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Alex Infantino, class of 2014, is a current sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Lowell where he’s majoring in Computer Science. He is able to be part of some very cool projects at college – even working with the famous NAO robot!
What are you studying at UMASS Lowell?
I’m majoring in Computer Science and planning to minor in Robotics. The Robotics Lab at UML is run by Holly Yanco, a well known professor in the Robotics world. She oversees all the projects done by the students working for her and earns all the grants and sponsorships that allow us to do the work that we do. There are two labs at Lowell: one directly on North campus where I work, and there is the NERVE Center (New England Robotics and Validation Center: http://nerve.uml.edu/) which is basically a testing facility for robots.
How did you get interested in robotics and programming?
I first got involved in the robotics lab this past summer. When I was accepted into UML I was awarded a scholarship that allowed me to intern as a research assistant for the summer following my freshman year. I applied to the robotics lab, although I knew nothing about robotics, as I thought it would be extremely challenging and interesting. I was interviewed by some of my current lab members and was hired. Once the summer internship was done, I was offered a part time position with a few others whom worked with me over the summer to continue research during the school year.
Over the summer, I spent most of my time becoming familiar with ROS (Robot Operating System), Linux, and Git. ROS is a completely open source and extremely fun to use, so if you want to get a head start you can check it out here: http://www.ros.org/. As an intern they gave me freedom to choose my projects, and so I decided to work on the NAO robot (https://www.aldebaran.com/en). Over the summer I wrote a program with my partner, Victoria, to autonomously get the NAO to stand up and walk around the room using the sonar found on its chest. We also created various smaller programs including taking advantage of its speakers and LEDs to make a cheesy horror movie, and make it do the hula and create an equally cheesy video with a green screen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUUpR6neIMI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNtdwE7pRwg). I went into my summer work only knowing the programming language C and was easily able to create a bunch of programs with help from my lab members and partner. Here’s an overview of my summer work: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3s_F-l4vX0).
What projects are you working on right now?
My current work is being overseen by Momotaz Begum, who is an assistant research professor here at UML. All of the research at the Robotics Lab at UMass Lowell is geared around Human Robot Interaction, or HRI. My current work involves implementing the NAO robot in therapy sessions for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. People with autism people respond very well to technology, and the NAO robot is very friendly looking and easy to interact with. Victoria and I have implemented a user interface that could perform simple tasks during a therapy session.
With one command, the NAO robot begins to record all video and audio from the session. Next we can make the robot say hello to a participant and wave, while a third button prompts the participant to say hello and wave. And lastly there is a button that says goodbye and shuts down the recording processes. The long term goal with this work is to create an algorithm that can look at the videos and audio we recorded to fully 'automatize' the therapy so that it will not have to be controlled by a user. Unfortunately we have run into some hardware problems that cause the NAO to overheat frequently, so we have switched gears a little and started working on a few other smaller projects. I have also helped some of my co-workers on testing their projects such as using the Sony eyeglass (https://developer.sony.com/develop/wearables/smarteyeglass-sdk/) / ODG glasses (http://shop.osterhoutgroup.com/products/r-7-glasses-system) for use in physical therapy and testing out various demos with Baxter, an industrial robot.
At this very moment, I am currently working on implementing inverse kinematics with the NAO. Essentially you can publish coordinates for the NAO's joints and the program will properly interpret the coordinates, calculate where it needs to move the joints, and actually move them to the calculated positions. I am also running into problems with this because the C++ SDK I am using to communicate to the NAO with has had some trouble compiling due to dependency issues, so I am writing some of this stuff from scratch. I was able to present all my projects at an open house this month, along with other co-workers, students, and companies.
What advice would you give to current Sizer students?
I would offer a few pieces of advice. First of all, try to use your Junior Ex/Senior Project to figure out what you want to study in college. My senior project was based around the History of Programming Languages, and my research has actually helped me understand some basic concepts in the classes I am taking. Secondly, just try to find something on campus that involves your major. It enables you to get some real world applications for your studies, and is also great for resumes. Lastly, try your hardest to get an internship/co-op. I am currently applying for co-ops and can also attest to how helpful they are in just advancing your knowledge on your major. I learned a lot of techniques in my computing classes and was able to use the knowledge to make my programs run more efficiently at the Robotics Lab. Don't be afraid and really just try to make as many professional connections as possible.
Alex, thank you so much for being interviewed! I’m going to check out some of those programming websites. We look forward to seeing what you work on next.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity
Alex wrote a program for us: see if you can work your way through the sequence!