Dolphins and porpoises exploit their natural sonar – called echolocation – to move in complicated underwater environments, even in low visibility conditions. They transmit short high frequency clicks, then listen for the returning echoes to avoid obstacles, find their prey, and sometimes even return sunglasses that human trainers have lost in the water. “The animals often find objects faster and more reliably than manmade sonars, suggesting that they extract information from sound more efficiently than engineering systems,” says Chancellor Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor John R. Buck.
Abigail Keith ‘20, an electrical and computer engineering major, worked with Dr. Buck in his lab where she implemented biologically-inspired search algorithms on an iRobot Create, the educational version of the popular Roomba cleaning robot. While conducting research experiments with the robot, Abigail demonstrated that dolphin-inspired algorithms are faster on average than other common search algorithms when searching for difficult to detect objects.
Conducting laboratory research
"As a student in a group lab setting, I would perform experiments that would fortify my knowledge of the fundamentals of electrical engineering," Keith said. "While this is important for understanding key concepts, independent research as a graduate research assistant allowed me to explore topics I was interested in through hands-on experience and in-depth study."
Benefiting from the accelerated BS/MS program
Keith earned her BS in electrical and computer engineering in 2020 and continued to pursue her MS in the same field as part of the College of Engineering's accelerated BS/MS program, an experience that broadened her knowledge as well as skillset. "While working on my thesis, I fine-tuned my communication skills by learning to elucidate technical concepts to audiences of a variety of backgrounds. I found it immensely valuable to have a thesis advisor guide me through my research by providing me with not only technical skills but also critical-thinking skills that will help me in my career."
Preparing for a career as an electrical engineer
She says it was very helpful to be a part of the signal processing research group while conducting her research, especially while learning remotely due to the pandemic. "I was able to learn from my peers' past experiences, as well as collaborate and gain feedback from other students with similar academic interests. To aid in my transition from school to work, I had the opportunity to have my mentor from Raytheon Technologies serve on my thesis committee. This allowed me to demonstrate my presentation and research capabilities, as well as gain insight as to what skills would be useful as I began my career."
Keith, who is an Electrical Engineer 2 at Raytheon Technologies, had the opportunity to have her mentor from Raytheon serve on her thesis committee. “Conducting research as a graduate student truly has helped me to feel confident and capable in my knowledge and abilities as I begin my career as an engineer,” Keith says.