The GRASP Lab Goes Corporate: Fall 2023 GRASP Industry Day

November 9th, 2023

Text by Jillian Mallon, Photos by Justin Nachea and Charity Payne

The GRASP Laboratory has been hosting an annual Industry Day event since 2014. At this event, GRASP faculty and industry connections share insight into each other’s research and the future directions of both the robotics industry and academia. In addition, GRASP students who are eager to launch their careers in robotics and engineering connect with the robotics industry and organizations who are equally as eager to onboard new talented robotics engineers to their teams. This ninth annual GRASP Industry Day event also introduced our new Corporate Affiliate Program, created to foster and grow GRASP’s relationships with Industry Connections.

The events of GRASP Industry Day spanned from October 13th to 14th, 2023. The program on the 13th was held in GRASP’s newly minted GRASP Treehouse in Lab Building 250 at the Pennovation Center. Starting at 8:30 AM, over 20 employees from 14 different companies as well as over 100 GRASP students, faculty and staff checked into the Treehouse and enjoyed a light breakfast. The companies in attendance ranged from those founded by GRASP alumni (such as Ghost Robotics and Vertiq) to global companies and foundations (such as Autoware, TIER IV and Siemens Healthineers).

Dr. Shaopeng Liu, Technology Manager of Autonomous Systems at General Electric Research, presented the work of GE Aerospace and GE Research during the GRASP Industry Day event.

The event kicked off in the GRASP Treehouse’s multi-purpose room with a mix of presentations from both industry and faculty speakers. This provided an opportunity for GRASP’s students to get a sense of the research projects that the industry is actively developing while also providing an opportunity to our industry contacts to learn about the work that GRASP faculty and students are doing. After a welcome message from GRASP’s faculty director, Dr. Mark Yim, attendees enjoyed presentations from engineers from Google Deepmind, SRI International, GE Research, and Lockheed Martin ATL, as well as GRASP’s own Dr. Pratik Chaudhari. Lunch was held after the first session of talks in the main lab space of the GRASP Treehouse and featured pop-up booths featuring the work of Ghost Robotics, Burro and LF Intelligence Limited.

Jasleen Dhanoa (ROBO MSE ’23) and Wanying Long (MEAM MSE ’24) demonstrated ScalAR Lab’s research with USVs and UAVs in their MoCap-equipped water tank.

The second half of the program started with a guided tour of GRASP at Pennovation, complete with demonstrations and poster presentations from GRASP’s Master’s and PhD students. The first stop on the tour was Dr. M. Ani Hsieh’s research group’s (ScalAR Lab) suite in Pennovation Building 200 for a demonstration of their group’s heterogeneous team of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) in their water tank. This demonstration was led by Robotics Master’s alumnus and ScalAR Lab research assistant Jasleen Dhanoa and MEAM Master’s student Wanying Long.

The group was then led to GRASP at PERCH, which is the lab’s largest facility at the Pennovation Campus on the third floor of Pennovation Building 450. Dr. Andrew Bae, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Mark Yim’s research group (ModLab), showcased the capabilities of the Variable Topology Truss (VTT) system. This was followed by a poster session where many students showcased and discussed their work with the visitors. The tour ended with outdoor demonstrations from Ghost Robotics, Burro, Autoware, and Dr. Rahul Mangharam’s research group that were scattered along the path back to the GRASP Treehouse. Representatives from Autoware exhibited the open source autonomous vehicle software developed under the Autonomous Vehicles for Electric Vehicles (AV4EV) initiative. Dr. Rahul Mangharam’s research group constructed a track for autonomous race cars outside of the Pennovation Center to demonstrate the F1TENTH Autonomous Vehicle System.

Dr. Rahul Mangharam’s research group built a pop-up racetrack to showcase the abilities of the F1TENTH Autonomous Vehicle System.

Presentations picked back up in the Treehouse multi-purpose room after the tour. The industry talks included presentations by engineers at Ghost Robotics, BotBuilt and Near Earth Autonomy, while the faculty talks consisted of presentations by faculty members Dr. M. Ani Hsieh, Dr. Michelle Johnson, and Dr. Cynthia Sung. Once the presentations were finished, GRASP invited all attendees back to the lab area for a networking event. This gave students and industry delegates a chance to connect regarding the presentations and demonstrations that they saw throughout the day and explore overlaps in their research as well as possible job and internship opportunities over some appetizers and drinks. 

The networking event that followed day one of Industry Day’s program of presentations featured informational tables from Ghost Robotics, Burro, and Vertiq.

While day one of the Industry Day event focused on showing GRASP students what a career in the robotics and engineering industry looked like, day two did the inverse. Industry representatives were treated to a tour of GRASP’s facilities and projects at Levine Hall. The tour group was guided through Dr. Nadia Figueroa’s laboratory space by her research group members (Figueroa Robotics Lab) Harshil Parekh, Tianyu Li, Ho Jin Choi, Zhiquan Zhang. The group was then led to GRASP’s main laboratory space in Levine Hall for presentations from Siming He, a Robotics accelerated master’s student working with Dr. Pratik Chaudhari, and Weilin Wan, a visiting PhD student working with Dr. Lingjie Liu. The Industry Day Event then ended with a poster session featuring the work of Rahul Ramesh (PhD, CIS), Yifei Shao (PhD, CIS), Anusha Srikanthan (PhD, ESE), Aditya Chattopadhyay (Visiting PhD), and Dr. Igor Spasojevic (PostDoc, ESE).

GRASP Industry Day also provided an opportunity for industry professionals to formally recruit students for their open positions. In preparation for the event, GRASP Staff compiled over 75 GRASP student resumes into a resume book that was shared with over 30 industry representatives whose companies are currently hiring for full-time positions and internships. Industry employers were also granted priority access to the resume book when they joined the GRASP Corporate Affiliate Program. Throughout the program, conference rooms at the GRASP Treehouse and Levine Hall were reserved for rapid interviews with GRASP students who were hand-selected by each employer from the resume book. 

Visitors from the robotics and engineering industry viewed the research projects of GRASP students during the poster session at GRASP at PERCH on the first day of GRASP Industry Day.

All in all, Industry Day succeeded in strengthening the connection between robotics research at GRASP and corporate engineering work. GRASP would like to thank the GRASP Staff as well as faculty members Dr. Dinesh Jayaraman and Dr. Eric Eaton for organizing the event. GRASP hopes to only improve the engagement between lab members and industry colleagues in the future and is looking forward to hosting another industry outreach event in Spring of 2024.