Hello! I am Alejandro Escalante and I am an undergraduate student from Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology). I am going to be a senior next year and I plan to finish my majors in Computer Engineering and Applied Mathematics by June 2015. This summer I will be working at Texas A&M University as part of the Computer Science Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.
The main subject of my research is Motion Planning, and I will have two graduate students as mentors. Hsin-Yi (Cindy) Yeh studied at the National Taiwan University, is interested in Computational Biology and is currently working on a new sampling method, UOBPRM. Mukulika Ghosh studied at the National Institute of Technology in India, is interested in Computational Geometry and is now working on a Convex Decomposition method.
The three of us are working in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Nancy Amato.
This is the link to my Research Project Description (pdf).
The length of the program is 10 weeks and I will be keeping a weekly journal of my work and my experience.
The first day was full with welcoming events, leaving no time to get started with the program. It was nice to meet some of the people that I would be working with during the summer, however. The next day we started the Motion Planning Crash Course, which is a serious of assignments and tasks designed to get you acquainted with Motion Planning and how things are done in Parasol Laboratory.
The first assignments were, specifically, about knowing what is expected from us, getting to know all the accounts that we would be using during the summer when working with the Parasol Motion Planning Library (PMPL), adding some information to our website, reading two important research papers on Motion Planning, and doing some experiments with the PMPL.
As a J exchange visitor, I had to go to an orientation meeting set up by the IFSS. In that meeting I learnt all about College Station and the government requirements for my J program. Unfortunately, I also had to go to Houston to fix a problem that I had with my I-94; it was not registered in the CBP I-94 System. I had this problem because the airline I flew in with did not have my name spelled correctly, so make sure that you do not have this problem!
The best thing came at the end of the week because we had a welcome lunch from the Parasol Laboratory and the coordinators of the REU program organized a pool party at the REC Center. Both things were a lot of fun.
On Monday I went to my first weekly Motion Planning meeting. This time Zhijia Xu got to present his preliminary research results on Assembly Planning, and Jory Denny presented a research paper on path planning for Deformable Robots.
This week, we moved on to the next assignments of the Crash Course. This time we had to read the PMPL Coding Standards and make sure that a couple of files complied with these; each of us were assigned different files. After that we also had to read the 3rd and 7th chapters from the book Principles of Robot Motion: Theory, Algorithms, and Implementations. The third chapter is about C-Space and the seventh goes over Sample-based Planners. Additionally, I volunteered to do a standards check on new code for the PMPL!
Another interesting thing this week was our weekly Computer Science REU lunch meeting. This time we got to hear a lot of useful insight from four of the PhD students at the department. I actually got to talk to Grant Brammer for about an hour, which was very cool.
In terms of paperwork, I managed to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) in Bryan, open a new bank account and get my Aggie ID Card that is used to ride the bus, and it can also get you a discount at Cinemark!
Once again, we had the weekly Motion Planning meeting on Monday. This time Hsin-Yi did a rehearsal for her Preliminary Presentation on UOBPRM. I also had to work on my Research Plan, and I actually had some problems figuring out some of the concepts that I would be working with. However, I was right to be confused because the goals were not completely defined at that point.
Additionally, I continued reading some of the code of the PMPL, and read another research paper as part of the Crash Course. While reading the code I actually spotted a couple of little bugs, which I then fixed. On thursday, we had our weekly Brown Bag lunch meeting again. This time, however, we did lightning presentations, so we could know the people from the program even better; it was fun. That day we also got to watch Hsin-Yi's real Preliminary Presentation on UOBPRM, which was very interesting.
Another thing I had to work on was my Ethics Training, which is a requirement of the REU program. It was quite useful to read all that information about research because there are many things that I could not know as an Undergraduate. For example, the training explains what to look for in a faculty advisor or a mentor and what to expect from them. Finally, I did another standards check to new code and started working on this website, which is also a requirement of the REU program. I then had to finish setting up this website during the weekend.
The Motion Planning meeting this week featured two Masters students from Parasol, Shuvra Nath and Aditya Mahadevan.
This week was the last week of the Parasol Motion Planning Crash Course designed by Jory Denny, one of the graduate students. This time we focused on doing a small Literature Survey for our research projects. We had to choose three different research papers related to our individual projects, read them and then write about them. At each of the three Crash Course meetings this week, we each presented one of the research papers we chose, but we only had 5 minutes to do it. It was quite a challenge!
The next weeks will be all about working on our individual projects. We still have to read one or two research papers each week, however. Reading is a very important part of research!
This is the Literature Survey I did. (pdf)
This week I got started with my individual research project. I invested a lot of time in reading code from the PMPL, and I wrote a draft explaining the things I have been researching on, what I have found and what I propose to do. It looks like I will be implementing these things next week.
At the Motion Planning this week nobody did a presentation because, instead, we all were assigned the duty to do a peer-review for a research paper that wants to enter the next edition of the International Journal of Robotics and Research. After the review, all the summer students, including me, had to do a short presentation on our individual research projects, though.
I also had to complete a training that is a requirement for every employee working for the Texas A&M System. The training covers ethics, creating a good working environment, an introduction to how the system works, and avoiding fraud, waste, and abuse. It also explained how to manage conflicts of interest and good habits to protect sensitive electronical information.
Since the Crash Course ended last week, we were asked to complete a survey about it to help improve it for other people that will be taking it after us. I also got to watch Aditya's rehearsal for his Masters thesis defense. The topic of his research is Multi-Robot Caravanning, which is a very interesting subject! The real defense will be on Monday next week.
The most fun this week was definitely on the 4th of July because we had the day off and I went to a barbeque at a friend's house. After that, I also got to watch the fireworks from the George Bush Library. They were incredible! They must have lasted more than 10 minutes.
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