Mikhail Volkov

Mikhail Volkov
Photo: Jason Dorfman, CSAIL photographer

Where did you grow up:

I was born in Moscow, Russia. My family moved to Dublin, Ireland when I was nine. I grew up and received my education there.

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

After high school I applied to Trinity College Dublin to study Medicinal Chemistry. In retrospect, I could have seen it through, but it was the wrong course at the wrong time in my life. I dropped out after a year, spent another year soul-searching and saving money to go back to college. In 2006 I returned to TCD to pursue Engineering, and went on to specialize in Electronic and Computer Engineering. I received my bachelor's degree in 2010.

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

I began the EECS doctoral program in the fall of 2010. I am working in the Distributed Robotics Laboratory in CSAIL. My advisor is Professor Daniela Rus. I am also co-advised by Professor Nancy Lynch from the Theory of Computation Group.

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

My present research is in swarm robotics. I became interested in this area when I read about the work of James McLurkin here at MIT. In most areas of robotics the complexity of the desired behavior is dictated by the complexity of the robot. By contrast, in swarm robotics the agents themselves are very simple, often hindered by severe sensing and communication constraints. But in large groups these agents can exhibit powerful emergent properties and are able to achieve various global objectives without any centralized coordination. This area of research is still young and I am very excited to be involved in it at this time.

I am currently working on pursuit evasion, a model in which a group of pursuer robots explore and clear an environment from a group of adversarial evaders. My aim is to establish a set of theoretical results that relate a concise description of the environment to the number of pursuers required to clear it, for different modes of exploration. Pursuit evasion is a useful model for many applications such as surveillance, disaster response, search and rescue, and military operations.

What is your favorite thing about working at CSAIL?

CSAIL has given me the freedom and the resources to pursue my own ideas, and I am privileged to work with so many talented individuals. The Stata Center is the ideal agar for creative thinking. The facilities and infrastructure are incredible. Gehry's crazy architecture is even more inspiring on the inside and I have yet to find two parallel walls. Also there is loads of free food!

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

I think that developments in robotics will be highly influential in advancing the transhumanist agenda. Robotics will ultimately reshape every aspect of our society, though perhaps a decade is a little too optimistic.

What are your future plans?

After I graduate I hope to work abroad and to gain industry experience. However, six years is a long time and anything is possible. Six years ago I could not have imagined that I would be working at CSAIL.