Meet Kent Meiswinkel
Most little boys (and girls) have big dreams. And their dreams change over time, from being a policeman or a fireman or, maybe, to being a doctor or a football player. But not Kent Meiswinkel! He always wanted to be a scientist or an inventor! And as a doctoral candidate in Mechanical Engineering, this NC State graduate student is fully realizing his dreams!
Raised in Elmira, NY, Meiswinkel says that he always loved science fiction and robots. He ". . . can remember playing with Legos®, even empty boxes, pretending they were robots." He also recalls thinking that a local watch repairman -- actually Tommy Hilfiger's father! -- was a wizard when he worked on the small, intricate gears in the watches. But, at the time, Meiswinkel's dreams were still out of reach.
And his path to NC State's Mechanical Engineering program and the Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines wasn't a direct route. He remarks, however, ". . .there's something decadently cool about getting to a place where I have an advisor, Dr. Eddie Grant, who's sounds a lot like 'Scotty' from STAR TREK!"
As an adult, he relocated to North Carolina -- and discovered that he not only loved the state, but he loved NC State as well. Since 1998, Meiswinkel has been part of the university community in some capacity, either as a student or as an employee. He says that the university has given him a 'sense of home'.
So, what would be more natural than for him to pursue his dreams at NC State? As an undergraduate, Meiswinkel trained in science and engineering. But he never lost his passion for the mechanisms -- and the robots continued to beckon. His master's degree from NC State's Integrated Manufacturing Systems Engineering Institute helped him to hone his skills in prototyping, manufacturing, computer networking, and design.
At almost 43 years old, Meiswinkel is an older student, but claims that although he has been subject to aging, he has been 'unscathed by maturity.' However, with age also comes wisdom, and he has more practical visions for his robotic creations:
"I believe that among the solutions for persons living with disabilities are opportunities for roboticists. I think amputees will have better restorations of abilities from the mechanisms we develop. I believe that the loss of independence that is associated with age or infirmity can be significantly mitigated with the advent of robots in the home. Robots will eventually become as commonplace a consumer commodity as the personal computer has. I have believed that since I was a boy."
Meiswinkel is still a tinkerer, though! He says that he thinks about machines all the time and loves the look and workings of mechanisms. He is employed at iRobot's Maritime Division in Durham, but he also has a small prototyping lab at home that he claims has ". . enough materials that a more hip guy would have put into an awesome car!" Meiswinkel also loves drawing, working in CAD, and "fabricating little machines" -- building clocks, robots, and things that he wants or needs. His philosophy is that ". . .imagination is the mind's provocation to do something. Inventing without building is just dreaming. But, if you make something great, you can change the world."
Although Meiswinkel's journey through life has been winding, he has no regrets! He loves telling stories and jokes. And he especially loves his new wife (who's an opera singer!) and all the "wonderful people I have as friends."
And he sums up his life best: "I can honestly say that my days are filled with the trappings of all that I fantasized about as a boy: Robots, Lasers, computers… wonders! Not many people can say this about their adulthood."
To explore Meiswinkel's mechanical world, see www.ncsu.edu/project/homefab/
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