Duro Engineer Spotlight: Khalil Khouri

Interview by Viktoria Pashtriku

For today’s Engineer Spotlight we are interviewing Duro Mechanical Engineer Khalil Khouri, who shares with us his long-held interest in marine engineering, his experience as a design engineer in the medical device field and how his background as the child of immigrants helps motivate him to succeed.

Viktoria Pashtriku: Hi! Can you start by introducing yourself?

Khalil Khouri: Hello, my name is Khalil and I am currently a graduate student at Columbia University in mechanical engineering with a concentration in robotics. I am also a mechanical systems engineer here at Duro UAS.

VP: So what motivated you to first enter the field of engineering?

KK: When I first started off as an undergraduate student at Boston University, I was in the social sciences and humanities. But I didn’t see that going anywhere, so I decided to go for the business track because it seemed more logical. But I didn’t find myself interested in business either.

It took two years of undergrad for me to finally recognize that I had always enjoyed building things and making things happen. That was when I said to myself: let’s try engineering. I’ve been hooked on it since.

Khalil’s undergraduate senior project, the Niuhi, which means large, dangerous shark in Hawaiian (Source: Khalil Khouri)

VP: When you finally did decide to go into engineering while an undergrad, did you work on any interesting projects?

KK: Actually yes, I worked on a submarine as my senior design project that was sponsored by Boeing. It was a traditional dry submarine unlike Duro’s AUV, which allows water to flow freely into parts of the vehicle. This was a “dry sub”, which means totally encapsulated, and was about a foot and a half long. It could dive twenty feet for twenty to thirty minutes with a speed limit of about three knots. And to dive, we didn’t have engines pulling us down like the Duro AUV, we did it more traditionally with two ballast tanks.

VP: What did you do after you finished your undergraduate degree?

KK: I was working at a medical device company called Sequel. We had some interesting projects over there that I enjoyed being a part of. I was a design engineer.

VP: Did you gain anything from that experience?

KK: I’ve gained the ability to do design for manufacture. At Sequel we often started projects in the ideation phase, where we identified the issue to be solved, then we entered the concept phase. That’s followed by taking those ideas and creating prototypes.

Eventually through testing we would move from the prototype and concept to the manufacturing phase. Learning about prototyping and design for manufacturing is a very different experience from school. Where in school you learn basic machining practices, but working for a real company you learn how to actually make something.

Through that experience I also learned how to do the complete FDA protocol. I learned how to make the statistics to certify that your device is going to do what you say it is going to do. I learned how to run tests to prove that I have documented the project properly. But most importantly, I’ve gained experience and confidence in my engineering abilities.

“Me being here at Duro isn’t simply about getting engineering experience, it’s because I actually really want to be working on marine vehicles.”

VP: So how did you find out about Duro?

KK: I actually found out about Duro while I was working with a classmate in the mechatronics lab at Columbia. I was telling him about my senior design project as an undergrad when I worked on a submarine, and he said, “Oh! That’s a funny coincidence, I’m working for a company that’s also making a submersible vehicle.” He recommended that I apply for Duro, I did, and here I am!

I am half Cuban and half Lebanese. Being the child of immigrant parents motivates me; they’ve made it so far in life and have become my role models.

VP: What are you currently working on here at Duro?

KK: I am predominantly a mechanical systems engineer so I am working on tasks in the mechanical field. I also am working to stay in touch with the computer team to help them out on that side. We are a community at Duro, so we all work together to help each other.

VP: I hear you have an interesting background. Has this shaped your perception of engineering and the engineering field?

KK: I am half Cuban and half Lebanese. I grew up in Miami, Florida and lived there until I was 18. Being the child of immigrant parents motivates me; they’

ve made it so far in life and have become my role models. Also, the fact that I have been to these countries and understand these different cultures makes me more creative. I have seen many different things.

Khalil(left) and Rohan(right) working on the Duro Harbor AUV

VP: What do you do on your free time?

KK: A lot. Currently, I am trying to get an ASA accreditation to be able to sail. I already know how to sail, but am trying to get accredited in order to become a member of sailing clubs. I also like diving a lot. I used to be able to hold my breath underwater for seven or eight minutes! I used to dive everyday in high school.

VP: Has your passion for water sports motivated your interest in engineering for environmental purposes?

KK: Yes, it has! Originally, I had wanted to go to the Michigan Marine Engineering School. I got in two years ago, right when I started working at Sequel Medical. I decided I wanted to gain some experience first. When I applied again a year later, I didn’t get in. It was disappointing because I really wanted to go into marine vehicles. But I got in every other school! So me being here at Duro isn’t simply about getting engineering experience, it’s because I actually really want to be working on marine vehicles.

VP: Do you have any particular plans or goals for your future career?

KK: I have done a lot of work in the medical field. Even before my work at Sequel I had an internship in Miami in the medical field. My dad and mom are doctors. Both of my siblings are doctors. So there is a lot pulling me into the direction of the medical field. I might end up doing that for a while. I like it – it’s fun and you’re helping people. So I might end up staying there. But, I also am very interested in marine autonomous vehicles. So… who knows?

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