Black History Month: Ghanaian Born Robotics Engineer Who Is Leaving His Dream Of Seeing Robots Fly Planes
As February marks the start of Black History Month, a federally recognized celebration of the contributions of African Americans and a time to reflect on the continued struggle for racial justice. Paakwesiasare.biz focuses on the accomplishments of Ghanaian born robotics engineer who is living his dream of seeing planes being flown by robots.
Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu is a Ghanaian robotics engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the chief Engineer and technical group leader for the mobility and manipulation group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Young Trebi-Ollennu was fascinated by the planes that flew in and out of the airport. But his dreams were not to be a pilot, it was more than just that.
He imagined a future where robots would fly the planes. “I was fascinated by replacing human pilots with computers. I was very interested in that as a young kid.” Ollennu in an interview with the CNN in 2018 said.
Several years after, the young dreamer has grown beyond his imagination. He is now a lead engineer on InSight – NASA’s spacecraft which landed on Mars. He is in charge of the mission’s robotic arm mechanism.
Ollennu majored in Avionics at the Department of Aeronautical Engineering, Queen Mary College, University of London and then obtained a Ph. D. in Control Systems Engineering, at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom.
He then moved to the US to do further research in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
His former projects on Mars includes: the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover, Phoenix Mars Lander of 2007, Mars Science Laboratory in 2011, and the 2016 Insight Mars Lander.
Ollennu has won numerous awards and recognition for his works including the 2008 NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for his contributions to the Mars Exploration Rover mission, and the 2010 Specialist Silver Award from the Royal Aeronautical Society in the UK.
Ollennu told the CNN that he does not believe that any child does not understand mathematics.
“I don’t think anybody is born a natural scientist,” he says. He encourages the kids to put in work to achieve their dreams.
“If they have the passion for something they have to pursue it.”
In Ghana he is helping generations of young scientists and innovators through the Ghana Robotic Academy Foundation which was founded in 1991. The nonprofit organization encourages school children to engage in applied science by running hands-on robotics workshops and competitions throughout the country.
Some of the graduates have competed in international robotic competitions like the World Robotics Olympiad and Robofest where they are encouraged to sharpen their skills in Computer, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths.
Ollennu says he believes that he is lucky to have had a “solid” academic foundation in Ghana Senior High Technical School, a Science and Technology oriented high school in Takoradi. “There you get to do a lot of woodwork, metalwork, engineering, drawing so that kind of gives you a very good balance and a lot of science as well,” he said.