Student Research at Olin
Nov 04, 2022
From creating robotic fish with the ability to autonomously swim across the ocean to designing satellites for launch into orbit, Olin College of Engineering offers students a wide range of research projects, from paid investigations to those for college credit, or simply to explore a concept in a field of interest.
As an undergraduates-only engineering school, students have the unique opportunity to dive into hands-on research with faculty starting their first semester.
The Robotics Lab directed by Dr. David Barrett has a variety of ongoing research projects. Professor Barrett created the first soft robotic fish as a graduate student at MIT and is a leading researcher on Robofish and a variety of other projects.
In this research group, students are creating a soft robotic fish with the ability to autonomously swim across the Atlantic Ocean and transmit environmental data. The Robofish vehicle uses fish biomimicry to increase speed and maneuverability since fish are highly efficient swimmers.
Students in Robogator are working on developing an autonomous off-road vehicle that can be operated in environments with restricted GPS. Using IMUs, LiDARs, Cameras, and Radar, the Robogator is able to navigate to a specified location without GPS.
Starting this past summer, Olin students have been leading research for Hummingbird, a start-up drone company. The focus is to design a drone with the ability to retrieve and sort items in a warehouse space and coordinate with multiple drones simultaneously. Currently, the group is developing a drone with an interactive arm for these tasks.
Extra: Read more about an Olin alum who utilized a background in robotics and machine learning to now work in gene therapy aimed at safely and effectively treating patients with severe genetic conditions.
The Olin Satellite + Spectrum Technology & Policy (OSSTP) Group
Directed by Dr. Whitney Lohmeyer, OSSTP was initiated in 2019 with a focus on a satellite project called SWARM-Ex. This research project was inspired by Professor Lohmeyer’s work while a graduate student at MIT in Aeronautics and Astronautics and continued through her work in the industry.
Since 2019, OSSTP has kicked off numerous projects with SWARM-Ex serving as the longest-running project and involves five other universities: CU Boulder, Georgia Tech, Western Michigan University, University of Southern Alabama, and Stanford. Oliners are working in collaboration with undergraduate and graduate students to construct 3 CubeSats (miniature 10x10x10cm satellites) to conduct swarm and communications research in low Earth orbit. With the launch planned for 2024, Olin students will be directing the mission from the UHF ground station they designed and built on campus.
Students on other teams within OSSTP are data analytics projects - scraping satellite licenses from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s database, working on space sustainability in coordination with Astroscale, and drafting petitions for rulemaking for the FCC to revise its rules on Low Earth Orbit satellite constellation license determination. OSSTP also focuses on educational material and curriculum, and will be launching a smallsat toy kit that students can use to learn more about satellite systems as they design their own smallsat mission!
This spring semester, Dr. Lohmeyer will be teaching a project-based satellite systems class open to Oliners to learn about the combination of aerospace and policy.
Led by Dr. Emily Tow, the Scaling in Reverse Osmosis research group is working on finding methods to desalinate water. Recently earning the top prize of $150,000 in the “More Water Less Concentrate” competition hosted by the Bureau of Reclamation, the team constructed a water purification system that filters water from inland desalination plants. Currently, the group is working on improving the small reverse osmosis scaling system by running multiple batches of water through it and changing the parameters to note when scaling occurs on the membrane. Using this data, the team is investigating the most efficient system for preventing salt from crystallizing on the membrane due to a high concentration in recycled salt water.
Extra: Download the full-size image of the team's system here - it's amazing!
Dr. Paul Ruvolo’s work focuses on leveraging smartphone technology to create assistive technology for the blind. Professor Ruvolo and his student research group developed the app Clew which is a free app that allows people to navigate a route with haptic and auditory feedback. His work currently focuses on adding more features and removing limitations in the app. This past summer his research focused on Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training where the user learns O&M skills such as cane sweeping in a game-based application. Working with the global community of people who are blind, Dr. Ruvolo’s research group conducts user feedback to improve and test the apps they developed. Currently, the group is working on designing invisible maps using AprilTags to provide users with information about their surroundings. This technology aims to provide users with location awareness to help with current issues such as locating an Uber/Lyft or a bus stop.
TWIST Soft Robotics
TWIST is a student-organized robotics research group investigating biomimetic manipulation. This project began with Bill Fan’s ‘24 independent research project, which he started during a summer research experience. The research takes direct inspiration from nature’s “manipulators” – hands, wrists, elephant trunks, tentacles – to allow robots to interact with objects more seamlessly in the world. Working towards creating the first manipulator, the subteams have been fabricating pneumatic artificial muscles, designing the electrical architecture for controlling and sensing these muscles, and researching advanced mathematical modeling approaches (Luke Raus ‘24). Olin’s Student Academic Grant enables the team to buy the materials and receive support from the Olin faculty, specifically Professor Melinda Malley and Professor Avinash Uttamchandani.
“Olin’s project-centered curriculum has already given us many of the tools and frameworks we need for approaching difficult and ambiguous technical problems as a team.” ~ Luke Raus ‘24
“Olin research is different in that it is incredibly easy to become a part of, all it takes is emailing a professor or a student involved with the research or attending a meeting…You also don’t need any prior experience to start doing research at Olin, it is very much learned by doing.” ~ Charlie Babe ‘24
Check out a recent photo gallery of 5 Summer Research Projects!
Summer Research at Olin: 2022 by Olin College of Engineering on Exposure