Lars Kristjansen, Electromechanical Engineering Professor and Program Coordinator, Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology (FAST)
“Let’s continue to impart knowledge and approach experiential learning from home.”
With this mindset, Humber College, and the determined faculty and researchers, met the growing challenges of the pandemic. Humber researcher rockstar Lars Kristjansen was prepared with a multitude of creative solutions to engage with his students remotely through a home-lab set-up like none other. We are in awe of his highly energetic approach to his role as an educator and a researcher. In his words, “This is life, this is everything to me.” We got an in-depth e-tour of his home-lab; one word: “mind-blowing!”
We implored Lars, “When did this fascination with electromechanics and ‘building things’ begin?” Lars shares his toddlerhood fascination with re-arranging items around the house. “I was mesmerized by the vacuum cleaner and loved how different parts could be detached and attached. My very first word was ‘attato’ – baby lingo for attachment”, Lars gleefully states.
Lars joined Humber College in 1997 as a part-time lecturer and lab assistant. Since 2010 Lars avidly performs his role as a Professor teaching Automation Technologies from the ground up and Program Coordinator for the Electromechanical Engineering program. His expertise spans pneumatics & fluid power, electronics, microcontroller-based automation, biomedical engineering, product development and computer programming. From dismantling motorbikes in the basement of his family home to acquiring an Electromechanical Engineering diploma from Humber College, Lars continues to retain a childlike love for learning and discovery. With a spirit to give back, Lars has been involved in several volunteer roles like Treasurer & Board Member of Operating Engineers Local 793 NPH (2016-2020) and a Board Member of the Ryde Community Co-op until recently.
Turning his medical battles into a source of strength and inspiration for helping others became a life goal. Lars founded Canadian Engineered Innovations (CEI) in 2000. He was driven with a mission to increase the quality of life for the physically disabled by applying automation and control technologies to design automated therapeutic devices that aid in-home physiotherapy, accessibility and mobility. He has done so successfully in collaboration with John Abramowicz, founder of Kintech Orthopaedics. Many of the devices and systems designed are empowering lives across Canada.
“Battling with illness and the path to recovery was an incredibly wild and mind-opening journey. It changed my perspective and understanding of life. It made me way more passionate and birthed a strong desire for helping others.”—Lars.
Innovative Mad-Scientist with a Purpose:
Lars lives the term “experiential learning” and is motivated to lead his students by getting them involved in hands-on training and engaging with them holistically. “The duty of a leader is to have the heart of a servant”, humbly states Lars. We are excited to share with you some fun facts:
- Entering Lars’ home is an entrance into a fully functional lab and machine shop. Lars embraces an eclectic interest in technologies. When we met Lars, he was programming a noise-cancelling algorithm for an “at-home office background noise cancellation system” and in the background was the makings of a hydraulic control system for his new chainsaw. In a separate section of his lab, he was a working on a therapeutic controller for his patented “Iso-T” therapy system; you will also find a laser cutter, 3D printers, electronics station, oscilloscopes, a reflow oven, a PLC station, a pneumatic development system, mini air-compressor, milling machine, drill press, dehydrator, capsulation machine (Lars creates a wide range of organic capsulated foods: “Taking food in capsules saves time in preparing or eating it. It’s super-efficient for absorption, and I can engineer a well-balanced diet”), shelves and drawers stacked from floor to ceiling with ‘cool supplies’ as Lars terms it, and a wall full of tools.
- A wooden workbench made from a piece of wood discarded from the Humber Lab. “I worked on this bench years ago when I was a student at Humber. It brings me back to that incredible journey.”
- A space to record YouTube videos with a whiteboard wall to work along with a smart projector. Lars runs 5 YouTube channels, sharing knowledge to assist learners in grasping concepts in a fun and relaxed manner; e.g., Lars Explains: 160 videos, Intro to Controls with Lars: 38 videos, and Industrial Hydraulics with Lars: 17 videos. Bonus: watch Lars guide you along dressed in a relaxed ‘mad-scientist kind of white jacket’. “This online environment we’re now all living in is revealing itself to be a powerful and effective medium to get concepts across to learners. It’s integrating deep into pedagogy. I’m embracing it and building video lectures and video labs and loving it!”
- Lars has created a new pneumatic language called PSS – Pneumatic Sequential Statement (he has yet to write a paper on it).
- .Lars holds several patents, one of them: System for Promoting Elongation and Relaxation of Muscles (2015).
On Teaching and Research
On delving further into what motivated Lars to pursue teaching and eventually research, Lars shares, “to empower lives, an opportunity to work with brilliant young minds and to access state-of-the-art-technology that Humber has to offer.” We genuinely appreciate the passionate approach of professors and mentors like Lars, leading students by example, instilling them with hope, ambition and support to learn cognitively and think like problem-solvers.
Let’s take a look at some of the projects that Lars has worked on with his students at Humber College:
- The ‘E-Knee’: capstone project (an automated Knee-Ankle-Foot-Orthosis).
- The ‘E-Ankle’: capstone project (a carbon-fibre ankle-foot orthosis that can change its range of motion to accommodate different walking conditions), led by CEI, and funded by Humber Research & Innovation. It was awarded the Best Connections Project by a College Team at Discovery 2011 from OCE (Ontario Centres of Excellence).
- The ‘Heads Up project’: an instructional baseball cap equipped with sensors to assist the blind and developmentally challenged.
- The ‘Hand Amp’ project: a Pneumatic actuator to assist people with paraplegia in stretching out their hands.
- The ‘Feet Heat’ project: heated foot insert to battle blood circulation due to diabetes.
- The ‘Stand Assist’: capstone project (wheelchair seat-lifter).
The ‘Iso-T Controller’ therapeutic system: capstone project that has been the focus of two different clinical trials.
Lars shares that he is also involved with the below research project funded through an NSERC Engage grant:
Automated Cell Inspection
In partnership with Humber College, the proposed project with industry partner Nahanni Steel Products Inc. will develop an automated cell to inspect inventory manufactured pieces for Nahanni. On occasion, Nahanni ships their international customer incorrect quantities or defective pieces. This project aims to automate the final inspection process, thereby decreasing Nahanni’s costs by eliminating the need for an associate to oversee that inspection process.
“We’re pushing the limits of vision systems and developing a unique method to remote view the inside of machines. We want to go where no visions systems has gone before.”—Lars
Our Humber Researcher Rockstar particularly emphasized that his teaching methodologies have been enriched through his experience with applied research and working alongside students. This is what Lars had to say about his involvement with Humber’s research community:
“Humber Research & Innovation gave me a whole new appreciation and understanding of my abilities to develop innovative solutions. I have always been passionate about research, solving problems, filling gaps with technology and science, but I could not get the backing, resources and funding to implement my ideas. R&I has enabled me to work on several research projects, arranged funding, supported student engagement, and allowed me to take my ideas from paper to reality. Getting connected with R&I was like winning the lottery.”
Get to know Lars a little better. Here are 4 things you didn’t know about him:
- When I’m not at work, I’m giving back through engagement with non-profit organizations or renovating my lodge up north in the Muskoka Region.
- A book that inspires me: ‘The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge, M.D.—I’m interested in reading anything on the topic of neuro-chemistry and neuro-plasticity. Also, “The Foundation Trilogy” by Isaac Asimov.
- Websites I often visit: YouTube, of course, Khan Academy and anything science and technology-based.
- Coffee or Tea: Herbal tea – I’m studying the science and psychology of ‘addiction’ and getting away from my caffeine addiction.
“I love engaging with students because they think outside the box. They don’t even know what the box looks like. Not knowing what standard industrial procedures look like, they end up finding new and innovative solutions to industrial challenges, that vetted industry members, who work inside a box, may never consider.” – Lars Kristjansen
Does your company have a challenge that could be solved with research? Find out more about how to become a partner with Humber Research & Innovation.