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Student Spotlight: Henry Zhao

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

‘Student Spotlight’ is a new concept that communications executive, Jena Yue, created for her weekly PA announcements. It highlights the talented students around Collingwood and their academic, artistic, and athletic achievements. Henry Zhao was selected as the first student spotlight from Jena’s Friday announcements, where she discussed Henry’s miraculous triumph for placing first at the 2021 Canada-Wide Science Fair. In a world of rapid technology development, Henry won this award with a 4-legged robot he built by himself that can crawl, walk, self-level, and navigate through terrain. I interviewed Henry to gather more information about his robot’s design, the process, and the ideas he generated before development.

Henry has been interested in the field of robotics ever since he was young. It started with different engineering and building kits that eventually translated into Lego technic. As he grew up, Henry attended numerous classes with friends where he advanced his interest in robots. Currently, Henry is an active member of the Collingwood Robotics club, having competed in multiple inside and outside of school competitions with his good friends.

As Henry continued to build several types of technological devices, he challenged himself to create something that he had never done before. Henry says he wanted to “build something that would be challenging, and a good entry for the science fair.” Henry settled on a walking robot, beginning the design and production. The big inspiration for the robot was Boston Dynamics’ robot dog, Spot. For those unaware of the robot world, like me, Boston Dynamics is a robotic company that engineers robots ‘that enrich people’s lives”. Spot is an agile, mobile robot that navigates terrain with unprecedented mobility, allowing you to automate routine inspection tasks and data capture safely, accurately, and frequently. Henry’s goal for the project was to make a robot as capable as Spot, costing much less than the whopping $74,000 of the robot. This was definitely not a one-person project, despite all the planning and preparation that Henry did by himself. Henry had a little bit of help from his mom, mainly during the testing of the robot, as it is nearly impossible to hole the robot and code at the same time.

Before Henry started to build the robot, which is rather large and bulky, he built a much smaller prototype beforehand. This process took around one month to design and then a couple of weeks to make the physical prototype. The programming and testing of the prototype took Henry another two months to complete. Unfortunately, Henry found that the motors were too weak for the robot to walk correctly, which caused him to start again from scratch with more robust motors. Trial two of the prototype took much less time, as the design was more straightforward, and he had already completed most of the coding. It took Henry only two weeks to design trial two and a little over a weekend to make all the parts and assemble the robot. This occurred in February of 2020. From then until the science fair, Henry programmed and tested the new robot and wrote the project report. He took a few months break after the science fair, and since then, he has been working away at his newest version of the robot ever since. There was very little physical prototyping for this robot, as everything had been in the server. Henry says that the software takes the longest to complete since there is always something to add or improve.

Multiple features made Henry’s robot stand out from the rest of his competitors. First, the robot had been designed to be relatively cheap and easy to produce. Next, the robot already had many uses in day-to-day life. Practical uses in current world scenarios for Henry’s robot would most commonly be for purposes that require robots or even for domestic purposes. Henry brought up an example that his robot could be deployed in a search and rescue situation without the high costs of current robots. With some further adjustments and modifications, these robots may traverse anywhere in a house and do domestic chores.

Regarding future career paths for Henry, he is interested in mechanical engineering, which is rather apparent. Henrys says that “engineering, in general, is my favorite thing. I would love to be able to do it as a career. It’s a bonus if I get to work on some cool robots too!” Finally, Henry would like to thank his parents for helping and guiding him throughout this project as they allowed all of it to happen. Henry closes off with “thanks, mom and dad!”

Below are some additional photos and videos of Henry’s fantastic robot. If you see Henry in the hallways, send a big congratulations his way!

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