Kyle Morgenstein

Advanced Navigation, State Estimation, and Leg Odometry for Legged Robotics
University of Texas at Austin
Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?
I’m in my first year! My research interests will evolve but I’m broadly interested in the development of algorithms for advanced mobility for legged robotics and computer vision. More specifically, I’m interested in developing and deploying state estimation algorithms combining leg, visual, and LIDAR odometry on quadruped and hexapod robots for advanced proprioception and SLAM. My research will combine theory with rigorous experimentation to develop robust solutions for application-agnostic state estimation and control. I’m excited about bio-inspired robotics and applying concepts from biological system to develop more efficient robotic locomotion schemes, at both the hardware and software level. Highly mobile, legged robotics will enable many novel applications of automation that have not yet been fully explored, including long duration exploration and social robotics. As such, I’m also interested in thinking about how these applications may shape human-robot interactions and the ethics of automation and artificial intelligence. The application I’m most interested in is robotic exploration of extreme environments, especially other planets!

What does a typical day or week look like for you?

Since I’m just starting my graduate school journey, a large amount of my time is spent learning! Besides working on classes and reading papers, my main project at the moment is developing and deploying a state estimation algorithm on one of the lab’s quadruped robots using leg odometry, IMU data, and other sensors such as cameras and LIDAR. I work with other members of my lab implementing algorithms in simulation, and once we’re happy with their performance we deploy them on the physical system for testing and analysis. At the end of the week, we have a lab meeting, which is a great chance to share with the rest of the lab what we’ve been working on, and work together to solve challenges that we’ve come across.

What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?
So far my favorite part has been the people! You get to meet so many smart, passionate, motivated people in graduate school, and so getting to interact with them has pushed me to do my best work, and I always feel like I’m learning something new when we talk. There’s never a dull moment!

What’s been the most challenging part of it?
So far the most challenging part has definitely been the transition to remote work! While a lot of my research can be done in simulation, as my research progresses I’ll need to spend more and more time testing algorithms on physical hardware, which is difficult if we aren’t allowed in lab!

Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
I’m really excited about using robots for space exploration, so I’d like to spend some number of years at NASA working on autonomous spacecraft. Other than that, I’m also interested in developing new applications of legged robots and human-robot interaction – so hopefully I’ll be working on a project to develop new human-centered uses for these robotic systems, maybe things like medical applications and human aides. I always want to be inventing something new, learning, and trying to make the world a better, more interesting place!

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
Reach out to faculty! The best way to get involved with research is to talk to faculty about what they’re working on. They love talking about it, and may be able to offer you a position doing research in their lab, which is super great experience when applying for grad school. Also: don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what you want to study! People’s interests evolve over time, so don’t worry if you don’t have everything figured out yet – most people don’t!

What makes your university a good place to study?

I did my undergrad up north so I wanted to go someplace warm for grad school! Austin certainly fit the bill – it’s a super fun, innovative city, reasonably inexpensive, and a hotbed for new tech startups. The school has incredible resources available to its students and a culture that supports trying “weird” solutions to big problems. Also, I may have been strongly motivated by the access to good BBQ…

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time I love tinkering and building all sorts of fun projects! Currently I’m building an automated smart home system for my gecko, Lizard Skynyrd. I also love to go fishing and hiking!

Want to know more about Kyle?
Check out his website and follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter using the links below:

Website | LinkedIn | STEM Twitter

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