Alum Nitin Sanket wins Larry S. Davis Doctoral Dissertation Award

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Nitin J. Sanket (CS Ph.D. 2021) has received the Computer Science Department’s Larry S. Davis Doctoral Dissertation Award, which recognizes outstanding dissertations that convey excellence in technical depth, significance, potential impact and presentation quality.

The award is named for Larry S. Davis, a Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of computer science who served as chair of the department and was the founding director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).

Sanket’s dissertation, “Active Vision Based Embodied-AI Design for Nano-UAV Autonomy,” introduces concepts used to develop a novel framework for algorithmic sensorimotor design of multirotor vehicles. In particular, he showcases four methods that achieve activeness on an aerial robot.

His thesis also introduces the RoboBeeHive, a self-navigating aerial drone designed to pollinate flowers on a farm. The drone “hive” houses several much smaller drones and then releases them to pollinate flowers and crops—just like bees. The project was featured in a Voice of America video this summer.

“In my view, Nitin’s thesis is among the best that have come out of my lab in the last 15 years,” says his advisor,  ISR-affiliated Professor Yiannis Aloimonos (CS/UMIACS). “Nitin is a very independent, well-organized and highly creative leader with strong technical skills and excellent communication capabilities.”

Using on-board sensing and computation, Sanket has created a new area of research called minimalist cognition. His work—which has been applauded by aerial robotics experts—will enable abilities in robots on a scale never seen before.

“Nitin will be a leading figure in the field in five years’ time,” Aloimonos says. Sanket is adept at working with both hardware and software since he has “one foot in engineering and the other in computer science.”

Sanket is currently a postdoctoral researcher in Aloimonos’ Perception and Robotics Group and an assistant clinical professor in the First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE) course Autonomous Unmanned Systems.

— ISR thanks Melissa Brachfeld and UMIACS for this story.

Published December 9, 2021