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Fords in Four: Mohid Khan ’17

In Fords in Four, we ask a Haverford School alumnus four questions about his time at the School and about his life beyond. This month, we spoke to Mohid Khan ’17, Autonomy Engineer—Integration at Motional and Co-Managing Director at Satya Nutrition. Khan is a roboticist with an ambition to commercialize bleeding-edge robotic technologies that ultimately augment the human experience. After successes on The Haverford School's Vex Robotics team, he pursued a formal education in robotics, earning a BS in mechanical engineering (honors distinction) and an MSE in robotics from Johns Hopkins University. His senior capstone in mechanical engineering—a fully autonomous pontoon boat—was awarded "best capstone" by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). He also developed a haptic-robot interface with a virtual reality game to rehabilitate hand dexterity in stroke patients. Currently, he is focused on the autonomous driving problem at Motional while leading the non-profit Satya Nutrition's efforts to develop novel treatments to severe acute malnutrition. 

What are some of your favorite memories from your time at The Haverford School? 

Haverford was full of fantastic memories. I remember being excited to go to school every single day, as something eventful was bound to occur. Much of the mischief occurred during our free period on the second floor "street" or in the library; we weren't really the quietest bunch back then. Another core memory has to be our senior prank. Those are some of my most cherished memories. And finally, robotics. My teammates and I forged life-long friendships working in the lab into the late nights and early morning, conquering PA states, and achieving significant success at the World Championships. To be honest, achieving fifth place at the Vex Robotics championship is still probably the thing I'm most proud of in my professional career: it was the achievement that taught me, if I work hard with sincerity, I can do anything. 

What problems are you most interested in solving, and why?

My master's thesis was the project that solidified my interest in the field of human-robot interaction. I learned how to build a system that was designed to work with people, rather than teaching people to work with the machine. I want to spend my career as a roboticist building intelligent machines that ultimately improve the human experience in a seamlessly integrated manner and brings about genuine societal benefit.

Since earning my master's degree, I've been leading a non-profit organization building therapeutic foods for malnourished South Asian children. When I traveled to Pakistan as a child, poverty and malnutrition were unfortunately evident. Part of me always felt guilty enjoying the comforts of first-world living while I saw first-hand how others suffered. When I got to college, I finally had an opportunity to make a tangible difference through my non-profit organization. In the past four years, we've built multiple iterations of products and even tested one in an official government lab in Pakistan. Right now, we're partnering with Aga Khan University, the top medical school in Pakistan, to run a clinical trial. 

What inspires your passion for your work?

My faith and my parents. In my faith, Islam, we believe in a concept called "Sadaqah Jariyah," which roughly translates to perpetual "good" impact upon society. I strive to work on projects that will have perpetual benefit towards society long after I pass away—this fuels me to solve hard, technical problems, like autonomous vehicles, with large scale societal impact. My parents also inspire my passion for work. Coming from Pakistan, they both worked very hard to provide me the best education available, at The Haverford School. It is my ambition to push myself to my limit such that their investment in me provides a good return. Finally, I genuinely just enjoy solving hard problems! 

What do you hope for in the future of robotics?

I really believe robotics can be used for the benefit of humanity, particularly in terms of solving logistic changes and replacing risky jobs. In terms of logistic challenges, consider food insecurity. According to the United Nations, we produce enough food to feed 1.5x the global population. Therefore, it's not that there's not enough food, but rather there are both cost and distribution barriers, both of which robotics hold significant promise to solve. Furthermore, robotics can play a crucial role in replacing risky jobs, thereby enhancing safety and improving the overall well-being of workers. For example, deploying robots for search and rescue missions after natural disasters or in hazardous environments such as mining operations can mitigate risks to human lives while still accomplishing essential tasks. By leveraging robotics in these contexts, we can protect human workers from harm while maintaining productivity and efficiency. Given my background in human-robot interaction, I think it's important that human-factors are considered when developing these machines for the most seamless integration into people's workflows.

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