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Jeremy Bos: What’s next after FIRST?

“This could be you,” says Michigan Tech ECE assistant professor Jeremy Bos. “Our AutoDrive team brought home the second most trophies at competition last year.”

Jeremy Bos shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, July 6 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

FIRST®. You might know it as First Robotics—an international organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand, use and enjoy science and technology. Founder and inventor Dean Kamen describes FIRST as “using robots to build kids. “It’s not about the robots,” he said. “FIRST is transforming the way kids see the world.”

FIRST now has more than 67,000 teams around the world, and has given over $80 million in college scholarships. At Michigan Tech, at last count, there are close to fifty FIRST scholarship recipients.

So, for high school seniors now embarking on their college careers, what’s next after FIRST? How do you enter the field of robotics?

What’s more, how do you know if robotics could be the right career for you?

Jeremy Bos: “When I have time I bike, ski, hike, kayak, and stargaze. I spend time with my dog, Rigel, on the Tech Trails nearly every day.”

“Many first year students considering engineering, science, and technology are introduced to these fields from FIRST robotics and similar high school competitions,” says Jeremy Bos, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. “In fact, one of the most common questions I hear from new students is ‘What is there at Michigan Tech that’s like FIRST?’ and ‘What major should I choose to have a career in robotics?’”.

Bos himself is a Michigan Tech alum, having earned his BS in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2000 and his PhD in Electrical Engineering and Optics in 2012. Bos worked at GM on short range wireless product development, and spent several years at the Air Force Research Laboratory on Maui before coming back to Tech as an assistant professor.

Like most things in life there is no one answer that applies to everyone, says Bos. He helps students take their FIRST-inspired passion for robotics and find a place for it Michigan Tech. “What are your affinities? Knowing those, I can help point you in the right direction,” he says.

“One thing I can do is to share an overview of careers in robotics.” says Bos. Hint: it involves the “M’s” the “E’s” and the “C’s”. (Listen to the overview during his live session on Husky Bites to learn more, or catch the Zoom video later.)

Bos is advisor and manager of several robot platforms on campus, including the Robotic Systems Enterprise team, part of Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise program. “It’s one of the best places on campus to learn robotics,” says Bos.

Bos says he is excited about the brand new Robotics Engineering degree program at Michigan Tech. It will be offered for the first time this fall in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Robotics Engineering will cover all the skills you need for developing autonomous vehicles. It’s a unique set of skills now in heavy demand, with a little bit of everything—all the letters (M’s, E’s and C’s) and a little bit more—with a focus on learning the cutting edge.”

In 2010, as an electrical engineering PhD student at Michigan Tech, Bos organized the investigation of the Paulding Light mystery, working with students in the University’s student chapter of SPIE, the international society of optics and photonics. “We were looking for a project that would be both fun and educational. I thought, ‘What about the Paulding Light?’”

The team’s many projects come in many shapes and sizes, from designing a vision system for work with a robotic arm, to an automatic power management system for weather buoys. Clients include Ford Motor Company and Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center.

“We use more than just the skills and talents of computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering majors,” adds Bos “All majors are welcome in the enterprise.”

The team’s main focus is the SAE AutoDrive Challenge, where college teams compete to develop and demonstrate a fully autonomous driving passenger vehicle. Michigan Tech is one of eight universities selected to participate in the 3-year AutoDrive Challenge, sponsored and hosted by GM and SAE International.

Bos mentors the Michigan Tech team of 40 undergraduate and graduate students along with Darrell Robinette, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics.

The team out started with a Chevy Bolt, named it Prometheus Borealis, and then turned it into a competition vehicle outfitted it with sensors, control systems and computer processors so that it could navigate an urban driving course in automated driving mode.

The team took Prometheus Borealis on a trip to GM’s Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona in 2018 for an on-site evaluation in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge.
A closer look at some of the LiDAR hardware atop Prometheus Borealis. LiDAR = Light Imaging Detecting and Radar
Snow tires + winter weather = data for the Michigan Tech SAE AutoDrive Challenge team. “Roughly, this is an overhead perspective shot of the what the LiDAR mounted on Prometheus Borealis ‘sees’. The car is not visible but is at the center of the image heading north on US-41 from the Houghton Memorial Airport towards the town of Calumet,” Bos explains. “The clutter visible on the left of the image near the center/car is caused by snow. The ‘V’ notch in the center/top of the image is a dead zone caused by ice build up on the front on the LiDAR unit, a problem we’ve been working to solve.”


Bos accompanies students to the SAE AutoDrive Challenge competitions.
The next one is coming up this October in East Liberty, Ohio. Teams are judged in a variety of areas—Object Detection, Localization, MathWorks, and Simulation, to name a few. His expertise in autonomous vehicles and vehicular networks, as well as industrial automation and controls makes Bos an ideal mentor for the students.

My own contribution to this effort is called ‘Autonomy at the End of the Earth.’ My research focuses on the operation of autonomous vehicles in hazardous weather. Specifically, the ice and snow we encounter on a daily basis between November and April.

Jeremy Bos

When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

My Dad ran a turn-key industrial automation and robotics business throughout most of my childhood. In fact, I got my first job at age 12 when I was sequestered at home with strep throat. I felt fine, but couldn’t go to school. My Dad put me to work writing programs for what I know now are Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs); the ‘brains’ of most industrial automation systems.

Later, I was involved with Odyssey of the Mind and Science Olympiad. I also really liked these new things called ‘personal computers’ and spent quite a bit of time programming them. By the time I was in high school I was teaching classes at the local library on computer building, repair, and this other new thing called ‘The Internet’. A career in STEM was a certainty. I ended up in engineering because I like to build things (even if only on a computer) and I like to solve problems (generally with computers and math).

Tell us about your growing up. What do you do for fun?

I was born in Santa Clara, California just as Silicon Valley was starting to be a thing. I grew up in Grand Haven, Michigan where I graduated from high school and then went to Michigan Tech for my undergraduate degree. I liked it so much I came back twice. I now live in Houghton with my wife, and fellow alumna, Jessica (STC ’00). We have a boisterous dog, Rigel, named after a star in the constellation Orion, who bikes or skis with me on the Tech trails nearly every day.

When I have time I also like to kayak, and stargaze. I’ve even tried my hand at astrophotography at Michigan Tech’s AMJOCH Observatory. It’s a telescope, but hopefully, soon it will be a robot, too.

Learn more:

@MTUAutonomy winter driving data set test 1

Look Ma, No Driver

Huskies Hit the Road

Creativity and Cool Gizmos: Dean Kamen at Michigan Tech

Just in time for Halloween, Michigan Tech Students Solve the Mystery of the Paulding Light

It’s Out There, Return of the Paulding Light


Sustainable Foam: Coming Soon to a Cushion Near You

Chemical engineering major Lauren Spahn presented her research at the Michigan Tech Undergraduate Research Symposium last spring. Her lignin project was supported by Portage Health Foundation, the DeVlieg Foundation, and Michigan Tech’s Pavlis Honors College.

Most polyurethane foam, found in cushions, couches, mattress, insulation, shoes, and more, is made from petroleum. Soon, with help from undergraduate researcher and chemical engineering major Lauren Spahn, it will also be environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and made from renewable biomass.

Spahn works in the Biofuels & Bio-based Products Laboratory at Michigan Technological University, where researchers put plants—and their lignin—to good use. The lab is directed by Dr. Rebecca Ong, an assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Q&A with Lauren Spahn

Q: Please tell us about the lab.

A: “Our goal in working with Dr. Ong is to develop sustainable industries using renewable lignocellulosic biomass⁠—the material derived from plant cell walls. There are five of us working on Dr. Ong’s team. We develop novel co-products from the side streams of biofuel production, and pulp and paper production. We’re trying to make good use of the leftover materials.

 

Lignocellulose, aka biomass, is the dry matter of plants. Energy crops like this Elephant Grass, are grown as a raw material for the production of biofuels.

Q: What kind of research are you doing?

A: My particular research project involves plant-based polyurethane foams. Unlike conventional poly foams, bio-based foams are generated from lignin, a renewable material. Lignin is like a glue that holds wood fibers together. It has the potential to replace petroleum-derived polymers in many applications. In the lab, we purify the lignin from something called “black liquor”⁠. It’s not what sounds like. Black liquor is a by-product from the kraft process when pulpwood is made into paper. Lignin is collected by forcing dissolved lignin to precipitate or fall out of the solution (this is the opposite of the process of dissolving, which brings a solid into solution). By adjusting the functional properties of lignin during the precipitation process, we hope to be able to tailor the characteristics of resulting foams. It’s called functionalization.

Typically in the lab process, functionalization occurs on lignin that has already been purified. What we hope to do is integrate functionalization into the purification process, to reduce energy and raw material inputs, and improve the economics and sustainability of the process, too.

Purified lignin, used to make bio-foam. The resulting foam will likely be light or dark brown in color because of the color of the lignin. It would probably be used in applications where color does not matter (such as the interior of cushions/equipment).

Q: How did you get started in undergraduate research?

A: I came to Michigan Tech knowing I wanted to get involved in research. As a first-year student, I was accepted into the Undergraduate Research Internship Program (URSIP), through the Pavlis Honors College here at Tech. Through this program I received funding, mentorship, and guidance as I looked to identify a research mentor. 

Q: How did you find Dr. Ong, or how did she find you?

A: I wanted to work with Dr. Ong because I found the work in her lab to be very interesting and relevant to the world we live in, in terms of sustainability. She was more than willing to welcome me into the lab and assist me in my research when I needed it. I am very thankful for all her help and guidance. 

Q: What is the most challenging and difficult part of the work and the experience?

A: Not everything always goes according to plan. Achieving the desired result often takes many iterations, adjustments, and even restructuring the experiment itself. After a while, it can even become discouraging.

Lignin is like a glue that holds wood fibers together, giving trees their shape and stability, and making them resistant to wind and pests. Pictured above, a biofuel plantation in Oregon.

Q: What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you persevere?

A: I start thinking about my goals. I enjoy my research—it’s fun! Once I remind myself why I like it, I am able to get back to work. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about research?

A: I enjoy being able to run experiments in the lab that directly lead to new designs, processes, or products in the world around me. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to think up new product ideas, then go through the steps needed to implement them in the real world. 

Q: What are your career goals and plans?

A: I plan to go to graduate school for a PhD in chemical engineering, to work in R&D for industry. I am very passionate about research—I want to continue participating in research in my professional career.


Lignin at the nanoscale, imaged with transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Raisa Carmen Andeme Ela, a PhD candidate working in Dr. Ong’s lab, generated this image to examine the fundamental mechanisms driving lignin precipitation.

Q: Why did you choose engineering as your major, and why chemical engineering?

A: I chose chemical engineering because the field is so large. Chemical engineers can work in industry in numerous areas. I liked the wide variety of work that I could enter into as a career. 

Michigan Tech translates research into the new technologies, products, and jobs that move our economy forward.

Did you know?

  • Michigan Tech has more than 35 research centers and institutes
  • 20 percent of all Michigan Tech patent applications involve undergraduate students
  • Students in any engineering discipline are welcome to give research a try
  • Research expenditures at Michigan Tech—over $44 million-—have increased by 33% over the last decade, despite increased competition for research funding. 
  • Michigan Tech research leads to more invention disclosures—the first notification that an invention has been created—than any other research institution in Michigan.



Michigan Tech Engineer Captures the Northern Lights

North Canal Park, April 2019. Credit: Michigan Tech Alumnus Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Some of us have waited a decade or more to see the Northern Lights since moving to Houghton, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Then there’s Venkata Rajesh Chundru, now a research engineer at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. While earning his PhD in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech from 2014 to 2019, Chundru managed to see—and artfully capture—Aurora Borealis time after time. And he has generously offered to share some of his favorite photographs with us here.

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, September 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

McLain State Park, February 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, May 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Copper Harbor, March 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, May 2019. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Michigan Tech Campus, Canal Side, February 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

The photographer at Copper Peak, September 2018. Thank you, Venkata! We wish you the very best of luck in your new home!

“Since moving to Texas I have been capturing cityscapes and doing some professional portrait sessions for events, while soaking in the Texan culture. These photographs bring back a lot of good memories from all those years in the U.P. I do intend to be back during summer for a week to capture some landscapes,” says Chundru. “Life in San Antonio has more of an urban feel. I miss the wide-open landscapes and warm people back in the U.P, and of course the snow.

“In my new job at Southwest Research Institute, I’m focused on developing control systems for automotive applications—specifically to control emissions from heavy-duty diesel engines, which is in line with my Ph.D. work at Michigan Tech. I also get to work on new research areas, such as connected vehicles and electric vehicle controls.”

As for COVID-19? “Stay safe out there,” he says. “Hope this passes soon.”

Want to see more beautiful photography? Be sure to visit Chundru’s photography page on Facebook, or his Instagram account.

Have some of your own Aurora Borealis images to share? Please reach out to Kimberly Geiger, kmgeiger@mtu.edu. If you like, we’d be glad to post them here on our blog.


Hello from Michigan Tech, and Parasailing on a Snowboard?

Are you, or someone you know, thinking about where you will choose to attend college? If so, I want to share my perspective, as I’m still fairly “new” to Michigan Tech (this is my second year here). I also have the perspective of having spent time at three different universities. Maybe it will help you make your decision.

First, the East Coast, where I attended the University of Connecticut (and the mascot there is also a Husky). My parents were only willing to pay for in-state tuition—that narrowed the choice pretty quickly for me! So I went to “UConn” and had a great education, majoring in chemical engineering, and then metallurgy/materials science for my master’s and PhD degrees (I didn’t set out to get those other degrees, but that is another story). UConn is in Storrs, Connecticut, about a 40 minute drive from the capital city of Hartford. So I would call it a rural campus. Because it wasn’t “too far” to get home, many students went home on weekends—so it didn’t have a strong sense of community. You can drive from one end of CT to the other in 2 hours or so.

After UConn, my first job was as a professor at Georgia Tech, which is in downtown Atlanta, Georgia—an urban campus in the deep South. The Atlanta metropolitan area has 5.6 million people, a vastly different experience from UConn. A great education, but, in a very big city—which comes with traffic, smog, high-priced housing, crime and safety concerns. What I really liked about Georgia Tech: it is a technologically-focused university, like Michigan Tech. I stayed 12 years at Georgia Tech, and then headed West!

Following that, I spent 14 years at Boise State University, in Idaho in various leadership roles at the university. BSU is located in downtown Boise, but the population of Boise is only about a quarter million. So a very safe campus, where the College of Engineering enrolls about 15% of BSU students. A good education for students, but nowhere near the reputation in engineering of Georgia Tech or Michigan Tech.

Now here in Midwest, in the UP, at Michigan Tech, where I serve as dean of engineering, I offer you these perspectives: It’s a strength to attend a university that is technologically focused, if your focus is engineering or related fields. This university has a very strong sense of community and belongingness. Maybe that’s because of the technological focus. And maybe it’s because it’s a long drive “home” for many. It’s beautiful here. It’s safe. And it’s fun—we’re still enjoying the snow statues, broomball, and more from our Winter Carnival. Just yesterday, in fact, I enjoyed an interesting view across the waterway, of a student and their dog, attempting to harness the wind to snowboard horizontally, pulled by the wind. Alas, the coefficient of friction was too high, or the wind was not blowing strongly enough, but they did give it a good try! And the dog was very excited about the whole operation. As was I.

I have never seen anything like this anywhere else across my years. Michigan Tech is full of interesting, engaged, curious, fun, and adventurous people.

Now, if you, or someone you know, want to know more, be sure to email me, callahan@mtu.edu.

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech