Mitch Fogelson (E '17) is a Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics major, but he is most notorious for his pick up lines. His favorite go–to is, “You remind me of an angle, a very acute angle.” Shockingly, it hardly ever works. “When I hear myself say it, I am like yeah, I would date me," he said. "Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to find someone who appreciates them as much as I do.”

Mitch spent this past summer working at iRobot in their Research and Development department, and managed to scrape up some abandoned parts in his free time to make roombas (for you non–techies, a “roomba” is an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner). "While I was waiting for stuff to happen, I would go to the trash bin and fish out pieces of broken robots and repair them,” he said. “Basically, when the manufacturer minorly fucks up and makes a ton of products ever so slightly unsellable, it is absolute gold for me.”

But working in R&D isn’t all sunshine and scientific breakthroughs. “I expected it to be glamorous,” said Mitch. “You know, roombas with lazer eyes, flying roombas. Nope. Next Generation Cleaning, which basically means designing a bin to increase debris separation so people don’t have to change their filters as frequently. We would design a bin, print it out and I would sit there for hours sticking different size particulates (i.e. contentious Cheerios) into the bin.”

Mitch has worked at the Kodlab, a grasp lab here at Penn, since the second semester of his freshman year and for two summers. Initially, his responsibilities entailed designing mounts as well as attaching sensors, cameras and other instruments of measurement onto the robots. “It was tolling emotionally not leaving school for two and a half straight years. Freshman year was the best summer of my life. I was living in a TEP off–campus house, I had to do work for eight hours and then I would come home, get high and watch TV. It was great. Then it got kind of old.”

At Kodlab, Mitch worked on hex robots—six–legged robotic hexapods made of fiberglass with a carbon fiber shell. “I was the composite guy. Every day I would go to the basement and then test it. After that summer, I wanted to do more with the robots than just working with the basics of putting together the materials. Also, fiberglass and carbon fiber are highly carcinogenic and bad for you to be around all the time. So that’s three years of my life I’ll never get back.”

Despite his sardonic sense of humor, Mitch is enthralled with his work. Professor Dan Koditschek oversees Kodlab, which is run primarily by PhD students. Mitch serves as an undergraduate research assistant for PhD student Avik De. “He works on really cool, dynamic robots,” said Mitch. For the last two and a half years, they have been working on a one–legged, jumping robot. “It’s like the Pixar lamp," he said. "But not a lamp.”

There are many obstacles in these projects. “There are always more issues than we expected,” said Mitch. “The squad working on a project grows and shrinks depending on how emotional people get from the terrible taste of failure.”

But Mitch isn’t easily discouraged—he takes on challenges with tenacity and humor. “At the end of the day I just laugh at it and accept that this is the life I’ve chosen. Robots are kind of the worst. They are hard to make and 99 percent of the time they won’t work. Yesterday we were doing stuff [for the senior design project]. It took us three hours to set up to test the robot. By the third test the robot self–destructed and fell on its face. (Ed. note: I can identify with this.) Then we had to recharge the battery. By then it was 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night.”

Breakthroughs in the field are rare. “While working on the Delta Hopper robot, we finally got it to work on a trial run last summer,” said Mitch. “I got so excited, I accidentally kicked it and broke it.”

Mitch also works a second job as a mechanical engineering consultant for COSY. “It helps me with beer money,” he shrugs.

Mitch is open to being called a geek. “I mean, deep down inside I am a super sceney person. Just kidding. My entire life is pretty geeky. I think it is compliment because it shows you’re passionate and excited about something. It’s like fuck yeah, I’ve been doing something right.”


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