Tom Wu (1T4) at MIT’s Aerospace Controls Laboratory

“Thanks to the support of the Division of Engineering Science, I was able to work at MIT’s Aerospace Controls Laboratory (ACL) as a recipient of the ESROP award for the summer of 2012. My research project focuses on the practical implementation and testing of a recently-developed controller – Concurrent Learning Adaptive Controller. When this type of controller is applied to unmanned aerial vehicles, it is capable of learning the unknown aerodynamic uncertainties and improving the vehicles’ flight performance over time. I designed and conducted flight tests of the controller on quadrotors – helicopters with four rotors which have many real-life applications such as transportation and surveillance.

The main challenges that I had faced were to manage my time well and to collaborate effectively with my fellow researchers. In a research setting at my lab, most of the work is project-based, meaning that people may or may not be busy depending on different projects’ deadlines. Right after my supervisor told me the deadline for my project’s research paper, I started planning my tasks and discussed important milestones with him. Using an agenda to record my progresses and plans really helped me keep up with the tight schedule. It was also a wise move to seek help from my co-workers when the tasks seemed overwhelming. As one of the authors of the research paper on my project, I was very glad to find out that my work will be published at the 2012 AIAA Guidance, Navigation and Control Conference in Minneapolis, MN.

In general, EngSci has provided me with the basic knowledge and skill sets for my research assistantship. The foundation years courses including Linear Algebra, Differential Equations, Computer Programming and Engineering Design are particularly relevant to the theoretical background and practical implementation of flight controllers. Beyond the learning experiences in class, I also have access to the network of diverse and well-rounded people that EngSci has managed to maintain. This summer, I even made new connections with a few EngSci graduates who are currently studying in the US as Master or PhD candidates. All of them were easily approachable and offered to share their experiences with me when I asked them for guidance.

I was really fortunate to have received the ESROP award and to spend the summer at one of the greatest institutions in the world. Thus far, it has been a great opportunity to meet some of the leaders in the field of automation and control and to learn about the state-of-the-art technologies. The professional and personal connections that I made in Cambridge, MA made this summer one of the most memorable times in my life.”