Skip to main content

An electric love of robotics and buildings things

The Faculty of Engineering is the most diverse faculty at McMaster University. Find out why Haoran Liu, an Electrical Engineering student from Tianjin, China, made the decision to call it home.

In the heart of Tianjin, China, a Ferris wheel stands tall above a bridge, blinking its multicoloured lights and illuminating the faces of those beneath it. From the top, it feels like you can reach out and touch the Bohai Sea. It is for this reason that Tianjin is vital to Beijing, a gateway to the sea and one of the busiest in the world. Along the water, mega buildings made of steel, reinforced concrete and smooth sheets of glass twinkle in the night. The entire city is alive, electric.

In a lot of ways, Tianjin was the perfect place for third-year Electrical Engineering student Haoran Liu to grow up. Fascinated by building things and passionate about robotics since the very beginning of his childhood, he left China after finishing high school, following his grandparents to Waterloo, Ontario.

He didn’t quite know where to go next, but knew it would need to be somewhere that his love of building and robotics could flourish. When he learned about McMaster University’s reputation on a national and global scale — particularly in Engineering — he stopped searching for his next move.

McMaster Engineering became home, and Liu found an even deeper version of it by getting involved in some of the clubs on campus.

In EcoCar, a control system model simulation, students aim to design a control system for a hybrid electrical vehicle, further cementing McMaster as a leader in the development of sustainable advanced vehicle technology. It also provides students like Liu with opportunities to apply their learning and put into motion plans and designs that students typically only read about in textbooks.

Liu loves being part of the team and is excited about working towards creating a test-ready vehicle after years of applying complex concepts learned in the classroom to a real-life application.

“What we learn in the classroom is theoretical,” says Liu. “Professors teach, but we need to design and use what we learn and apply them to real-life cases. These teams help process the concepts you learn in lecture to real robots and designs.”

Liu also serves as the project manager for Mac RoboMaster, an innovative club of passionate and eager students that aims to develop autonomous robots. Mac RoboMaster takes fully integrated technical disciplines like mechanical learning, machine vision and inertial navigation and pairs them with bright students like Liu.

He says he loves implementing, developing and optimizing robots, which requires a lot of critical thinking and perseverance. He also notes that the guidance from Engineering professors has been an invaluable. From helping students develop circuits that allow the robots to function to providing office space for the students to gather and work in, the professors are integral to the club’s success.

Liu completed a co-op this past summer with IBM in software development, which is, he says, a 180-degree pivot from what he does with EcoCar and Mac RoboMaster, which both require knowledge and focus in control systems design.

Though he spends most of his time in the lab, his involvement with the clubs has opened his eyes to the power of extra-curricular activities. The friends he’s made, opportunities that have arisen and mentorship from professors are all part of an amazing undergraduate experience.

Liu hopes to complete a master’s in Software Engineering or control systems, but hasn’t decided on which yet. Right now, his main focus is on the upcoming annual RoboMaster competition in China this July, which will take places over several weeks against other universities.

It’s the next step in building artificial intelligence and robots in the future, and Liu is excited to be part of it, both far and close to home.