Pandora's Box is an automated cocktail-pouring solution for the bar and restaurant industry. Myself and my business partner founded Pandora Robotics Inc. in July of 2020 after my roommate got fired from his bartending job due to Covid. After watching bars struggle with safety during the pandemic, we decided to invent a solution that would help bars pour drinks with little-to-no contact. Pandora's box is an elegant culmination of mechanical design, electrical engineering, and full stack development.
Having a background in both mechanical engineering and computer science was crucial for the development of this product. We have gone through 4 mechanical iterations and 3 software iterations. From CAD design, to part sourcing, to the creation of the tablet application, and now cloud deployment, this project has been a tremendous learning experience. Since wrapping up our 3rd prototype in April 2020, we have deployed the machine at a Boulder restaurant with an estimated monthly saving of around $1,500-$2,000 per month.
This is a continuous design effort and will require many grueling nights of product testing to get the product to the point I know it can be. This has also been an insightful experience from a business perspective for lean, startup-oriented development of a hardware product. I am excited to continue this work in my free time and continue on my personal innovation.
Hydroponics is a method of farming produce with no soil. The roots of plants are dangled into nutrient-rich water which is circulated through the farm and typically artificial light augments or replaces sunlight - which allows plants to be stacked vertically to save space. Hydroponics requires 1/10th the water of traditional farming, grows plants up to 200% faster, and is dramatically more space-efficient. My interest in hydroponic farming stems from our inability to feed the growing population of the world as well as the adverse effects of preservatives in the food industry.
My goal for this project was to create a hydroponics system that could be installed in homes. This requires a small system that produces a reasonable amount of plants and is attractive enough the customers would enjoy sharing their living space with the farm. To be space efficient I designed the system to be mounted to a wall and have plants stacked on top of one-another. Of course, this first design was just a prototype so it was built from PVC and a cooler that was in my closet. I do have plans to one day modularize the system and implement an aspect of automation to maintain nutrient levels and regulate pH without my intervention.
Our landlord's dismay aside, this project was a success and has led to a more sustainable eating style for myself and my roommate and I hope to one day continue work on this project to help others as well.
My first experience at Robotic Materials was inventing a gripping end-effector for robotic systems, and so when the opportunity presented itself to work with Festo to create a Nitinol gripper for my mechanical engineering senior design project I jumped at the opportunity. I was the technical project manager for this project, responsible for overseeing the mechanical, electrical, and software development efforts of the product in our team of 7.
The mechanical design consisted of in-depth Solidworks designs, structural FEA analysis, and motion studies. We went through multiple design reviews as well as a manufacturing review before machining all our aluminum parts in-house. The design needed to convert the tension and compression of the shape memory alloy (SMA) into mechanical force in order for the gripper to grasp. We designed a custom PCB to control the heating, and a fan to speed the cooling process to return the SMA to its resting state.
The electrical component of this project required a custom PCB that would regulate the heat of the SMA with extremely low latency. As the SMA wire was heated and cooled, the resistance would change - which introduced the complexity of maintaining a set current while the resistance fluctuated.
The software design was relatively simple. The PCB was controlled with an Arduino, so the software needed to take user input and relay the information to the Arduino for "open gripper", "close gripper", "set gripper width", as well as a couple other commands. The firmware read these commands over a serial interface and converted them into the appropriate analog outputs to the PCB.
This was a very rewarding project that has since been patented with Festo. Although I don't expect these grippers to go into production, I believe it was a step forward for the uses of shape memory alloys and I am interested to see what applications they will be applied to in the future.