(Image: Aulio welding products for his company EKick Technologies)
Interview by Duro Junior Team member Lonzie Reaves
Aulio Diaz, Lead Engineer at the Zahn Innovation Center at the City College of New York and Co-founder of EKick Technologies, discusses growing up in the Dominican Republic, his interesting path to engineering and how his company is helping keep skateboarders safe at night.
Lonzie Reaves: Thank you for meeting me today. So where are you originally from?
Aulio Diaz: I’m from the Dominican Republic, from a city called Santiago, which is the second most famous city after the capital. It’s called the Heart City because of where it is located – the top left of the island.
LR: What was it like growing up there?
AD: It was nice. I was with my family and we had our own house there with a large backyard so we could do whatever we wanted. My mom had a small clothing factory, so I have an entrepreneurial style in my family.
So it was nice, and I had more time to do a lot more. In the mornings I used to go to high school and in the afternoon go to technical school, and in the evening still have time to go out with people. Here it’s either one or the other. The temperature is like summer the whole year, so we don’t have to worry about winter or the cold. It rains a little, but the only downside to the Dominican Republic is the electricity. We don’t have 24/7 electricity.
LR: Oh, so it’s not like New York?
AD: Yeah, it’s not like the United States. For example, Tuesday they don’t give you electricity, or Thursday – they keep switching it. And sometimes they have specific hours. In the afternoon there will be electricity, and in the morning on Saturday you are going to get electricity, or on Sunday you will get a full day. It’s crazy.
LR: How is the schooling system there?
AD: I went to a private school, an evangelist private school, so it was fun. I had good professors, particularly my math professors, and that helped me out a lot because when I came here to Bronx Community College I skipped a bunch of classes and basically went straight to pre-calculus and didn’t have to take the remedial classes that other people take.
“[My favorite part of being an engineer] is that it opens the doors to whatever I want to do; I know I can do it. If I don’t know how to do it, I know I can figure out how to do it.”
LR: What made you want to become an engineer?
AD: Me, I like to build stuff. I tell the story about when I was four years old my father gave me a small remote control. The first thing I did was try it out, the second thing was to disassemble the whole thing because I wanted to see how it worked. My father was pissed off, you know? He was like: “I just gave it to you!” I didn’t even think about it, I just took it apart. And after that I just built stuff. When I was fifteen I built my first go-kart.
LR: Tell me more about that. How was that like?
AD: I had this dream about having a car, and one day I told my father I want to build cars. But I didn’t have any money at the time. So I went to a friend of my father’s, who was a friend of mine too, and he had an iron furniture factory. He was doing a lot of work with iron, so I told him I wanted to get a job.
He told me, “Why do you need a job?” I said I needed one because I needed money. He said, “Why do you need money?” “Because I want to build my own car.” “Why? Why do you want to build your own car?” “Because my father doesn’t want to get one for me.” He said, “OK.” [Laughs]
So I started working there within two weeks. I wanted to see if I liked it – if I’m good he can hire me. And that’s basically what happened. I worked for two weeks and they hired me.
LR: So that’s where you learned your skills?
AD: I started learning my skills there. Working at the blacksmith, he saw I learned quickly; I learned bending, how to warm it up. While I was working at the blacksmith I also went to technical school so I could learn to become an automotive technician, and after I learned everything about welding then I got a job as a mechanic.
AD: Exactly, how the engine works, how to put it all together, while I was still in technical school.
LR: Wow OK. So how did you find yourself at the City College of New York?
AD: I never planned to come to CCNY. I wanted to come to this country because I wanted to become an automotive engineer, not just a mechanical engineer.
So through my father he knew some people who knew some people who told me about a scholarship in this country, and I graduated with a very high GPA, I graduated with 95 out of 100 points, which is like an A+. I got the information, went to the capital, and applied for the scholarship. After a whole year of applying and going through the process I got the scholarship. I came to this country, I came to Bronx Community College, which was on the list of schools for the scholarship — also I didn’t know English at that point, I only knew Spanish.
So I got accepted into BCC and studied Engineering Science, which was the closest to what I wanted to do, and just through the process of being at a CUNY I figured out that City College has mechanical engineering, so I was like let’s do that because it’s closer to what I wanted to do. And then I figured out that mechanical engineers were the people actually getting hired by the car companies.
After graduating Bronx Community College, I came here and jumped into mechanical.
LR: What’s your favorite part about being an engineer?
AD: [Sighs] There’s so many. [Both laugh]
I would say the first one is that it opens the doors to whatever I want to do; I know I can do it. If I don’t know how to do it, I know I can figure out how to do it.
For Duro, what I’m mostly doing is machining work. I’ve worked on components for the pressure vessel of the submarine, making those components so they can fit together in the submarine. So I’ve done a pressure vessel and the frame that contains the batteries, the electronics, basically everything that goes inside that vessel.
AD: OK? The second thing I like most is that everything I see around I understand how difficult it is to actually make and design. Let’s say you have a box. It seems really simple, but no, to make that box you have to sit down with a bunch of people, think about out how it’s going to look like, how it’s going to be made, what materials is it going to be made out of, how much it’s going to cost, how it’s going to get to you, if you sell it how much money are you going to make? So it opens possibilities for me to more completely understand the world.
LR: I understand you own your own business. Tell me more about that.
AD: My company is called EKick Technologies, which was founded by me and another friend. He is a longboarder; he was out one night longboarding and got hit by a car. It was nothing serious, thank God. But it’s the fact that they didn’t see him during the night. So after a friend of mine connected us we started collaborating.
After talking to a lot of people we decided to do a light for the skateboard. The lights are a small unit made out of Chromoly steel, which is a racing steel that is the same that’s used in cars for NASCAR. I learned about that material as part of the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) club, when we designed and built cars for competitions out of state — Alabama, Michigan, Canada — representing City College. I took all that knowledge and put it into the lights and the housing.
So the unit has headlights, which illuminate where the skater is going. Most important, there are two lights inside that are angled so it can be seen by oncoming cars, which are more powerful than the lights used by a regular car so you can be seen at night.
LR: Who is your target audience for your product?
AD: It’s basically night skaters, skaters who need to be seen at night. We have been involved with the longboarding community, who are mostly commuters, but we also sell to regular skaters who go from their school or house or wherever they want to go and they need to be seen.
LR: Do you have any other ideas in the works?
AD: I always have many projects. One project is a hybrid motorcycle built using a 3D printer that can be produced for less than $3,000. The way I have it in my mind, it’s totally possible.
LR: And you work for Duro UAS as well. Can you expand on that?
AD: For Duro what I’m mostly doing is machining work. I’ve worked on components for the pressure vessel of the submarine, making those components so they can fit together in the submarine. So I’ve done a pressure vessel and the frame that contains the batteries, the electronics, basically everything that goes inside that vessel.
LR: Besides working what are some things you do on your free time?
AD: On my free time I bike every single day. I come here on my bicycle. I have three bicycles, including an electric bike. On my free time I still do more engineering; I teach welding and I also work with another guy doing prototyping work. Plus EKick, plus my school work.
LR: Thank you very much for meeting with me.
AD: Thank you.