Alexey Munishkin is pursuing his Ph.D. in Computer Engineering at the Baskin School of Engineering. He works with Professor Milutinovic in his Robotics and Control Lab and is currently interning at the NASA Ames Research Center.
You received your undergraduate degree in Baskin Engineering and came back to get your Ph.D.! What is keeping you here?
Getting my undergraduate degree here in Baskin Engineering was a great experience... I got introduced to various engineering fields and contributed to many projects until I found my engineering passion was in robotics and aviation research. In my junior year, I started to get more involved in robotics and joined Professor Milutinovic’s Robotics and Control Lab after taking his Kalman Filter class, which expanded my understanding of robotics and engineering in general. I guess being part of the Robotics and Control Lab’s research group was the main driving factor for my wanting to continue my graduate studies here at UCSC. Being in Santa Cruz, where the beach meets forest and our campus is sandwiched between two state parks, was another factor, as was the great engineering and scientific community of BSOE. It’s great knowing that there are other grad students and professors who have similar interests and research focuses to help you along the way!
You have been a part of multiple labs at BSOE. Can you tell me about a particularly meaningful or impactful moment you have had conducting research?
The best part for me is when I can read other people’s works to get an idea about what they want to do and look for interesting methods they might have used. When I started graduate school and started reading more papers, I discovered that I have a huge interest in and appreciation for statistics and mechanics. It might sound weird, but when I started graduate school I had a hard set goal of becoming an engineer who builds great inventions and physical devices for helping people, but it turned out that I’ve become more of a scientist/philosopher who now likes to ponder about the universe, what it means for something to be a robot vs. a human, and other intangible ideas.
What research are you currently working on in Professor Milutinovic's Robotics and Control Lab?
My research centers around aerial vehicles and the complex statistical mathematics of stochastic optimal control. My group is known for its research in Stochastic Dubins control, which is technical terminology for figuring out how to move or control potentially multiple aerial vehicles in unknown or uncertain environments for surveillance and convoy monitoring. Usually, the aerial vehicle has a task, such as periodically checking to see if a medical ambulance is ok, and it’s going to the hospital or going to tend to some victims of an unfortunate disaster such as a fire or earthquake. These tasks for the aerial vehicle usually involve unknown or uncertain information such as where exactly the victim is located in an earthquake, or what buildings are safe to navigate around, and what others are potentially unsafe.
You are currently an intern at the NASA Ames Research Center! What are you working on there, and how has your time at Baskin School of Engineering prepared you for this opportunity?
Yeah, it’s awesome! I would have never thought I would get an internship at NASA! It’s great. I work in aeronautics, the first “A” in NASA and unfortunately the most frequently forgotten part of NASA. Usually, people think of rockets and going to the moon. In aeronautics, I work in Air Traffic Management’s ATM-X subgroup where I focus on helping to develop the next level of air transportation in the U.S. and other parts of the world through NASA partnerships. If you heard of the concept of an “Air Taxi” then that sums it up. Imagine smaller electric car-sized airplanes that fly between cities, downtown to local airports, and other relatively localized and short flights. The idea is to reduce car traffic jams and make localized air travel more environmentally friendly and easier to access for all, sort of the same way that highways made it easier for people to use cars to travel around. There will be “highways” in the sky!
My time at Baskin School of Engineering has prepared me mostly indirectly. Through the various classes I have taken, I have learned that I need to manage my time, complete tasks or homework on time, and not be afraid to ask for help, especially from knowledgeable TAs or professors! Graduate school has also accelerated and reinforced my time management skills and has taught me how I can do research or gather the needed knowledge myself... For my technical internship, I would say that I was able to build my mathematics, physics, and programming skills by doing various projects as an undergraduate and graduate student at the Baskin School of Engineering.
What would you like to do after you complete your Ph.D.?
That’s a hard question. In the near term, I envision myself going to work at NASA Ames in Air Traffic Management and contributing to the “Air Taxi” futuristic view of air transportation in the coming years. Hopefully, the “Air Taxi” idea will work out and evolve into something bigger and eventually redefine our current view of air transportation and, further in the future, space transportation. Beyond that, it would be great if I could contribute to various research in statistics, aeronautics, and maybe other fields! On the side, I also have several business ideas for futuristic transportation and agriculture that might be realized in my work at NASA.