Sheldan Manansala

If your career aspirations align with your childhood hero’s, you’re probably on track for a fulfilling career.

Spellbound by the high-tech suit worn by armoured superhero Iron Man, mechatronic systems engineering graduand Sheldan Manansala had starry ambitions to create a similar exoskeleton device.

But what might have remained a childhood pipe dream turned into reality for Manansala at SFU, where he selected his co-op work term placements with that goal top of mind.

First, he explored biomechanics – the mechanics of the living body – creating surrogate spinal cords in an SFU research lab. He then learned about the mechanisms of complex machinery, optimizing the efficiency of high-tech assembly lines with Alpha Technologies.

But his ambitions really took an Iron Man twist when he landed his next role with pioneering electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors in Fremont, CA.

“It was my golden ticket," he says of his placement at Tesla, whose founder Elon Musk is said to have inspired the movie character Tony Stark, the fictional inventor of Iron Man.

In this high-octane position as a quality engineer, Manansala was responsible for ensuring that critical battery components met precise specifications according to computer-generated 3D models.

Tesla’s state-of-the-art facility – replete with cutting-edge robots manufacturing zero-emissions vehicles – was fuel to the flame for Manansala’s Iron Man-inspired ambitions, including the drive to harness technology as a force for good.

 “Working at Tesla is so inspiring – it’s the ability to work on something that you know is going to help the world,” he says. “It’s advancing human kind and working with a good reason; not just to make money, but to make the planet a better place and reduce our resources.”

Back at SFU, Manansala successfully turned science fiction into fact by creating the technology of his dreams for a capstone team project: a lower body exoskeleton prototype that addressed the limitations of current exoskeleton technologies by increasing hip motion range.

“Exoskeletons could improve the rehabilitation process for individuals who suffer from physical disabilities,” says Manansala. “I believe that exoskeleton devices will contribute to overcoming the limitations of the human body.”

While SFU researchers continue working with SOC Robotics on the prototype developed by Manansala and his team, he is back at work in Tesla with plans to gain further industry experience before embarking on postgraduate studies.