AI Student Ambassador Benjamin Pinaya: Mechatronics Engineer, Roboticist, & Space Technology Enthusiast

Published: 05/01/2017  

Last Updated: 05/01/2017

The Intel® Student Developer Program was created to work collaboratively with students at innovative schools and universities doing great work in the Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence space. I had the opportunity to get to know Intel® Student Ambassador Benjamin Pinaya and learn about the exciting projects he is working on related to robotics and space technology.

Tell us about your background. 

I am a mechatronics engineer at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). I did my undergraduate degree in Bolivia and then got a Fulbright scholarship to do my Master’s in robotics. I've always wanted to study robotics but the options in my country were almost non-existent for this area, so I am happy I ended up here.

What got you started in technology? 

When I was in school I was a part of the United Space School, a program where you visit NASA in Houston and get a sense of the technology used in the space sector. There I met engineers and roboticists and even saw the Robonaut legs in action. That moment made quite an impression on me and then and there I decided to study robotics and so that one day I would get to work on such advanced technologies.

What projects are you working on now? 

I am part of two laboratories here at WPI, the WPI Humanoid Robotics Lab (WHRL) and WPI Autonomous Vehicle Lab (Wave). In WHRL we are finalists in the Space Robotics Challenge sponsored by NASA, where we are using a humanoid robot for simulations in a Martian environment. The objective of this challenge is seeing the capabilities and advantages of having a humanoid robot on mars before we send humans there so that the robots can set up the environment for the astronauts.

Tell us about a technology challenge you’ve had to overcome in a project. 

Getting into a Master’s program in robotics with not much prior knowledge was hard. I had to learn most of the things from scratch at the start but it was rewarding at the end. Here at WPI there are people willing to help and teach you, and I got up to speed quickly. Robotics is a field where, in my opinion, you can never get bored since it combines so many fields. If you are tired of doing perception, you can go and design circuits or program controllers. There is always something to do.

What trends do you see happening in technology in the near future? 

The availability of information and hardware is allowing robotics to make huge jumps right now instead of just small steps. I think in the future people will see robots not as evil machines that will cut jobs or get into a war with humans, but as tools that help us develop human potential while leaving the repetitive and boring tasks to the robots. To adopt these technologies is hard but some industries like home automation or the automotive industry are pushing the boundaries bit by bit. 

How are you planning to leverage Artificial Intelligence or Deep Learning technologies in your work?

Currently, we are looking forward to designing a multiclass object detector, something that works for six degrees of freedom (6DOF) pose detection using deep learning. I've seen planners, controllers, and end-to-end systems that depend on deep learning getting into robotics, and it seems that in the future we will see even more integration. It's awesome to see how good the relationship between deep learning and robotics is getting.

What are you looking forward to doing with Intel as part of the ambassador program?

I‘m excited to publish and show the progress I am making. Having the opportunity to get access to an Intel® Xeon Phi™ cluster is amazing. I can leave models training overnight now, and can run more tests because of the resources Intel provides. Also, having contact with engineers that work there will surely be an awesome resource to have.

How can Intel help students like you succeed?

I feel there is a need for computing power, especially for students who don't have access to a big server or don't have that much money to spend on AWS clusters in order to test. For example, using my personal computer it would take two days or so to go through a dataset, but using the Intel® Xeon Phi™ Cluster is speeding up this progress by a lot. Giving students access to such resources will have a positive impact on research in the area.

What impact on the world do you see AI having? And how do you see yourself as a part of it?

It'll simplify our life and help to get rid of the boring jobs, I remember once I went to a factory and saw people working in a production line checking to see if the products were free of any scratches - they did that all day, every day of the month! AI and robotics will help us reach newer levels of human potential since we will have more time to spend on art and science.

I hope to make my living in robotics, solving problems and contributing to research. Currently, I try to focus on perception, starting with product validation and 3D pose detection.

Want to learn more about the Intel® Student Developer Program for Artificial Intelligence?

You can read about our program, get a program overview, and we also encourage you to check out Developer Mesh to learn more about the various projects that our student community is working on.

Interested in more information? Contact Niven Singh

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