A tiny ant was the inspiration behind an idea that landed a Florida Polytechnic University Junior a $20,000 grant from NASA.
The grant from the Florida Space Research Program provides Esteban Segarra and faculty advisor Dr. Bradford Towle the resources to explore autonomous capabilities for robots exploring the surface of Mars. Esteban hit upon the idea after watching the orderly trails of ants traveling back and forth with food.
“Nature is incredibly efficient, so I wanted to replicate and optimize their methods,” says Esteban, a Computer Engineering major from Austin, Texas.
Equipping robots with ant-like precision starts with an algorithm developed through complex coding. Some of the possible applications include deploying swarms of robots on reconnaissance missions, or building long resupply trails to extend the reach of human and robot explorers. Autonomous capabilities allow the robots to make independent decisions within a framework and communicate with each other over wide distances.
Esteban is already proficient using Python, C++ and C# thanks to his classes at Florida Poly. He’s also building on previous augmented reality research that relies on Microsoft’s Hololens to guide robots.
Esteban didn’t come to Florida Poly with a firm idea of what kind of career he wanted to pursue with his degree. But having his ideas validated with a $20,000 grant from the world’s leading space organization has gone a long way toward solidifying his plans to build robots.
“I feel prepared to pursue this path,” Esteban says.