Meet Houman, our robotics wizard from Iran

Houman Masnavi is a 2020 cum laude graduate of the Robotics and Computer Engineering master’s programme at the University of Tartu.

Houman Masnavi
Houman Masnavi. Image from a personal archive

From his very childhood, Houman spent a lot of time in his father’s workshop. His father is both a mechanical engineer and an electrical technician. Little by little, Houman became a helping hand, repairing and maintaining different types of machinery: tower cranes, elevators, electrical generators, welding rectifiers, car washes, winches, and air compressors.

Houman was introduced to computers at the age of ten and found it really fascinating. Soon he could help others troubleshooting computer and network-related problems. He worked as computer technician for eight years, as well as during his bachelor’s studies in information technology at the University of Zabol in Iran.

After graduating cum laude, he started searching for suitable master’s programmes and came across the University of Tartu. Houman applied to computer science and robotics programmes at the same time, got admitted to both with the same funding and conditions, and chose robotics.

“I joined robotics because I wanted this hands-on experience, wanted to close the gap between the practicality and the theory I studied in computer science,” explains Houman.

He chose Estonia because of the fully funded admission, which was very important and of great help. Also, Estonia’s image as a “Silicon Valley of Europe” supported his choice. “So far, I’ve liked it a lot and gained the things that I wanted,” says Houman. His expectations about Estonia were met, but not to the extent it was advertised. A super tech-savvy Houman would love to see more advanced stuff while walking around, as it is in Silicon Valley.

At the University of Tartu, he has accepted every opportunity to work with different types of robots: unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, and manipulators, or robotic hands. One of the projects he is involved in focuses on developing a robotic bartender, which should hit the bars in a few months. Houman is responsible for programming the robot.

The bartender looks like a tower with a robot inside. The tower carries all the containers with the necessary liquids in them to mix about fifty different drinks. Recently, the robotic bartender passed the “100 drinks test,” producing 100 drinks in a row. This is a milestone. Houman calls the bartender “a piece of art” and “a masterpiece.”

Robotic bartender Yanu
The 3-m-high robotic bartender Yanu is one of several projects that Houman is working on. Image credit:

The “100 drinks test” took place during the COVID-19 outbreak in Estonia, at the same time as Houman was writing his master’s thesis. Staying at home and working on the thesis did not feel that productive, according to Houman. Nevertheless, his defense went much better than he thought. He needed to have everybody on the same level to understand the mathematics in his thesis. He succeeded well and received an “A,” which made him feel thrilled.

The graduation ceremonies that were held online this year “felt like nothing.” “We cannot blame anybody for this. We had no other choice,” admits Houman. He celebrated graduation with his friends, barbecuing for the rest of the week.

Houman managed to make a lot of friends in Estonia. “People say that Estonian people are cold, but they are not. At least that was my experience – I have really-really good Estonian friends,” says Houman.

The young Iranian attributes his success to his family: “I believe that wherever I am in my life is because of my family. My parents supported me a lot; they believed in me,” acknowledges Houman.

He will be pursuing a PhD, possibly at the University of Tartu. This depends on Estonia’s policies towards citizens of non-EU countries; namely, the Estonian Ministry of the Interior is looking to indefinitely maintain restrictions on entry for students from third countries (from outside the European Union) that were first introduced in the emergency situation under the guise of warding off COVID-19.

Houman plans to visit his family in Iran during the summertime. Will this talented young person come back?

Listen to the podcast interview with Houman Masnavi:

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