Defense technology dreams grow in MechSE

Daniel Kofman.  Photo courtesy of the News-Gazette.
Daniel Kofman. Photo courtesy of the News-Gazette.
Engineering is in Daniel Kofman’s blood. He grew up hearing stories about his great-grandfather, a colonel in the Russian engineering corps during World War II. The legacy of engineering and defense is continuing in Kofman, who has a keen interest in developing technology for first responders. 
This interest has lead the mechanical engineering senior to start Kofman Technologies, a company that focuses on improving the effectiveness and safety of first responders and soldiers. 
“Essentially I began seeing that the world has some pretty good intentions but people aren’t perfect and there’s a lot of loss of life both in first response and in warfare, and my big picture vision was to use technology to change that,” Kofman said.
From the encouragement Kofman has received from the MechSE department the company has been able to develop technology including rifle-grade body armor and an easy-to-use drone controller. 
“There is a MechSE attitude of entrepreneurship that lets us build cool stuff,” Kofman said. “It’s not a business program but it teaches you a little about product development and it gives you all the support you need.”
That support is what initially drew Kofman to Illinois. The Buffalo Grove local was visiting Illinois as a prospective student while in high school, and was given a tour by lecturer Mariana Silva. He asked her a few questions about his interests, and he was immediately connected with faculty who specialized in similar areas. 
“I don’t know if U of I mechanical engineering classes are somehow best in the nation but the way that Illinois and the MechSE department do entrepreneurship specifically and support student research and student ideas is really cool, and I think it’s really unique to the university,” Kofman said. 
He has taken advantage of this support by enrolling in ME 199 Independent Study courses three semesters in a row, giving him time in his schedule to devote to developing products. His experience in ME 270 (Design for Manufacturability) allowed him to develop his prototyping and integration skills on unrelated products, and he looks forward to taking the senior design capstone course to work on his own projects. 
This work has lead Kofman and his co-founder and CTO Sriram Raghu, a senior in computer engineering, to work on two different Department of Homeland Security programs: a start-up accelerator and a think tank. 
Although Kofman has worked on a number of products in his time at Illinois, OmniPilot, a drone controller, has been his most promising. 
First responders using drones found them difficult to fly, and the drones would often end up breaking but were too expensive to replace. Instead of trying to change the drone itself, Kofman worked on how to make them easier to fly.
“We realized that this drone controller had a lot more applications than the drone itself and we decided to go for that first because it had the widest market and the lowest development cost,” he said. 
Also working with Kofman are MechSE freshman Joseph Hong, computer engineering sophomore Juliana Snarski, and electrical engineering freshman Christopher Kang.
Moving forward with OmniPilot and Kofman Technologies, Kofman hopes to continue working on his company after graduation. He hopes to receive funding to allow him to work full time after graduation. Building off OmniPilot, he wants to branch into other defense related technologies.
“They have slightly higher barriers to entry but we have the prototypes—so it’s not a very far jump once we have the capital and then try to build a serious R and D company that does research and creates products that save lives,” Kofman said.