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Interview with Robotics Engineer Pavlo Manovi

by Sandra Ning, Terra Linda HS

UC Santa Cruz junior and TL alumnus Pavlo Manovi gives a taste of his upcoming presentation on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles with an interview:

A SLUGS UAV simulation tour around San Francisco, using Simulink 
(uploaded 26 Jul., 2011; created by Samuel Toepke)

What makes robotics engineering so compelling?

-   What makes robotics engineering engender such a strong interest in me is the fact that the skills you need to be a competent robotics engineer encompasses most STEM fields and allows students and engineers both in academia or industry to be involved in projects from all studies of science.  Choosing a type of engineering was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make, as I didn't want to find myself focused on one field of engineering.   What I really wanted was to do everything that I loved, which is to say that I was looking for a balance of physics, computer science, math, and materials science that just didn't exist in most traditional engineering tracks.  I found that robotics engineering neatly wraps up all of the aforementioned studies in the umbrella study of Mechatronics.  Having this aggregation of skills and foci lays the foundation for a strong field where one gets approached to build the tools that scientists and governmental agencies require to do their jobs, and that aspect of robotics keeps the work fresh and feeds my insatiable appetite for knowledge.

In general, what’s the focus of research at the UCSC Autonomous Systems Lab?

-  Autonomous robotics (aquatic, extra-terrestrial, terrestrial).  Controls theory.  Curriculum development.

What projects are you currently working on?

-  I am currently working on:
  • An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle development toolchain. (The SLUG-TUG)
  • An open source, affordable, robust four quadrant brushless DC motor controller (SLUGGISH)
  • Extreme Low Cost UAV (No silly acronym for this one yet :[ )
  • UAV Localization for Autonomous Swarms
  • Porting and refactoring Existing SLUGS UAV code to work with commercially available UAV systems
  • Creation of a UAV Curiculum for graduate students at UCSC

What is the SLUGS Autopilot?

-  This explains it pretty well.  Primarily it's a flight algorithm development platform.  I'm currently developing a cheaper, lower power version for academia and simple missions/swarm research.

How does it differ from other UAV autopilots?

-  The biggest difference between our UAV project and other projects is that we aim to develop every bit of the UAV and not rely on off-the-shelf solutions to ultimately create an easy to use UAV.  With an entire toolchain that adapts itself to the problem presented to it, the end user can focus on solving their problem rather than focus on trying to get a piecemeal UAV to work.  Simply put, we're trying to make a good tool that is within grasp of anyone that compromises as little as possible through a modular design and abstracted C code.

Why is it important to develop?

-  Developing easy to use, robust, powerful tools allows for innovation.  We are rapidly approaching a time where our airspace is going to be filled with more autonomous air traffic than could have ever been imagined.  Now more than ever a tool like this is necessary to allow for innovation that may solve many of the localization problems that will impede the growth of air travel/autonomous aerial vehicles in non-military airspace.  Further, there is little to no curriculum on UAV development and I am to work with a few professors with my SLUG-TUG toolchain to change that.

How soon do you think the SLUGS will be in use? Or, is it already in use?

-  SLUGS is already in use in space, military UAVs, academic UAVs, ground vehicles, and aquatic applications.  The scope of which and specifics I am not at liberty to explain.

What’s your role in the development of SLUGS?

-  I am the primary investigator of the SLUG-TUG project and I work on all aspects of the SLUGS system (electrical, code, hardware, etc).

What is the most rewarding or exciting part of being a robotics engineer? What is the most difficult?

-  The most rewarding part of being a robotics engineer is the opportunity to work with people that are as passionate about what they do as I am.  The work is always challenging and comes from all fields of study, which keeps me on me engaged and allows me to learn about everything from micro-biology to art without fully committing myself to those fields.  What is most difficult about this field of study?  That's a very personal question and I think it varies greatly between individuals.  Contrary to what most believe I don't consider the science to be hard as it just requires time, patience, and practice to master.  Personally, what is difficult is turning it all off.  I'm lucky enough to have many great friends and other physical/mental outlets for all of my energy, but when I find myself without anything to do coming off of the heels of a big project...  I just can't stop.  I'd say dividing my time amongst projects and keeping myself sane when I have free time and can't work on things are the most difficult parts about being an engineer who loves what he does.


Come see Mr. Manovi present 'UAV Online: Challenges of Engineering Autonomous Drones for the Open World' at TLHS room 207, Wed., Sept. 19th from 7:30 - 8:30 p.m.

The intro page and facebook event for the presentation are linked here.



The UAV simulator video was created and uploaded by Samuel Teopke on 26 Jul. 2011.


Sandra Ning


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