I’m an international student from Nigeria, and I’m double majoring in Computer science and Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. I am a rising senior, and my expected graduation date is Spring 2020.
I am a participant of the 2018 Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates (DREU), a program organized by the Computing Research Association-Women (CRA-W).
As a part of the program, I am a Summer Research Intern at Parasol Laboratory-Texas A&M University, under the supervision of Dr. Nancy Amato, a Unocal professor at the same institution and my graduate student mentor Diane Uwacu.
Dr. Nancy Amato
Nancy M. Amato is Regents Professor and Unocal Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University where she co-directs the Parasol Lab. She is also Senior Director of Engineering Honors Programs in the College of Engineering.
Amato received undergraduate degrees in Mathematical Sciences and Economics from Stanford University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois, respectively. Her main areas of research focus are motion planning and robotics, computational biology and geometry, and parallel and distributed computing.
Diane Uwacu is a Ph.D. Student at Texas A&M. She graduated from Oklahoma Christian University where she studied Computer Science and Finance.
Uwacu is working on Motion Planning at Parasol Laboratory and her research interests include Applications of Motion Planning in Computational Biology and Machine Learning.
My Research Project
Motion Planning refers to the process of finding a collision-free path for a robot from a starting point to a goal destination in an environment containing obstacles. It has a broad range of applications ranging from Computational Biology to Computer Graphics. In Computational Biology, motion planning is used to study protein folding, ligand binding, and RNA folding.
This summer, my research project is to design metrics and methods for increasing the efficiency of exploring environments based on specific properties of the robot, its environment, and application. In response to this, I designed a method for biasing environment exploration based on the size of free space between obstacles in the environment. In particular, this method is applied to Dynamic Region-biased Rapidly-exploring Random Trees (DR-RRT), a sampling-based planner that encodes the environment topology to guide exploration in the workspace.
My Weekly JournalChapter One: Welcome to Aggieland!
Week 1: May 29th - June 1st
I officially started my internship on Tuesday, May 29th. On the first day, I met my graduate research mentor, Diane Uwacu and some of the other summer interns at Parasol Lab. Diane gave us a tour of the lab and showed us the workstations that we could use during our internship. She also directed us on how to navigate the Parasol Lab's website and instructed us to complete the Motion Planning crash course. For us to start our research projects, we are required to go through a crash course on Motion Planning. By the end of my first day, I finished Lesson 0 of the crash course which required me to create a Parasol Lab's account, a GForge account, to read the Expectations of Dr. Amato's research group, update Parasol Lab's birthday and contact webpages, and to build a personal Parasol Lab's webpage. I also started Lesson 1 of the crash course and read the first two reading assignments; "How to Read a Research Paper" and "Motion Planning: A Journey of Robots, Molecules, Digital Actors, and Other Artifacts."
On Wednesday, May 30th, I continued Lesson 1 of the crash course. I did some research on new terms and concepts I outlined in the paper I read on Tuesday. I also started the third reading assignment, "Probabilistic Roadmaps for Path Planning in High-Dimensional Configuration Spaces." And I attended a professional development seminar organized by the Texas A&M University (TAMU) School of Engineering for students involved in summer undergraduate research. At the seminar, I learned about clear and concise writing, how to write abstracts, and research posters and presentation skills.
On Thursday, May 31st, I finished all the reading assignments for Lesson 1, and I explored the Motion Planning code (PMPL Library). I learned some fundamental subversion (SVN) commands and how to compile and run my changes to the PMPL Library. I also used VIZMO++: A visualization/authoring tool for Motion Planning. I learned how to navigate VIZMO++ and played around with some examples.
On Friday, June 1st, I answered the discussion questions for the Lesson 1 reading assignments, and I reviewed my notes in preparation for my first weekly discussion meeting with Diane. At 1:30 PM, I had my first weekly meeting with Diane. She gave a presentation on Lesson 1 and answered questions I had. After the meeting, I went for a seminar on entrepreneurship. Right after the seminar, I attended the summer welcome BBQ for undergraduate researchers where I enjoyed some free food, networked with students from other REU programs in TAMU, and saw a live performance of the west coast swing dance.
This week, I learned about Motion Planning, different types of Motion Planning algorithms like Probabilistic Roadmaps and the applications of Motion Planning in Robotics, Virtual Prototyping, Graphics Animation, Chemistry, Neuroscience, and Computational Biology, to name a few. I also learned a lot of Robotics terms and concepts.
Week 2: June 4th - June 8th
My goal for week two was to finish lesson two and three of the motion planning crash course. On Monday, June 4th, I started lesson two and made some changes to my parasol lab webpage. At noon, I and my co-interns had lunch with the other researchers at parasol lab. We got the opportunity to meet everyone and to learn a little about their research.
On Tuesday, June 5th, I finished the second coding exercise of lesson two. This exercise required me to experiment with varying connections techniques for probabilistic roadmaps. I also completed the third section of lesson two, where I read the documentation and learned the coding standards for PMPL (Parasol Lab Motion Planning Library). And I started the coding exercise for lesson three.
I began my reading assignment for lesson three on Wednesday, June 6th. The reading was on a book chapter that discusses C-space -an abstraction of robot type for motion planning, and its mathematical foundation and formulation. By the end of the day, I finished lesson three coding assignment which required me to code a motion planning method, and I started the coding exercise for lesson four.
On Thursday, June 7th, I completed the reading assignment for lesson three. I did some research on new terms and concepts I learned from the reading. After that, I started my reading assignment for lesson four and answered some of the discussion questions on lesson two and three in preparation for my weekly review meeting on Friday. I also fixed some bugs on my DREU website.
In the morning of Friday, June 8th, I prepared for my weekly discussion with Diane, and I continued my reading assignment for lesson four. After my meeting with Diane, I completed my second milestone for the DREU program which required me to submit a link to a website that documents my DREU internship experience. Also, I kept working on the coding exercise from lesson four.
This week, I accomplished my goals, and I made tremendous progress in the motion planning crash course. I am excited that I got to play around with PMPL, and I was able to perform various experiments and write code.
Week 3: June 11th - June 15th
I worked on my coding exercise and completed my reading assignment for lesson four on Monday, June 11th, and Tuesday, June 12th. The coding exercise prompted me to construct a primitive Expansive-Spaces Trees (EST) planner in PMPL.
We had our second group meeting On Wednesday, June 13th. At the meeting, I got to meet Dr. Amato in person for the first time. Postdoctoral and graduate researchers gave brief reports of their ongoing research projects and paper/conference deadlines they are working to meet. After the meeting, I completed the coding exercise for lesson four. By the end of the day, I started lesson five of the crash course and answered the discussion question on lesson four in preparation for my weekly discussion meeting with Diane, which was scheduled to take place on Thursday, June 14th.
On Thursday morning, I reviewed my notes for my discussion meeting with Diane and brainstormed improvements for the algorithm I implemented in lesson four’s coding exercise. After the discussion meeting, I completed the reading assignment for lesson five and research on sampling-based algorithms.
On Friday, June 15th, I designed an algorithm to improve my EST planner. I had a brief meeting with Diane where I presented my algorithm and got permission to start implementation. After that, I spent the rest of the day implementing my algorithm in PMPL.
This week, I got to explore more of PMPL and learned how to debug my code. I am excited that I got to design an algorithm to improve my EST Planner.
I took a one week break from my DREU Program to attend a research workshop at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
Week 4: June 25th - June 29th
This week, I submitted a poster application for the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC 18), completed lesson five of the motion planning crash course, and I got to learn about my research project.
I returned to work on Monday, June 25th, after taking a one week break to attend the 2018 SoNIC workshop at Cornell University. On Monday, I had a meeting with Diane where she explained my internship research project and gave me tips on how to write an abstract. After the meeting, I spent the rest of the day understanding the medial axis utility of PMPL and working on my EST algorithm improvement.
I completed my first abstract draft for the GHC 18 Poster application on Tuesday, June 26th, and I sent it out to my Mentors (Diane, Shawna, and Dr. Amato). I got feedbacks and spent the day working on the feedbacks and my GHC 18 poster application.
I continued implementing my algorithm improvement on Wednesday, June 26th. We had a group meeting where one of the researchers on my team got to present his ongoing work. At the meeting, I updated everyone about my week in Ithaca, and I took part in my first paper peer-review for an upcoming robotics conference.
On Thursday, June 27th, I fixed some bugs I had with my EST algorithm, and I started answering the discussion questions in preparation for my discussion meeting with Diane. On Friday, June 28th, I tested my EST algorithm using different seeds with and without my improvements, and I presented my results to Diane during our discussion meeting.
This week was fantastic, and I am glad to be back at work. Mostly, I am excited about my research project, and I cannot wait to get started.
Week 5: July 2nd - July 6th
This week, I performed tests to understand the sampling-based algorithm that I would be improving for my research project, I made progress with lesson six of the motion planning crash course, and I explored more of PMPL.
We had our group meeting on Monday, July 2nd, and Diane gave a presentation about using motion planning to evaluate ligand and protein binding sites, and we reviewed another blue sky paper. After the meeting, I tried running tests using Dynamic Region-biased Rapidly-exploring Random Trees (DR-RRT), on a 2D environment but that was not successful. After hours of debugging, Diane and I found that the code in PMPL does not support running DR-RRT on 2D environments. So, Diane suggested that I use a 3D environment for my tests.
I continued prepping 3D environments for my tests on Tuesday, July 3rd. Diane and I spent a lot of time trying to debug my version of PMPL to figure out why my environments were not behaving as they should when I run my tests. And by the end of the day, we were able to fix the errors I got.
I successfully ran my tests on the environments and collected their data on Thursday, July 5th. After that, I used vizmo++ to view the roadmaps created and study how Basic Rapid-exploring Random Trees (BasicRRT) and DR-RRT works. After that, I reviewed the DR-RRT code in PMPL.
On Friday, July 6th, I sent information about my test results to my mentors. Then I started working on my literature review on the peer-review paper I read this week as part of lesson six requirements. After that, I started searching for peer-reviewed articles related to my projects for my next readings.
I got a better understanding of how DR-RRT works and my research project. Next week, I look forward to exploring more of DR-RRT and brainstorming ideas for my improvements.
Week 6: July 9th - July 13th
This week, I read a paper on Sampling-Based Motion Planning Using Predictive Models, continued my literature review on lesson six of the motion planning crash course, built 3D environments for testing, and brainstormed and started implementing a metric for DR-RRT.
On Monday, July 9th, I brainstormed ideas on improving DR-RRT, and I implemented changes in the code to be able to switch between using the default DR-RRT and applying a biasing metric.
I spent my day on Tuesday, July 10th, working on implementing the code for biasing exploration based on the size of the regions. I also attended my first REU Luncheon at noon, and I had free lunch and learned the tips and tricks for getting into Graduate School. In the evening, we had a quick impromptu meeting, where Dr. Amato announced that she would be joining the University of Illinois, as the new head of the computer science department. I also got notified that my poster submission for the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration was accepted and I will be a 2018 CRA-W GHC Research Scholar.
We held our group meeting on Wednesday, July 11th, and some researchers from our group gave a presentation on their on-going research project for an upcoming robotics conference. I spent my day working on implementing the size metrics for DR-RRT.
On Thursday, July 12th, I had a meeting with Diane where I explained my struggles with implementing the size metric, and she gave me ideas on how to improve my implementation. After the meeting, I worked on implementing the changes she suggested because the graph I was working with did not contain the information I needed about the regions. When Dr. Amato came by the lab, she suggested that we use a different algorithm to construct the graph, so I can have the information I need to implement the size metric. I also started creating environments for testing the size metric. In the evening, I had a mentoring session with Dr. Amato, where we discussed graduate school and my goals.
I finished creating the 3D test environments on Friday, July 13th, and I also worked on my literature review for the paper I read this week. After that, I ran DR-RRT on the test environments and studied the skeleton graph, while I waited to hear from Diane about the algorithm I would use to implement the size metric.
Week 7: July 16th - July 20th
My goal for this week was to finish the motion planning crash course, make progress on implementing the size metric, and to brainstorm more ideas for biasing region exploration, but Dr. Amato recommended that I push all the way through with the method biased by size and see how it works before I worry about adding other biasing metrics.
So, this week I focused on implementing the size metric. On Monday, July 16th, I was provided with some classes in PMPL that perform the functionalities I need for the size metrics, and I studied them, stepped through the code and ran some tests to understand them better. I spent the rest of the week working with these classes and using them for my implementation.
Aside from making progress with my project, I finished lesson six of the motion planning crash course, and I attended this week’s REU Luncheon where we had a group activity and learned about leadership. We also had our lab group meeting on Wednesday, July 17th, and a member of our research group gave a talk about simulator visualization tools for PMPL. I registered for a GRE Prep class and I attend my first session on Saturday, July 21th.
Week 8: July 23rd - July 27th
My plan for this week was to fix the bugs I had with my implementation and start running tests for my technical report and GHC Poster. So, on Monday, July 23rd, and Tuesday, July 24th, I spent time fixing the errors from my implementation.
We had our group meeting on Wednesday, July 25th, and one of the Ph.D. researchers in our group gave a presentation on his ongoing summer research. During the meeting, Dr. Amato brought to our attention that the summer interns need to present a poster on the last day of the Texas A&M summer REU programs. After the meeting, Diane worked on registering us for the poster presentation because it passed the registration deadline. So I will be presenting my poster on Monday, July 30th, at our group meeting and the final poster presentation will be on Friday, August 3rd.
On Thursday, July 26th, I finished fixing the bugs I had with my implementation, and I started working on my poster. I started my day on Friday, July 27th, by going on a tour of theTexas A&M University organized by the campus admissions office. Then I continued working on my poster in preparation for my presentation at our next group meeting.
Although I had big plans for this week, I was only able to fix the bugs I had to ensure that my implementation performs the right functionality. Next week, I plan on running tests and completing my poster in preparation for the poster session. Also, I attended my last GRE Prep class this Saturday.
Week 9: July 30th - August 3rd
On Monday, I gave a presentation at the group meeting and got feedback on how to prepare for the poster session. After the meeting, I worked on the feedback I got. I continued working on my poster and started created illustrations for my poster using gimp on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Dr. Amato stopped by the lab and gave me more feedback on how to improve my poster. And I worked on finalizing the poster and making changes based on that feedback.
On Thursday, my goal was to run and analyze some test for my poster, but I had some errors, so I had to improvise and use data from past tests. By the end of the day, I finished my poster and printed it for my presentation on Friday.
On Friday, I went to the Texas A&M Poster Presentation event by 7 AM, and I was assigned to judged posters from the first section and visited some cool projects that caught my interest. I presented my poster during the second session of the event, and I explained my summer research to a lot of people which was fun. After the event, I went back to the lab to figure out what I did wrong and why I had those errors when I tried to run my test on Thursday.
I visited the Cushing Library to see some Game of Thrones artifacts, and that was an excellent experience, I’m a big GoT fan. I attended a bible study on Friday, and it was a phenomenal experience.
Week 10: August 6th - August 10th
This week, my goal was to fix my bugs and finish my technical report. I spent Monday, August 6th, and Tuesday, August 7th, trying to fix the bug with my implementation. On Tuesday, We had our group meeting, we reviewed papers for an upcoming robotics conference and listened to a presentation about ongoing research from a group member. On Wednesday, August 8th, I realized that the there were some problems with my environment. I did not build them correctly, and that affected the workspace skeleton produced by the skeleton algorithms, which also affected the way my implementation worked. So I worked on correcting that.
On Thursday, August 9th, I finished implementation, ran some tests, collected data, and started working on my technical report. On Friday, August 10th, I spent the entire day working on my technical report. And, I sent it back and forth with Diane for feedbacks. On Friday, August 10th, Dr. Amato stopped by to check up on me since it was my last day at the Lab. I’m glad I spent my summer at the Parasol lab, my experience has been very amazing. I learned a lot about graduate school, research in computer science, and motion planning of course. And I'm grateful I had the opportunity to work with such fantastic people.
Outside the lab, I spent my last evening/night in College Station at a graduation party/movie night. Someone from my bible study group graduated, and she had a movie night/graduation party. We got to watch the movie, Acrimony, and had some interesting conversations about it. I enjoyed spending time with the bible study family. It was a fantastic experience, and I got to learn a lot.