From Drones to Adaptive Tech: Olin Summer Research

School is out for the year, but many Olin students are still hard at work on campus. This summer there are approximately 60 students doing over 15 different research projects at Olin. The research, headed by professors in their respective fields, ranges from Microbial Community Dynamics to Visible Light Communications, to Curriculum Innovation. Students work independently and with professors to set their own project goals and find solutions to these real-world problems.

Kaitlyn Keil, Class of ’19, told me, “It’s really rewarding to be able to determine my own objectives. The professors are very helpful in providing guidance, but when it comes down to it I’ve learned the most from figuring out what I need to learn.” Kaitlyn’s project is a blind autonomous sailing program that will help the visually impaired sail match races without the help of a sighted guide. Working with a real user group has changed the way she approaches the entire project. “I’m able to work for hours on something, and then I actually go and present it to the people who will be using it. Terrifying!  But seeing their excitement and receiving their feedback is way more validating than working on some physics project that’s just put on a poster at the end of the year.”

Kaitlin preparing for a project demo with the blind sailors

Many of the students are applying what they learned over the academic year to their current projects. “I came into Olin with no software background whatsoever, then I took two semesters of software classes, and now I’m using a bunch of it,” said Rocco DiVerdi, who does research in the Robotics Lab as well as work for CyPhy, a Boston based aerial drone company. “The cool thing was learning how the drones in the lab work because I’m using the same hardware at my internship.”

Charlie Weiss programming an aerial drone in the Robo Lab

For many students like Rocco, The Robotics Lab is a hub of practical learning and applied experience. One of the biggest projects there this summer is DARPA’s Squad X. Coleman Ellis, ’19, explains: “The goal is to get fleets of robots to work together with squads of humans to perform tasks more efficiently than they would otherwise separately.” On a day to day basis, students construct and program various drones including land vehicles, quadcopters, and specialized hybrids. Then they deploy the fleet in Olin’s forest area, Parcel B, to test their capabilities and get real-time feedback.Charlie Weiss, ’19, another Robo Lab researcher is loving her experience. “I’m learning a lot of wiring, soldering, scoping out sensors – very technical stuff,” she says. But more than the practical skills, summer students just get to have fun. After talking about all of the scientific work she’s doing she paused and exclaimed, “It’s just really great to get to fly drones around. I get to do that for my job!” No matter what subject students are researching, it’s clear everyone is here because they love what they do. Just like during the year, Olin’s summer culture is passionate and creative – dedicated to learning a lot and enjoying themselves in the process. 

The Robo Lab researchers, hard at work, communicating with their squad of robots

Posted in: Research