Harvard-HKUST Summer International Engineering Design Experience 2015: Student Sharing

Mayank KUMAR (BEng in Mechanical Engineering)

Mayank KUMAR (BEng in Mechanical Engineering)

On 6th of June 2015, only a few days after the hectic exam week was over, we boarded a flight to Boston. I had little-to-no idea of what I was going to learn over the course of the coming 10 weeks. I was sure of gaining a lot of technical and professional skills, but I had no clue that my attitude towards life and life problems were going to change in the coming period of time. Now, when I look back at the amazing experience I had in summer, I have a lot to share with others. There were a lot of technical skills, like CAD drawings, android programming, taking surveys, etc., that we learnt. We also visited lot of places like the space museum in New York, and baseball match in Boston that taught us a lot about American culture and cutting-edge technology. However, I am more excited to share what I learnt about designing a concept and solving a real-life problem.

There were 3 main takeaways for me from the Summer Design experience:

  1. There is no such thing as failure in design: you either win the game or you learn from it. 

    When we started to work on the project, I was overwhelmed with the amount of work we had to do. I was afraid, doubting my own ability. However, the fear soon changed into confidence, when Ms. Evelyn and other teaching staff guided us through the journey and embraced our mistakes and shortcomings. They made our mistakes look like our strength, and we started learning from our own mistakes. This not only made us self-confident, it also made us self-reliant and decisive. Now, we could take decisions on our own, without being afraid of making the wrong decisions. 
  2. A real-life problem is multidisciplinary- one needs to have a little knowledge of all the fields to understand the problem and delegate it to the one who is the best at it. Also, one has to have a diverse team to solve such problems. 

    Before this project began, most of my course projects were based on the knowledge we acquired during the course. This however, does not reflect most of the real life problems, which are multi-disciplinary and require knowledge from a wide field of areas. Sometimes, it is not possible for a person to know all of them. So team work is equally important. This summer design project not only taught me this lesson, it also gave me a chance to work in team with different people from diverse cultural and educational background. Working with people from different nationality, and different fields of study, I learnt more from them than them from me. 
  3. It is important not to learn a lot of things, but instead to learn ‘How to learn quickly and effectively’.

    In a usual group dinner with our supervisor, Ms. Evelyn, I asked her why Universities like Harvard give more general education than specialized education pertaining to various majors. She told me ‘it is more important to learn how to learn.’ As the world is ever-changing, the skills we learn today may be obsolete tomorrow, but if we know how to learn new skills quickly and effectively, we will adapt to the changing technological needs. Over the two months that I worked on the project, I realized how true it was. While I did well in all the courses I took of my major in the last two years at university, I still found the design problem we got challenging, as there was no such thing which I could have directly applied from any of my courses. I learnt how we need to keep learning every time we get a problem to solve, as the nature of the problem could be very diverse and wide-ranged. 

These lessons that I learnt during my summer design experience really helped me shape my own attitude towards myself, my career and my work. In addition to these lessons, I am never going to forget all the fun that I had and the friends I made during the project. I also want to take this opportunity to thank our supervisors, other staffs and everyone who believed on us, guided us through the journey and helped us experience the best summer of our lives! 

TSANG Kam-Fai Elvis (BEng in Mechanical Engineering)

TSANG Kam-Fai Elvis (BEng in Mechanical Engineering)

When I first applied for this program, I was so excited about all the great opportunities for learning state-of-the-art technologies, knowledge from different disciplines, meeting new and smart friends, exploring in foreign country and cultures, and so on, even though I did not have an optimistic mind for the chance that I could get the place. I was too excited that I even could not sleep when I got the acceptance confirmation on the same day I went to the interview. But anyway, I made it, and the program that literally changed my life begans.

We spent a month in Harvard and the other month in Hong Kong for this program. The initial theme was only set to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and we did a lot of brainstorming and ideations in Harvard about what should be our focus for the project. This is the first time I feel so passionate about it as there was a lot of intense discussions and even debates, but everything was still so logical and reasonable which gave a lot of ideas exchange. I believe this is one of the best ways to learn from others – by discussions. Everyone will have different mindsets and tendencies, hence making different decisions, but everyone could be right or wrong. It was therefore an extraordinary chance for us to learn to think differently.

Right after returning to Hong Kong, we thought we had already built a nice prototype for the mobile application and the UAV, which will be used for a mobile-controlled autonomous delivery system from our decisions. Yet, even though there has been already a month and we thought we were so clear about the whole project plan and expectations, there was a few times that we almost did everything from scratch, be it the application or the drone. It turned out it did not work quite well as we expected, although the design was alright. It could be frustrating and even devastating sometimes, but the persistence that drove us working made it happen. Even in the last two weeks, we realized we could not finish every cool detail in our initial plans, and we probably needed to have some tradeoffs to give up some of the features and details, even our supervisors suggested us so. The persistence we had was always motivating us to find a solution, to tackle any problem we encountered.

There is one more important thing from this program that has been inspiring me a lot since the very first day in Harvard, which is how passion can change everything. At first, we basically knew nothing or only the very basics regarding the UAV project, but as time went by, we managed to start mastering the skills and knowledge in it. This can be attributed to one paramount reason – passion. We were sufficiently passionate about this UAV, about the project, about the team, which made us highly motivated to work and learn effectively and efficiently. I had no idea it could matter that much because usually I would need much more time to learn a completely new skill. For example, as mechanical engineering students with little programming skills, I surprisingly managed to learn how to write a fully functional mobile application with connection to the computer and the drone with two other amazing partners, while also working on part of the mechanical sub-system. This might sound trivial to some of the programming masters, but for me, I was impressed by how being passionate could make it happened so effectively, and this is only one of the many examples, even for those that only happened on me. Working with a group of people full of passion could definitely influence you a lot, regardless of whether you were or were not so at first.

If you asked me which one of these two I treasured the most that lead to our success, I would say both are of equally paramount significance. Without any of them, it would make everything so much harder and boring. It is both of these that we could make all the impossible become possible.

Nevertheless, the most important and best part above all, is really the fun we all had during this excellent program, regardless of working, sightseeing, playing, or any other activities during this time. In the summer, we visited a lot of beautiful and interesting places in Cambridge, Boston, Hong Kong, and even Macau, trying different cuisines in different cities, playing around the whole city, and most importantly, with a group of extraordinary people, that is, our design team. This is literally the top reward I got from this program, not the technical knowledge, not the visiting, not the foods, but this. This team is perfect for all kinds of activities together, and we are already much closer than normal friends, even though we have only met for 2 months. Because of this reason, this summer has become my best summer I have ever had in my entire life, so far at least.

WEN Ruilin Gary (BEng in Computer Engineering)

All that happened this summer was really out of my expectations. The four of us from UST were lucky to have a chance to go to the US and spend our time there with the other four Harvard students on research. The whole program lasted for two months, one month in Boston and the other in Hong Kong.

Before the trip we already had an idea that our research topic was going to be focused on one of the nowadays most popular topics --- quadrotors. Though I have be imagining the scene in which everyone worked on their tasks given by our mentor professor for quite a while, what actually happened was completely the opposite. We, the “Harvard-HKUST Research Group”, consisting of plain sophomore students, were the ones who decided our research topic and every single detail of the project. Our mentor professors, instead, played the role as our guide and audience throughout the entire process.

The coolest thing about this program was that we had the opportunity to form a design team and go through the entire process of product development. From brainstorming to market positioning, including prototyping, design reviewing and redesigning, we were able to make our own decisions on every little step in the project, which altogether led to our final product --- a mobile controlled local delivery drone. It was designed to deliver small amounts of goods within a distance of 2 miles in a fast and accurate manner. Being able to start nearly everything from scratch and watch it build up gradually was indeed an unforgettable experience.

Apart from work, cultural exploration was also one of the key things to mention. From Finnway park in Boston to Lantau island in Hong Kong, we enjoyed most of the prominent features in the two places. It was fun to let myself be exposed to an entirely different culture, where people differentiate work from play so clearly, and all of a sudden coming back to the place where I'm from, excitedly trying to introduce my own culture to people as much as I can. During this period, I was never stopped from being surprised, of how different we are from the Harvard students, and how many similarities we share in common. It was wonderful.

To sum up, this summer was one of the greatest ones I've ever had. It is definitely worth trying compared to doing an internship, I would say.

LIU Yixing Eva (BEng in Computer Engineering)

LIU Yixing Eva (BEng in Computer Engineering)

I feel very fortunate for myself to have the opportunity to be a part of the Harvard-HKUST Summer Exchange Program. We have four students from Harvard and four students from HKUST working together as a team. We started our project in Harvard and finished it in Hong Kong. It was a great journey and this special engineering experience helped me become a better software engineer.

The work atmosphere was very encouraging. We learnt from each other and moved on together. We solved problems and built up the project. We debugged and improved our drone. Besides working, we travelled together and had a lot of memorable moments. We were teammates and our friendships outlive this research program.

At the very beginning, we were given a topic of quad-rotor and we had to come up with some novel drone applications. None of us had been an expert in this domain before this program and we had to start from zero. During brainstorming, we had a bunch of brave ideas such as party drone, dodging drone, photographer drone. Next, we discussed the feasibility of each idea and voted our favorite plan. Eventually the delivery drone won: we had decided on a Mobile Controlled Drone Delivery System.

Our mentors held several design workshops for us and gave feedback during weekly review sessions. Regular review was extremely useful in the development of a novel product. Since there was a time limit, we had to learn techniques to deal with the complexity of the development process. We gained engineering knowledge and also picked up some presentation skills.

We learned a lot from the process and gave a successful demonstration at the convocation day. The Android application worked fine on Android phones and tablets. The drone flew to the pre-set point, dropped a bag containing egg tarts and returned to the home point automatically. After this program, we published our project software on Github and shared our resources with future developers.

Harvard-HKUST Summer Exchange Program is so great that I definitely encourage our young engineers to take advantage of this opportunity. This is a knowledge acquisition, problem solving, and rationale management process. We all grow up to be better engineers.

At the end, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Prof Ling Shi, Prof Evelyn Hu, Prof Kei May Lau, Bing Li, Xuan, Chris, Avi, Daniela, Patricia and Sarah. Thanks for the advice, guidance, cross-time-zone Skype reviews and financial support.

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