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Polygence Mentor Hebert Helps Student Clear Snow from His Driveway!

4 minute read

Outdoor snow, trees and house

As automated vehicles start to dominate the automobile industry, researchers are increasingly faced with pressure to ensure that there exists a high level of trust between humans and AI. It is this topic that Hebert, an engineering and robotics Polygence mentor, has been pursuing. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and robotics at Brazil’s Military Institute of Engineering, where he researches robotics, cybernetics, and human-robot interactions, with a focus on the trust between drivers and automated vehicles.

Hebert sees mentoring and teaching as a two-way street. He thinks that little kids usually tend to be creative and imaginative regardless of any limitations in their way, while adults tend to have a narrower and more restrictive field of view when it comes to ideation. According to Hebert, limiting thoughts and ideas to reality is the biggest obstacle that engineers usually face, and instead, the way kids think is probably the right way of pursuing big problems in the initial brainstorming stages. Hebert also says that he benefits a lot from mentoring since it is “the best way to learn and keep your knowledge updated.” Mentors can sometimes face new problems that they have never experienced before, and Hebert thinks that moments like these are of value for both mentees and mentors.

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Hebert’s own dreams have recently taken him 4,537 miles south from the US to Brazil, where he is slowly getting comfortable with his new work routine. Moving from freezing Michigan to tropical Brazil is a big jump. So, to help himself acclimate to the new environment, Hebert sunbathes on Copacabana Beach and plays music with his friends at least once a week.

Hebert has had only me as a mentee with Polygence so far, and I honestly wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to be my mentor throughout this journey. Together, Hebert and I worked on building a device called AutoMelter—a device that melts the snow from driveways as soon as it touches the ground. It can even be scaled up to melt snow off roads as well, eliminating the need for salt trucks. This device is in fact as time-efficient as a heated driveway and as inexpensive as a snow shovel. A challenge Hebert faced during our mentorship was teaching me how to operate hardware over Zoom since I didn’t have much experience using circuits, breadboards, or any electrical components for that matter. It was sometimes difficult for him to explain where specific wires and pins were over a computer screen. To combat this problem, he bought all the electrical components that I had and made videos, explaining how to get through every step, why every step was important, and what would happen if we tried to skip that step. With hardware in hand, it was a lot easier for him to explain it and for me to understand. Hebert was not required to get these components and he could have just sent me Youtube videos of other people doing it, however, he went the extra mile and wanted to give me personalized videos specific to my project using the components he bought. By not just getting supplies and hardware, but also recording himself using them, he ensured that I had a clear understanding of the entire system and how everything works.

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Sitting girl reading a book in the field

Hebert firmly believes that Polygence is a great experience for both mentees and mentors. It is helpful to students looking to get initiated into research early on and helpful for mentors seeking to develop their teaching skills. He thinks that the best approach for mentors is to “let the students’ imagination bloom and have fun!” Hebert also explains that when a mentor does that well, the outcome is immensely satisfying for all parties, and he recalls one of our most satisfying moments: after six unsuccessful attempts of setting up the electrical components of the system, I screamed, “wow! Oh my God! It’s finally working, Hebert. I can’t believe my eyes!”

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