Photo: Jason Dorfman, CSAIL photographer
Where did you grow up: Cranston, RI.
What was your academic path before coming to grad school at MIT? I finished high school in Rhode Island in 1999, and stayed in state for college at Brown University. I came to MIT right after completing a degree in computer science and philosophy at Brown in 2003.
What did you want to be when you were younger? Is that still an interest of yours? There was never anything specific I wanted to be when I was young; the future was always this vague and nebulous thing that I ignored for the most part. I started learning computer programming when I in elementary school, and mostly just did what I found interesting without really thinking about what would happen next. I'm still interested in computers, and fortunately it's a diverse and deep enough field that I don't think I'll ever get bored.
What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you? Well, the most interesting bits are the ones I wouldn't share with most ;)
One thing that does surprise people is that I wrote a book on Bluetooth programming that was published last year, Bluetooth Essentials for Programmers (Cambridge University Press, 2007). That was when I was still working in computer systems and networking.
What department are you currently working in, and when did you start there? I'm currently in EECS, and started in the fall of 2003. In my first two years here, I worked in the systems groups on Project Oxygen. In 2005, I transitioned to a robotics group, where I have been since.
What are you working on and why are you passionate about it? In the last couple years, I worked on the MIT Urban Challenge team, where we modified a Land Rover LR3 to drive itself through a 60-mile race course complete with other human-driven and robot-driven cars. A large part of my contribution was to develop ways to use all of our vehicle's sensors to build a real-time estimate of the road and its travel lanes, which would then be used to guide the vehicle's motion planning system.
In general, I work in the area of perception algorithms for mobile robots.
I've always been interested in robots, especially ones that can move around and interact with people on a daily basis. One of the biggest challenges preventing this from happening right now is that building a system that can sense, perceive, and understand the world we live in and all the different events that occur is extraordinarily difficult. I get a big thrill whenever I'm able to build a system that does this even to a limited extent.
What is your favorite thing about working at CSAIL? There are two aspects that I particularly enjoy. First, everyone else here is brilliant. Pretty much all the people I interact with on a daily basis are both incredibly capable and motivated to work on solving difficult problems. Second, CSAIL has the resources to execute large projects on a scale that you don't find at most institutions. It's a great place to be when you're limited by your ideas and not so much by your resources.
What effect do you think your area of work will have on the world in the next decade? My personal hope is that autonomous robotics will mature and become useful to a variety of fields and applications. By imbuing these robots with the ability to operate in complex and dynamic environments, we make them useful beyond just the laboratory setting. This may happen first in safety systems, and in areas that are too dangerous for humans such as underwater and rescue scenarios, but it will eventually happen in everyday life.
What are your future plans? I expect to graduate within the next year, and don't have any concrete plans beyond that. I expect to continue working in robotics, but haven't yet decided how best to do that.
What advice would you give a prospective CSAIL graduate student? My advice would be to think long and hard about what motivates you. Once you've found that, seize it and don't let it go. Don't be afraid of change, and don't let inertia stop you from doing what you think is right for you.