iron Man suit) that lets people who are paralyzed put it on, stand up, and walk around. As a mechanical engineer, I get to help with the design of pretty much every component that isn't a circuit board. I don't want to overstate my importance. There are many people who work on it. I'm one of six different mechanical engineers and we also have electrical engineers, software engineers and manufacturing engineers. It's still really cool to see a design I've come up with appear on a device as awesome as this.
When people would ask why I decided to do engineering, I would often mention that not only do I like figuring out how things work and how to solve problems, but that I also wanted to make a difference in the world. As cheesy as it sounds, I wanted to tackle the big problems that are facing the world. With this company, I feel like I get to do that.
Now don't get me wrong. There are plenty of long, frustrating problems. There are certain aspects of the job that I wish I didn't have to deal with. The job isn't perfect, but it's close enough for now.
Here are some videos of our device in action:
Here is a video showing some upgrades we made to the device. I was in charge of designing the little control pad that attaches to the crutches or walker and allows the user to control their steps.
And for those of you who are interested, Nova Science Now will have an episode that includes a piece about our company. It airs Wednesday night on PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/what-future-be-like.html