HTX Intern Stories: “I knew since my NS years that I wanted to work at HTX”

A chance encounter during his National Service years in 2020 made Brian Cheng set on getting an internship at HTX. Three years later, he made his dream come true when he joined our Robotics, Automation & Unmanned Systems (RAUS) Centre of Expertise (CoE).

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Brian Cheng (Photo: HTX)

A lot can change in three years, especially when you are in your late teenage years to your early twenties, but for National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Brian Cheng, his intention to join HTX as an intern had never wavered since he set his mind to do so back in 2019.

“During my National Service (NS) days, I was with the Singapore Police Force as a Ground Response Officer. Part of my job included conducting mobile patrols with the SPF’s fast-response cars. The challenge we faced then was the lack of storage space in the cars, which led to inconveniences for the officers to use our equipment while on duty,” Brian says.

My experiences during NS helped me realise that I wanted to work at HTX in the future to develop technology to help other Home Team officers. Once I got the chance to intern at HTX, I knew I had to take it.

Fortunately, HTX’s development of the Next-Generation Fast Response Car not only solved this issue, it also improved on existing capabilities and incorporated a built-in surveillance system to serve as another pair of tireless eyes on the ground.

“My experiences during NS helped me realise that I wanted to work at HTX in the future to develop technology to help other Home Team officers. Once I got the chance to intern at HTX, I knew I had to take it,” Brian says with conviction.

Burgeoning passions

Brian, who is completing his degree in Mechanical Engineering with a robotics specialisation, has had a passion for robotics since young. In primary school, he spent his time building Lego Mindstorms—robots made from Lego blocks and brought to life by code—so it was a natural progression for him to join the RoboMaster University League, an annual robotics competition where teams of aspiring engineers pit their robots against one another in a 3-versus-3 setting.

“My time at RoboMaster was memorable as I had the opportunity to create robot designs, experiment with 3D printing and machining processes, as well as test the features of the robot,” Brian fondly reminisces. Eager to give back and further explore his passion, Brian applied for an internship at HTX with the RAUS CoE.

Meaningful work

Brian and his fellow intern, Vasanth, proudly showing off all the things that they get to do as a HTX intern.

During his internship, Brian helped develop a tele-operated robotic arm that syncs up with a haptic feedback glove and an Advanced Intelligent Manipulation (AIM) system. When a Home Team officer dons the haptic feedback glove, they can “feel” whatever the robot is touching at the moment.

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According to Brian, it has been a dream, getting to work on making tele-operated robots like Wall-E a reality. (Photo: Brian Cheng)

According to Brian, the eventual goal is to create a full tele-operated humanoid avatar. Since no robot is complete without a head, Brian also designed and developed a tele-operated robotic head that tracks the user’s head movements.

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To control the robot, users put on a special headset. The user also gets to see everything from the robot’s point of view. (Video: Brian Cheng)

These pieces of tech are not just cool, they have practical applications that could save lives too, as the ease of operating them by just moving your head and wearing the haptic feedback gloves are a level up from current remote-controlled robots.

As Brian explains, “Such robots can be deployed in dangerous situations. For example, if a suspicious package that is suspected to be a bomb is left in a populated area, the robot can be sent to the scene in place of Home Team officers to be literally ‘on the ground’ without putting their lives at risk.”

Resolving challenges

While fruitful, Brian’s internship was nonetheless peppered with challenges.

“There’s this particularly funny one when I was working on the haptic feedback glove’s electronic circuits. The system just refused to work! After troubleshooting for days, and asking my colleagues for help, I then dismantled the device and found out that a malfunction was due to a sole faulty circuit wire. No one had expected that as the device was newly bought,” recalls Brian.

Other challenges, though, are far more complicated. Brian, who had done mostly mechanical work in his course of study at NUS found it difficult to work on electronic and robotic programming during his internship with RAUS. When he expressed his desire to be more versatile in electronics and programming, Brian’s supervisors helped pick out learning points from his assignments.

“My supervisors were resourceful, and I appreciate that they gave me advice and suggestions that didn’t restrict my creativity because then I was able to learn much more,” he says.

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Brian’s internship at RAUS was also made much more enjoyable by his fun and supportive colleagues and mentors in the CoE. (Photo: HTX)

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Brian and Vasanth’s send-off gifts include framed illustrated caricatures of themselves—apparently a rite of passage for RAUS interns. (Photo: Brian Cheng)

“I didn’t expect that I’d decide on the organisation where I want to do an internship during my NS years, so I’d like to tell others to embrace every learning opportunity that you get. As long as you keep an open mind and ask questions, you’ll be able to learn something new,” he shares.

Ready to discover your dream career? Apply for a HTX internship here! Applications close on 31 January 2024.

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