Soft Robots & Summer Plans

Hello, this is Harrison here to finish my third and final gap year blog. Just one year ago I sat in this very seat and made the decision to commit to a gap year with the mission of improving myself as an engineer through real world experience. So far I am really happy with my progress.

Work is going well; my bosses are confident enough in my abilities that they gave me my own project. This brought significant changes to my work environment. Previously, I was part of a team, and now I work alone in a cubical. While I can certainly live in this environment, I much prefer the chaotic startup and collaborative environments that I had experienced previously. These experiences have given me a better idea of what it is like to do real world engineering and I feel that I can make an informed decision when it comes time to choose a future internship/job.  

My favorite part of the whole gap year has been my soft robotics projects. Recently I published a tutorial for my DIY cardboard molds on the Soft Robotics Toolkit.  I am continuing to work on making soft robotics easier for beginners. My newest molds are made out of ballpoint pens and take less than 2 minutes to make. The mold itself makes a simple extending actuator that can be used to make more complex robots such as this tentacle.

Tentacle holding a soda bottle

Unfortunately, life has been crazy busy so I have not yet had the time to make a video tutorial for this, but one is on the way. My current project is to make an ATSR or All Terrain Soft Robot. Currently I have some promising prototypes. However, realistically, I expect to be still working on it when I arrive at Olin in August.

First ATSR prototype

One of the most surprising things that I learned during my gap year is that after months of working on solo projects I found that I miss working with people. This surprised me because in the past I never thought of teamwork as a social practice. I have always done it simply because I do not possess Tony Stark levels of genius and benefit from collaborating with others. However, I am now more aware of the social aspect of being on a team. This new viewpoint will certainly be useful when trying to navigate Olin’s social environment.

Looking forward, I am focused on finishing my projects at work and my ATSR. Once work slows down, I plan to make a soft robotics YouTube channel that would feature my projects and “How To’s.” This would serve two purposes: first, it would be a good way to get more people interested in soft robotics, and second, the need to create content will pressure me into doing more projects than my carefree-enjoying-the-summer-self would normally be willing to do.

That being said, I am looking forward to the lazy days of summer, a family vacation, and being a first-year student at Olin in the fall.

Posted in: Gap Year Blogs