Wil Selby

Wil Selby
Photo: Jason Dorfman, CSAIL photographer

Where did you grow up:

In Frederick, Maryland.

What was your academic path before coming to grad school at MIT?

I attended Urbana High School and graduated in 2005. I then entered the United States Naval Academy where I majored in Systems Engineering and did an undergraduate research project on controlling swarms of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to provide security for military convoys. This project allowed me to apply the basic control designs I had been taught in classes as well as explore areas that I found interesting in greater detail. After graduation in 2009, I came to MIT.

What did you want to be when you were younger? Is that still an interest of yours?

I always wanted to be an engineer when I was younger and have always had a passion for math and science. My undergraduate experiences taught me how to apply basic math and science principles to real world problems which is why I enjoy engineering. Coming from the Naval Academy, I am a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps and will be able to use my technical expertise to take full advantage of the ever more sophisticated resources of the U.S. military.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?

While I enjoy researching distributed control theory and reading about the latest technical innovations, I also enjoy running. It provides a good outlet to keep in shape and to take a break from the academic rigors of school. I was on the Naval Academy's marathon team and raced in several marathons over the years, including the Boston Marathon. I look forward to seeing my old teammates at the starting line again this Spring.

What department are you currently working in, and when did you start there?

I am currently working in the Mechanical Engineering Department and I began in the Fall of 2009.

What are you working on and why are you passionate about it?

I am currently working on developing distributed control strategies that allow for a group of autonomous helicopters to visually identify targets using an onboard camera system and successfully track the identified object. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have really taken off as a multi-functional platform and I see the future of this field involving multiple platforms working cooperatively. My research will give me a unique insight into the operation and capabilities of current UAV technology and will enable me to use these platforms more effectively as I serve in the Marine Corps.

What is your favorite thing about working at CSAIL?

Besides the abundance of free food, the camaraderie and determination of the students as well as the faculty is inspiring. There is never a dull moment and there is always someone to bounce ideas off of and think of the current problem in a new light.

What effect do you think your area of work will have on the world in the next decade?

There is no doubt that the military is increasing its use of UAVs, but I believe that my research has pertinent non-military applications as well. Researchers could use groups of UAVS to track marine life such as humpback whales to study their migration patters or urban planners could use similar systems to track vehicle traffic and implement more effective traffic control schemes to reduce congestion. I believe that as UAV technology progresses, the price per unit will decrease, resulting in more operations with multiple platforms. Research such as mine and others will give the platform operators a variety of methods to use the platforms effectively.

What are your future plans?

Upon graduation from MIT, I will serve as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. As my career progresses, I hope to use my technical expertise to serve as a liaison between the Department of Defense and the academic world and to ensure that our soldiers are receiving the top of the line technology to improve their combat effectiveness and quality of life.

What advice would you give a prospective CSAIL graduate student?

Try to broaden your horizons by sitting in in guest lectures in related or even non-related fields and making friends outside of your immediate discipline of study. This will give you a greater appreciation for your work and help you look at problems differently. CSAIL and MIT provide multiple opportunities to explore your interests so you should take advantage of them.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Boston is a great city. In one area you can learn about the founding of the country and within a few blocks you could be standing in front of a research group creating the next generation of supercomputing. It is a college town where you can meet young adults from all over the world with various life experiences. Take advantage of all the events the city has to offer.