Published: Jan. 31, 2022 By ,

Betz and Browne
David Betz and Abby Browne

David Betz and Abby Browne are undergraduates in Mechanical Engineering. They interned with CleanRobotics during summer 2021. 

Abby, can you tell us a little bit about the company where you interned?

Abby Browne: CleanRobotics is a robotics company that has designed a flagship product called the TrashBot. A significant issue with the recycling process is that it is difficult for people to remember the many confusing rules surrounding recycling. This causes people to incorrectly deposit landfill material into recycling bins, potentially contaminating properly recycled material. The TrashBot detects and sorts recyclables from landfill materials using a combination of robotics, artificial intelligence and computer vision. Cloud connectivity allows units to learn from each other and become more intelligent over time and data from the sensors can be sent to a dashboard that allows the client to easily monitor bin fullness and run waste audits.

David, what was your role as an interns with CleanRobotics?

David Betz: Our primary role as Mechanical Engineering Interns was to improve the design of the newest model of the CleanRobotics TrashBot ZeroTM. That involved addressing common failure points of the existing product and redesigning the systems to make them more robust. We also worked to improve the manufacturability of the TrashBot ZeroTM by redesigning parts that are difficult to fabricate and providing full step-by-step documentation of the manufacturing process.

In addition to this main project, we helped develop the next generation TrashBotTM from the ground up. The redesign of the TrashBot ZeroTM gave us experience with formal design reviews. It also provided an opportunity to combine creativity with the mechanical engineering tools that we’d learned in school and throughout the rest of the internship.

David, what skills did you learn that will help you succeed as a mechanical engineer?

David Betz: For the current TrashBot model, all of the design projects that I worked on focused primarily on design for manufacture and included cost analysis. I was also tasked with solving specific problems involving sustainability, including designing a reusable chamber liner made from recyclable plastic. 

The new TrashBot model project gave me a good introduction to product design. I was able to create a new product by using what I had learned from working on the existing TrashBot models. Additionally, redesigning the door mechanism for this project introduced me to robotic system design, primarily through the use of linear actuation mechanisms. The fabrication of TrashBot units made me more comfortable using power tools such as angle grinders, bench-top grinders, impact and hammer drills, rivet guns, and sheet metal finishing tools.

Abby, what are your biggest takeaways from the summer and what advice would you have for a student starting their first internship?

Abby Browne: I think it was very helpful that we had to build the robot from start to finish. That gave me the foundational knowledge I needed to take on the special design projects and come up with useful solutions. I also appreciated the design projects that we worked on. Though they were intimidating at first, I got used to the process as time went on and grew to enjoy the challenges they presented. I found it very helpful when my supervisor gave me topics to research that would help me with the next day’s tasks. Going into projects with background information allowed me to perform more efficiently and do better work. 

Reflecting back on the summer, the most rewarding part of my internship experience was the confidence and direction I have gained as an engineer. I came into the internship with very little confidence in my abilities. However, as I worked through the internship, I learned so many things that gave me confidence for Senior Design and beyond. I want to tell next year’s students that this is a great learning experience no matter what level you come in at - as long as you are willing to learn.

This experience was part of the Department of Mechanical Engineering's Summer Internship-for-Credit Program, where students work for partner companies in the start-up, small business and non-profit worlds. Learn about the student application process for 2022 and how to become a partner company through the link above.

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