This article was originally published on the SFU news on October 6, 2015.
If your career aspirations align with those of your childhood hero, you’re probably on course for a fulfilling career.
Spellbound by the high-tech suit worn by armoured superhero Iron Man, Sheldan Manansala had starry ambitions to create a similar exoskeleton device.
But what might have remained a childhood pipe dream turned into reality for Manansala, a mechatronic systems engineering student who selected his co-op work-term placements with that goal top of mind.
First, he explored biomechanics—the mechanics of the living body—creating surrogate spinal cords in an SFU research lab. He then learned about the mechanisms of complex machinery, optimizing the efficiency of high-tech assembly lines with Alpha Technologies.
But his ambitions really took an Iron Man twist when he landed his next co-op role with pioneering electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors in Fremont, CA.
“It was my golden ticket," he says of his placement at Tesla, whose founder Elon Musk is said to have inspired the movie character Tony Stark, the fictional inventor of Iron Man.
In this high-octane position as a quality engineer, Manansala was responsible for ensuring that critical battery components met precise specifications according to computer-generated 3D models.
Tesla’s state-of-the-art facility—replete with cutting-edge robots manufacturing zero-emission vehicles—was fuel to the flame for Manansala’s Iron Man-inspired ambitions, including the drive to harness technology as a force for good.
“Working at Tesla is so inspiring,” he says. “It’s advancing humankind and working with a good reason; not just to make money, but to make the planet a better place by exploring renewable energy options.”
Back at SFU, Manansala successfully turned science fiction into fact, creating the technology of his dreams for a capstone team project: a lower-body exoskeleton prototype that increased hip motion range, a limitation of current exoskeleton technologies.
“I believe that exoskeleton devices will contribute to overcoming the limitations of the human body,” he says.
While SFU researchers continue working with SOC Robotics on the prototype developed by Manansala and his team, he is back at work at Tesla to gain further industry experience before embarking on postgraduate studies.