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RoboWeek Q&A: Ava's Emerging Engineers

A large part of #Roboweek (National Robotics Week) is about fueling and inspiring the next generation of roboticists, and STEM professionals. So we sat down with a couple of our young guns to hear their stories and what led them to tech and Ava. (Hint: There's a lot of legos)

Meet Ava's own Danny Klein and Noah Epstein.

Perhaps growing up around Boston has made the introduction to robotics and the robotics community a bit easier for our local protagonists, but, similar to medicine, art, writing, the cosmos--there is often a strong calling from an early age.

Legos were a way of life for Danny, and he, quite literally, used that childhood master-builder foundation to explore where it can take him.

So it all started with legos. How did that evolve as you got a bit older?

I was always building. I started to go to some lego camps when I was a kid, and kept at it through elementary school. In middle school, a friend's dad started up a lego robotics club, so I got into robotics really early on. The exposure to team work and learning how to form relationships as a young kid was just as important and fun as the actual building projects.

How did your experience in high school play out? Not as many legos, I assume...

Haha. Yeah, I transitioned out of legos and into more real-life builds and materials in high school. At CRLS (Cambridge Rindge and Latin School), there were two robotics clubs. I joined the Underwater Robotics Team, which offered new challenges around materials, and the fact that everything had to work under water. It was great, and I learned a ton--but I think in the future I might focus on dry-land to explore a wider variety of robots that are more focused on people.

Tell me about your time at Ava--another transition--and some of the things you've learned and experienced during your time as an intern.

At first when I was a high school intern, I took apart old robots and sorted parts, which didn't seem like much at first, but then I realized I was learning about the importance of each part. And later when the design changed and the products evolved, I would be able to see how it happened. I've also had the opportunity to work with Dennis and have him as a mentor as I started to do more active testing and building with the robots. It's been great, and I look forward to coming back this year.

At Ava, Danny has worked on several different rounds of hardware functional testing, software testing and updates and his latest stint helping the Ava UVC Disinfection Robot team in pre-launch testing. He is currently a student at Williams College.

The exposure to team work and learning how to form relationships as a young kid was just as important and fun as the actual building projects.

Noah was another kid who often found himself in the lego building center at school. He also joined the high school robotics team at CRLS, where he became interested in the coding side of robotics.

You started on the building side, and then changed over to coding. What did you learn from that process?

By the end of high school/beginning of college, I made that transition and took CS classes. I appreciate coding for robotics because there has to be more awareness around consequences and what can happen in physical situations. It isn't just throwing code out there. The code has to account for real-world challenges.

How did you make your way to Ava?

Through the Cambridge tech community. Even in high school, we had a lot of mentors from a lot of local companies. The spring after my sophomore year of college, I emailed Marcio about an internship, and shortly after, went to the Ava office to check it out. I am really glad I got a lot of time in the office and with the engineering team before Covid hit.

I like how I was able to very quickly make a difference in the product. Sometimes interns are babied and given small projects that don't connect with the rest of the team. But at Ava, I have worked with just about everyone on the product side and have learned a lot about coding best practices and active development, while actually working on the product.

It isn't just throwing code out there. The code has to account for real-world challenges.

If you could give some advice to young kids who enjoy building or have interest in robots, what would you tell them?

I say go for it. The tools are out there to keep doing what you enjoy. I would also encourage girls to push back on any gender barriers--every tech environment I've been in, there have been strong, impressive women, and it's great. There will be opportunities.

Noah is currently studying Computer Science, as well as Earth and Planetary Sciences, at Harvard. He continues to make valuable contributions to the new Ava UV Disinfection Robot, emphasizing safety features and has also worked on Cisco integrations for the Ava Telepresence Robot.

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