Posts Tagged: student life

‘My dream job’: How a PEY Co-op student is helping develop a new generation of autonomous space robots

Erin Richardson at MDA

PEY Co-op student Erin Richardson (Year 3 EngSci) is spending 16 months at Canadian space engineering firm MDA, where she is working on a new generation of autonomous robots for the forthcoming Lunar Gateway space station. (Photo: MDA)

 

By Tyler Irving

Erin Richardson (Year 3 EngSci) was in Grade 9 when she decided she wanted to be an astronaut.

“We had a science unit on outer space, and I remember being completely fascinated by the vast scale of it all,” she says. “Thinking about how big the universe is, and how we’re just a tiny speck on a tiny planet, I knew I wanted to be part of exploring it.”

Richardson started following Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on social media and watching videos of his daily life on the International Space Station. She also started reading about aerospace and doing everything she could to break into the industry, including getting her Student Pilot Permit.

It was in a Forbes article about women in STEM that she first read the name of Kristen Facciol (EngSci 0T9).

A U of T Engineering alumna, Facciol had worked as a systems engineer at Canadian space engineering firm MDA before moving on to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). When Richardson first learned about her, Facciol was an Engineering Support Lead, providing real-time flight support during on-orbit operations and teaching courses to introduce astronauts and flight controllers to the ISS robotic systems. Today, Facciol is a Flight Controller for CSA/NASA.

“I found her contact information and reached out to her,” says Richardson. “She’s been an amazing mentor to me over the last five years. We’re still close friends, and she’s really helped influence my career path.”

With Facciol’s encouragement, Richardson applied to U of T’s Engineering Science program, eventually choosing the aerospace major. After her first year, she landed a summer research position in the lab of Professor Jonathan Kelly (UTIAS), working on simulation tools for a robotic mobile manipulator platform.

“Working in Kelly’s lab piqued my interest in robotics as they could be applied in space,” she says. “Researching collaborative manipulation in dynamic environments will push the boundaries of human spaceflight – during spacewalks, astronauts work right alongside  robots all the time.”

After her second year, Richardson travelled to Tasmania for a research placement facilitated by EngSci’s ESROP Global program. Working with researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, she created tools to analyze data collected during scientific mooring deployments, which help us learn more about our oceans over long periods of time. This work informs the design of next-generation mooring systems which, like space systems, must survive harsh and constrained environments.

Richardson was sitting in a second-year lecture when she heard the news that Canada had committed to NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, a brand-new international space station set to be constructed between 2023 and 2026. Unlike the ISS, which currently orbits Earth, the Lunar Gateway will orbit the moon and will serve both as a waypoint for future crewed missions to the lunar surface and as preparation for missions to even more distant worlds, such as Mars.

Energized, Richardson searched for a way to get involved. Her opportunity came in the fall of 2019, when she saw a posting on MDA’s job board. She immediately applied through U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year Co-op program, which enables undergraduate students to spend up to 16 months working for leading firms worldwide before returning to finish their degree programs.

Richardson started her placement in May 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her employer quickly adapted.

“I was working from home through the summer, but for my latest project I was able to go onsite to operate this robotic arm,” she says.

The robotic arm in question is a model of Dextre, a versatile robot that maintains the International Space Station. Richardson used it as a prototype part for the Canadarm3, which will be installed on Lunar Gateway.

Because the Lunar Gateway will be so far from Earth, Canadarm3 will be designed to be autonomous, able to execute certain tasks without supervision from a remote control station. Part of Richardson’s job is to create the dataset that will eventually be used to train the artificial intelligence algorithms that will make this possible.

In MDA’s DREAMR lab, Richardson guided the robotic arm through a series of movements and scenarios, with a suite of video cameras tracking its every move. She then tagged each series of images with metadata that will teach the robot whether the movements it saw were desirable ones to emulate, or dangerous ones to avoid.

“We had to capture different lighting conditions and obstacles of various sizes and colours,” she says. “My colleagues pointed out to me that because it’s me deciding which scenarios count as collisions and which ones don’t, the AI that we eventually create will be a reflection of my own brain.”

Apart from the opportunity to contribute to the next generation of space robots, Richardson says she’s enjoyed the chance to apply what she’s learned in her classes, as well as the professional connections she’s made.

“It’s my dream job,” she says. “I use what I learned in engineering design courses every day. I’m treated as a full engineer and a member of the team. The people I work with are extremely supportive and they talk to me about my dreams and goals. I love being surrounded by a team of talented and motivated people, all so passionate about what they do and about advancing space exploration. It’s an awesome opportunity for any student.”

This article was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.


Making the most of an unusual semester: How EngSci students are adapting to remote learning

Left to right: Brothers Arnaud Deza (Year 3 EngSci), Daniel Deza (Year 1 EngSci) and Gabriel Deza (Year 4 EngSci) are all studying from home this semester. Their sister Anna Deza (EngSci 2T0) joins them online. (Photo: Emmanuel Deza)

 

Like students around the world, U of T Engineering students have had to find new and creative ways to manage their studies and extra-curricular activities during this challenging and unusual Fall term.

See the different ways EngSci students have adapted to a remote academic year in this story in the U of T Engineering News.


EngSci’s 2020 Schulich Leaders fly high

2020 Schulich Leader Adele Crete-Laurence (Year 1 EngSci) is passionate about finding a way to make flying safe for our planet. (Photo by Captain Marie-Anne Irvine)

 

In 2020, four EngSci students are among the 10 U of T students to be awarded Schulich Leader Scholarships.  Adele Crete-Laurence, Zack Fine, Aditi Misra, and Christopher K.W. Adolphe began their studies in September as part of the first year class.

Schulich Leader Scholarships recognize Canadian students with academic excellence who exemplify leadership and embrace the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Read more about EngSci’s Schulich Scholars in the U of T Engineering News.


Three-peat victory: U of T Engineering team wins AutoDrive Challenge, Year Three

Zeus, shown here outside the Myhal Centre in October 2019, is a self-driving car designed and built by aUToronto, a student-led team from U of T Engineering. This week, aUToronto placed first overall in the three-year AutoDrive Challenge, an intercollegiate competition between eight top engineering schools across North America. (Photo: Liz Do)

 

By Tyler Irving

aUToronto has placed first in an intercollegiate challenge to transform an electric car into a self-driving one — their third consecutive win.

“All of us take pride in the work that we have done at aUToronto,” says Jingxing “Joe” Qian (EngSci 1T8 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), Team Lead for aUToronto. “The competition results clearly reflect the high calibre and dedication of the team.”

The team also took the top overall prize for the most cumulative points over the three years of the AutoDrive Challenge. Second place went to Texas A & M, with Virginia Tech scoring third. The other schools in the competition were: University of Waterloo, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, North Carolina A&T State, and Kettering University.

The AutoDrive Challenge began in 2017, when each of the student-led teams was provided with a brand-new electric vehicle, a Chevrolet Bolt. Their task was to convert it into an autonomous vehicle, meeting yearly milestones along the way.

Sponsors of the AutoDrive include General Motors, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and a number of other companies that produce hardware and software for self-driving cars.

The U of T team took the top spot at the first meet of the competition, held in the spring of 2018 at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz. In the second year, they again placed first at the competition, which took place in MCity, a simulated town for self-driving vehicle testing, built at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The third yearly meet was originally scheduled to take place last spring at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio. However, it was postponed and reorganized due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“The goal of this year’s challenge was to simulate an autonomous ride-sharing scenario,” says Qian. “That means the car needed to arrive at a sequence of pre-determined address points and perform pseudo pick-up and drop-off behaviours. The routes would have been much longer and more complex compared with Year 2.”

In the absence of a live event, the organizers used what are known as “static event” scores, which are based on reports and presentations that the teams could submit remotely. These included an analysis of the social responsibility aspects of the project, the overall conceptual design and the results of a number of sophisticated computer simulations.

Qian says that the latest iteration of Zeus includes a number of enhancements, including improvements in perception, path planning and GPS-free localization. To make them, the aUToronto team overcame numerous challenges, not the least of which was coordinating more than 50 team members who were working remotely on the project.

“We are located in many different places around the world, so team building and organization becomes extremely important,” says Qian. “We have weekly meetings online where sub-team leads present their updates to the rest of the team, and we have also been planning virtual paper talks and knowledge sharing sessions.”

“aUToronto has been focused on putting together a top-notch self driving car for three years now,” says Keenan Burnett (EngSci 1T6+PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), who served as aUToronto’s Team Lead through the first two years of the AutoDrive Challenge. “This win is the result of hundreds of hours of work by our team.”

“As a faculty advisor, I have watched with awe as the 100%-student-run team really seized this unique opportunity,” says Professor Tim Barfoot (UTIAS). Barfoot, along with Professor Angela Schoellig (UTIAS) is one of the two co-Faculty Leads of the team. He also serves as Associate Director of the University of Toronto Robotics Institute and the Chair of the Robotics Option offered by the Division of Engineering Science.

“Robotics is a very hands-on discipline, so experiences such as the AutoDrive Challenge are needed to complement classroom learning,” says Barfoot “I am deeply grateful to SAE and GM for organizing this activity and the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering for their ongoing support through the Dean’s Strategic Fund.   I feel our graduates are better prepared to head into the exciting field of autonomous vehicles than perhaps anywhere in the world at this moment in time.  The fact that we won the competition is a bonus.”

The competition has been rolled into a fourth year, with a live meet set to take place sometime in 2021, again at MCity in Ann Arbour, Mich.

“We’re very proud the results of this third-year competition and looking forward to raising the bar yet again at the fourth-year competition,” says Burnett. “Although we’re disappointed we didn’t get to show off our autonomous functions this year, we’re looking forward to going back to MCity and demonstrating our Level 4 self-driving car.”

But aUToronto is also thinking beyond the end of the AutoDrive Challenge.

“We’ve always said we do not want to design a system that is specific towards this competition,” says Qian. “Our goal is to achieve full autonomy under many different scenarios.”

This story was originally posted in the U of T Engineering News.


EngSci student wins at Hatchery Demo Day

 

Themis team photo


Themis team uses AI to create a Microsoft Office add-in that saves hours of time drafting legal papers. (Photo courtesy Themis)

 

Year 4 EngSci student Cindy Chen (third from left in the above photo) is part of the team that won the top prize at the 2020 Hatchery Demo Day.  The student-founded startup uses artificial intelligence to help lawyers draft legal contracts.

Read how the team plans to use their $20,000 prize money.


EngSci’s 2020 Student Award Winners

June 1, 2020

Graduating EngSci students Ben Mucsi, Lia Codrington, Rosemary Jose, and Victoria Cheng are this year’s award recipients in recognition of their service to their communities.

 

Four outstanding graduating students are the recipients of EngSci’s 2020 student awards in recognition of the significant impact of their volunteer work within and outside of the university community. Students were nominated by their peers.

The Spirit of EngSci Award and the Engineers for the World (E4TW) Award are presented to graduating students for exemplary non-academic contributions within the University or the community-at-large, respectively.

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Ben, Lia, Rosemary and Victoria as this year’s winners of the Spirit of EngSci Award and Engineers for the World (E4TW) Award,” says Professor Will Cluett, EngSci Interim Chair.  “These are the Division’s most prestigious, non-academic awards made to graduating EngSci students who have made outstanding contributions to their communities both inside the University and beyond.”

Spirit of EngSci Award

Victoria Cheng (1T9 PEY) has worked tirelessly to promote diversity at Canadian universities and to provide students of all types with opportunities for growth. Through her extensive involvement in Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) and as Chair of its flagship WISE National Conference, she greatly increased student engagement by expanding the diversity of speakers, and launched several initiatives such as the Stories of WISE blog. As an executive for NSpire she organized networking nights for professionals and students from five universities across Ontario. She is passionate about exposing engineering students to global issues, and led the expansion of Global Engineering Week to the University of British Columbia. Outside of her leadership involvement, Victoria has also been an informal mentor to many. “Victoria’s ambition to support and create opportunities for others is exceptional,” says nominator Bohan Zhang (1T9 PEY). “Her advice and guidance have helped me secure internships abroad, which has drastically improved my career path.”

Read more about Victoria.

His classmates joke that Ben Mucsi (1T9 PEY) chose energy as his major for a reason—he never seems to run out of it! He has been a supportive presence for Skulemates since first becoming an NSight mentor, helping first year students adjust to university life. During his time in EngSci, he served as Vice President of Finance and Interim Chair of the EngSci Club. As 2019 Orientation Chair he coordinated the largest engineering Orientation Week to date, with a focus on inclusion. An accomplished Varsity Athlete on the fencing team, Ben served as External Director, Tournaments Director, and Vice President Administration of the Engineering Athletic Association. He was also the sponsorship lead for Blue Sky Solar Racing, helping to raise significant amounts of monetary and material donations. “Every day that I’ve known him, Ben has shown me how leadership means working in service of others,” says nominator Khadija Rana (Year 4).

Read more about Ben.

Engineers for the World (E4TW) Award

As a Junior Fellow with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Lia Codrington (1T9PEY) spent a summer helping students tackle health care and food security problems in Ghana more efficiently. Her deep interest in improving the relationships between engineers and indigenous peoples led her to establish EWB’s Indigenous Reconciliation Portfolio, educating students on how to collaborate with and support Indigenous peoples. She contributed to a design project developing compost and water systems for Cat Lake First Nation’s new greenhouse, used her thesis and capstone projects to work on housing challenges in First Nation communities. In 2019, she traveled to Iqaluit to take part in the Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus. “Whenever she talks about these projects, I can see her eyes light up,” says nominator Kimberly Lai (1T9 PEY Aerospace). “You can clearly see how dedicated she is to use her engineering skills to help others and do something meaningful.” In addition to her involvement in EWB, Lia was also a Varsity Athlete and was an executive of Blues Engineering for 3 years.

Read more about Lia.

Rosemary Jose (1T9 PEY) is passionate about renewable energy and climate change issues. She has served on the boards of several environmental organizations, including Toronto Green Community and Waterlution, where she co-created the Great Waters Challenge. Through her roles with these and other organizations, she supported local non-profits and businesses towards their goals of improving our environment. “She has had such a positive influence on the people around her,” says nominator Najah Hassan (1T9 PEY). “She has encouraged other students to pursue interests and paths within engineering that were meaningful to them and could add value to the things they saw as important.”

Read more about Rosemary.


From Malaysia to Toronto: Meet the incoming class of 2T3

Year 1 EngSci students Chloe Bell, Sofia Karter Lopez, and Joel Biju Thomas are among the many incoming students joining EngSci from abroad.

Residence move-ins, Frosh Week, fuelling up on textbooks at the U of T bookstore and their first-ever Praxis lectures and labs — a long list of activities await Year 1 EngSci students.

For many, that list also includes exploring Toronto for the very first time — about one in four come from outside of Canada.

Meet these three EngSci students, along with several other Engineering students, and learn what’s got them excited about their first year.


EngSci Alumnus Funds First eSports Scholarship at U of T Engineering

Victor Xin (EngSci 0T8 + PEY) was motivated to fund a new scholarship by his own experiences as an undergraduate student. (Photo: Jamie Hunter)

“We need to reward the mavericks amongst us who may not fit into the mold of a traditional leader,” said Victor Xin (0T8 + PEY), reflecting the spirit of EngSci.

This sentiment inspired Xin to start a new scholarship for an engineering student with high academic marks and a passion for eSports. eSports stands for electronic sports, a.k.a. the ever-expanding world of competitive video gaming, where top prizes can be in the millions of dollars. Xin’s generous donation will support a student who has shown leadership in this community while maintaining high academic achievement.

Read more about U of T Engineering’s first scholarship for students involved in eSports.


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