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Adeel Akhtar: Postdoctoral Scholar

Graduate Institution: University of Waterloo, Electrical and Computer Engineering, M.S. & Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, Ph.D.

Undergraduate Institution: National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Mechatronics, B.S.

Advisor: Ricardo Sanfelice

Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/adeel-akhtar-a99b1a22/

“I am not thinking too far ahead, but instead trying to live in the present. I am more concerned about making meaningful contributions and learning as many things as possible in my postdoc appointment at UC Santa Cruz.”

Adeel Akhtar joined the Baskin School of Engineering’s Hybrid Systems Laboratory (HSL) as a postdoctoral scholar in June 2021. Under the faculty mentorship of HSL Director and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Ricardo Sanfelice, Akhtar applies his extensive, hands-on experience in aerial robotics to conduct research on geometric hybrid control systems. This fall, he looks forward to collaborating on multiple research initiatives at Baskin Engineering and broadening his research areas.

Tell me about yourself and your journey to Baskin Engineering?

I was born and raised in Pakistan. I moved to Canada to attend graduate school at the University of Waterloo. There, I did my master’s in electrical and computer engineering and Ph.D. in mechanical and mechatronics engineering. I was fortunate enough to work with Professor Steve Waslander on aerial robotic platforms like drones. I developed novel algorithms that enhanced the performance of those platforms. My time at Waterloo was really amazing. 

Outside of academia, I played cricket and did a lot to promote the sport. I was president of the cricket club and captain of the team. After finishing my Ph.D program, I got the opportunity to teach a robotics course at the University of Waterloo. I then took my first postdoc position at the University of Toronto. Towards the end of that appointment, I was looking for new postdoc opportunities. I was then connected with Professor Ricardo Sanfelice. At first, I didn’t originally know about UC Santa Cruz or where Santa Cruz was. Once I had a few conversations with Professor Sanfelice and did my research on the school, I accepted the open postdoc position in the HSL.

What factors influenced your decision to work at the Baskin School of Engineering?

I wanted to diversify my experience by getting the opportunity to do more hands-on research and expand the type of research I was doing. I knew I would be able to do all that by working with Professor Sanfelice. His research is slightly different from mine, but our ideas are very interconnected. He’s working on hybrid systems. In a nutshell, hybrid systems blend both continuous and discrete models. I was always interested in robotic systems and developing more effective mathematical methods that aim to increase the performance of robots. And, robots are typical examples of hybrid systems. I have a strong technical experience in working on actual robots, while Ricardo has a strong mathematical and theoretical background. So our two areas blend well together.

Could you tell a little more about the research you’re working on?

I’m still pretty new, having joined Baskin Engineering a few months ago. We are still trying to figure out specific projects, but broadly speaking, my area of research that I work on with Professor Sanfelice is geometric hybrid controls. In addition to my own research, I get the chance to work closely with labmates in the HSL. There was a master’s student when I first joined who was working on a similar type of drone research, so I got the opportunity to work with him a little bit. I learned a lot from him and was able to co-supervise and share some of my expertise. It was a mutually beneficial experience. 

What are your plans after your postdoc appointment ends?

I plan to stay in academia. I am not thinking too far ahead, but instead trying to live in the present. I am more concerned about making meaningful contributions and learning as many things as possible in my postdoc appointment at UC Santa Cruz. 

Do you have any highlights to share from your time at Baskin Engineering thus far?

There are a couple of things I’d like to highlight. First of all, the campus and the city of Santa Cruz are both really beautiful. It’s nice to be on the coast and experience a mild climate. The other thing is the lab environment at Baskin Engineering. All of my labmates are really friendly. Professor Sanfelice has been really supportive and was also extremely helpful during my transition from Canada to Santa Cruz.

Is there anything you would like to add?

It feels really good to be a part of the UC system. There’s a lot of prestige that comes with being a UC affiliate. I am getting great experience that can be applied wherever I go next. And at UCSC, there is always the opportunity to collaborate. Next month, our research group will be at the Bay Area Research Symposium (BARS), taking place at Stanford University. The symposium offers researchers from UCs and other prestigious universities a chance to network and learn about cutting-edge research. 

Adeel’s website: adeelakhtar.com

Interview Date: September 23, 2021

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