Opportunities through Robotics: Kavita Krishnaswamy ’07

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with Kavita Krishnaswamy ’07, mathematics and computer science. Krishnaswamy has spinal muscular atrophy and has not been able to leave her house in six years. Thanks to Beam Telepresence Technology, a robotic program that allows her to remotely view and navigate spaces through her computer screen, she’s presented her doctoral thesis and attended conferences across the country. The current Ph.D. student talks about her experience with the Beam and her research on robotics and accessibility.

KrishnaswamyQ: What’s your most memorable experience/moment at UMBC?

UMBC is a journey to fulfill, not a destination to complete. Every day was a day to remember with milestones to accomplish, wisdom to be learned, and experiences to cherish. The accumulation of my UMBC experiences has molded (and continues to mold me) for the real-world. I am so grateful that each and every experience I encountered has brought me to my place now.

One of my favorite experiences was to go to the seventh floor of the library to study and look out the bow window on a pleasant view of the entire campus. Viewing outside the window often filled with positive energy and reminded me to appreciate the everyday journey and have the perspective to soar to great heights by overcoming obstacles and promoting feelings of humility relative to the grandeur and glory of Mother Nature.

Q: How has your life changed since using the Beam telepresence robot?

I have a more active and busy lifestyle since using the Beam. I am traveling all over the world to conferences, meetings, museums, concerts, and other attractions with the Beam. Meeting new people and networking to make new contacts has been productive to advancing my research and career goals.

Q: What do you see in the future for robotic technology and how it changes the way people interact?

The future is here now! Robotics technologies will become ubiquitous as time moves forward for the benefit of humanity. Ultimately, the quality of life will improve for all.

Q: Can you tell me more about your current work?

My research involves the development of robotic systems to provide assistance and increase independence for people with disabilities. I am developing several prototype robotic systems that will support transferring, repositioning, and personal care, with a focus on accessible user interfaces for control that are feasible for persons with severe disabilities. For example, I am investigating the use of brain computer interfaces, speech recognition, and facial gestures to control a robotic interface for repositioning the arms of users with disabilities to strengthen their muscles and relieve pressure on the joints.

Q: What are your plans after graduate school?

It is the blessing of continuing education that excites me. I will always continue learning. Within the next 10 years, I will have my PhD degree, be married to [the] man I love, have a happy and healthy child, be successfully employed as a professor and researcher, have my own home, invent a number of assistive devices and robotic technologies that help increase independence for people with disabilities, make my parents proud, and be thanking God for bringing all of my dreams into reality. In all aspects, I want to be successful and do the best that I possibly can to overcome adversities that may stand against my way.

Read more about Kavita and her research!

Lift Off

Kamili Jackson ’97, M.S. ’99, mechanical engineering, has witnessed one NASA space launch in person during her nine years at ths14-alumprofile-jacksone agency: the Hubble Servicing Mission 4 in 2009.

Jackson was a contracted materials engineer at NASA for that mission, helping the team make decisions on what metals, plastics and ceramics should be used for the craft. And as she watched her hard work blast off and enter orbit, she was filled with satisfaction.

That same year, Jackson co-founded a project that helps high school students take off into careers in engineering – the Future Innovative Rising Engineers (FIRE), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Junior Chapter in Greenbelt.

“We wanted to have a consistent impact on a set of kids,” says Jackson. The FIRE students come from all over Maryland and even Virginia, and they often stay on the team until they graduate from high school and find a college or university. (In 2013, the program began accepting middle school students as well.)

The competition and mentoring in the program is intense. Professional engineers and parents coach participating students through four national competitions in robotics, model rocketry and math. They also teach them coding, software and building techniques, and also facilitate discussions throughout the process. The goal is for the students to design and build their own robots and rockets.

“We get them to learn by doing,” says Jackson. “We want them to take ownership of what they’re learning.” Continue reading Lift Off

Alumni Take Flight with Robo Raven III

Man has long envied the avian ability of flight. Wings offer the opportunity for flight, yes, but also for exploration and a different point of view. Now, three UMBC alumni are working to borrow that vantage point through the Robo Raven project at the University of Maryland, College Park. We spoke with Meyerhoff alumni Ariel Perez-Rosado ’11, M19, mechanical engineering; Luke Roberts ’12, M20, mechanical engineering; and Alex Holness ’13, M20, mechanical engineering, about their continued connection in graduate school and what it is like to work on this amazing micro air vehicle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ: Why did you decide to study robotics?

Ariel: I never really intended to study robotics. I was more interested in materials and structures. However, when I started at College Park, I started working with the wings of a small robotic bird. When it came time to run more experiments I had to rebuild the same robot from scratch. No one else was working on the small bird so I had to figure things out on my own. I slowly started learning what it takes to make a robotic bird. I really enjoyed the project and in order for the project to grow, design changes needed to be made. By the time it came to make Robo Raven I had learned enough robotics to know what we needed to do to make a successful flying robot.

Luke: I decided to study robotics because I wanted to be able to make complete systems that integrated concepts from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science and robotics utilizes each of those. I knew it would be challenging, and it definitely is, but I really enjoy what I am working on.

Alex: I have been fond of innovation and technology. Additionally, as cliché as it might be, I liked to build with Legos, K’nex, wooden blocks when I was a child. My parents encouraged and enabled me to explore my curiosities. I became a mechanical engineer because I liked to create things, understand processes and mechanisms, and applicable theoretical concepts. I ultimately decided to be robotics because I experienced a number of other subject topics at internships and didn’t find myself fond of them, and I am able to build things regularly. Robotics covers a variety of topics, which keeps the work interesting. Additionally, it is a cutting-edge field, which does make it viable for a future career.

Q: What inspired this project?

Ariel: Our lab has worked on Micro Air Vehicles for years, but recently the research took a new turn. We wanted to look at controlling each wing independently. This is something that birds do but has not been studied in robotics yet. In order to do this, the wings needed to be powered by independent motors. This means that the wings needed to be larger than ever before and calls for a whole new robot. So basically in an aim to study what actual birds in nature can do, Robo Raven was made.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ: What are the applications of a project like this?

Luke: There are many applications for this platform. Robo Raven has the potential to be used in the future to monitor farms as a mobile scarecrow or crop inspector, fly at higher altitudes and track weather, or serve as recon for soldiers on the battlefield while looking like a normal bird to the eyes of the enemy. It could also give a push to the FWMAV hobbyist community because of the aerobatics it can perform.

Alex: The project could be used in disaster relief situations, such as gathering video and sensory data (such as chemical sensing). It could also be used in educational programs–bio-inspired robots cover so many disciplines. I remember my best educational experiences being tangible. I am in the process of arranging a visit to my high school to show Robo Raven to a robotics club as a teaching tool.

Q: What’s it like, as alumni of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, to continue your work together at UMD?

Ariel: It is great to have other Meyerhoff Scholars to work with. I know exactly what they have gone through in terms of classes and experiences. This allows us to hold each other to higher expectations than other students.

Luke: It was really helpful to me that Ariel, whom I already knew, was in the lab when I first got there and helped me get settled in and just have a friend there. I was really excited when I heard Alex was coming because we were in the same cohort and actually roomed together during Summer Bridge. We also worked on a lot of projects together during our undergrad years.

Q: How has your time at UMBC helped you in your work and studies now?

Ariel: UMBC’s Mechanical Engineering Department gave us a great education and foundation in mechanical engineering. The transition from undergraduate school to graduate school was effortless and seemed like an extension of what was already being taught. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program did a great job in preparing us for the research side of graduate school. Thanks to their guidance, I knew what to expect when coming to graduate school. They prepared me and showed me the work ethic necessary to be a good researcher.

Luke: My time at UMBC helped me to learn to push hard, even when classes are ridiculously tough and life is difficult, because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t see that light very well till the end of undergrad, and now that I’m in grad school and working on this project I see the light more clearly. Sometimes it pops out of my field of vision for a bit but that’s when I put my head down and push on. It comes back.

Alex: The strength of my graduate application and research skills are a result of applying to and completing internships at the admonition of UMBC staff, 5 in total, and, naturally, the academic content I learned at UMBC. UMBC taught me the importance of group collaboration for generating ideas in addition to management of personal assignments and tasks.