Creating Smarter Methods of Robotics Systems

Developing Artificial Intelligence Process Leads to Career Opportunity for Esteban Lopez


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Esteban Lopez (ME ’20, M.S. MAE Candidate): My name is Esteban Lopez, and I’m a mechanical engineering student at the Armour College of Engineering.

My thesis and research is going to be in data-driven methods applied to mechanical problems. We're applying an artificial intelligence method called reinforcement learning to see if we can get a soft robotic system to learn how to control itself.

As we create and design more sophisticated robotic systems, we need smarter methods in order to get these complicated systems to complete complicated tasks. By applying reinforcement learning in a simulated environment, our goal is to see if it can learn strange behaviors that serve its purpose very well.

I chose IIT because I wanted to stay closer to Chicago. Here we have engineers that are working with us every single day. I saw a lot of opportunity in the location and also just in the smallness of the program. If it weren’t for how small my classes were, I wouldn’t have met my professors as one-on-one as I have and been able to do the really cool research that I wouldn’t have even considered in my four years as an undergrad.

Right now I’ve just completed an internship with Boeing. The challenges that are presented in the aerospace industry, they’re tough because we’re putting materials and systems and environments that we can no longer service. Once you put a satellite in space, there’s very few options to fix it if it’s broken.

This small exposure to data-driven engineering  has shown me the future of where engineering’s going to be. The goal of a university is to help us develop ourselves. A tech school is really good at doing that because it quickly exposes you to different engineering disciplines. 

It’s not enough to just know how to code. It’s not enough to just know how to design a 3D system. It’s not enough just to know the type of circuit that you need for a specific situation. You need to know a little bit of all of that.

What surprised me the most is the amount of control I was allowed to take over my career. So I think that’s what makes Armour College of Engineering really special, the fact that it gives those little hidden opportunities that if a student just asks, they’re right there, and they’re available for anyone to come in and give it a shot and make themselves better.