Meet Student Di’Quan Ishmon: Robotics Research Intern

Di’Quan Ishmon

My name is Di’Quan Ishmon and I am a student majoring in mechatronics engineering and minoring in electrical engineering at NIU and I plan to graduate in spring 2022. I was accepted into the mechanical engineering graduate school. I am doing the accelerated BS-MS program this fall in my senior year and last summer I finished a 10-week summer robotics research program at West Virginia University with the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Robotics Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program with 12 selected students from across the nation.

The research we were working on was called Robotic Research in Human-Swarm Interaction. The research is broken into five topics including Cooperative Robot Foraging, Obstacle Avoidance in a Swarm of Robots, Cooperative Active Localization, Modes for Humans to influence a Robot Swarm, and System Integration and Robot Testing. The first four topics were in four separate groups, and topic five is where all the groups come together to test the algorithms we developed on the physical robots. I was a part of topic four “Modes for Human to Influence a Robot Swarm” in which we are designing robotic swarms for complex environments, it is essential to keep in mind the autonomous robotic swarm may experience partial loss of functions due to such uncertainties or intentional attacks.

Di’Quan won the 2019 Runner Up award for Illinois Young Inventor of the Year at the Falling Walls Lab from the Illinois Innovation Network for his solar cell phone battery charger.

This study investigated a situation where a semi-autonomous adversary robot directly interacted with the autonomous robotic swarm to infiltrate a defensive waypoint. This was intended to mimic a real-life situation where robotic swarms are used in foraging tasks and security is a concern. In the simulation we created, a state machine was implemented to enable the swarm to complete foraging tasks assigned by the operator and take up defensive formations towards the invader and/or the defensive waypoint. Once the adversary was detected by an agent, it utilized fluid flow kinematics and set a sink flow to the defensive waypoint. This allowed individual agents to decide whether to protect the defensive waypoint (sink) or pursue the invader (doublet). The Doublet formation enabled the swarm to funnel the invader towards one direction and continue wherever the invader struck. We simulated this for a visual representation of the state machine, the operator’s way of assigning tasks, and to observe the emergent behavior that resulted during defensive formations that kept the invader from reaching the defensive waypoint.

We created a simulation to analyze the accomplishments and failures of the swarm. Now we are working on ROS to test the algorithms my group, and I created on physical Turtle Bots using the Vicon system within the last 4 weeks left of the research program. The 10-week NSF REU program was fast especially dealing with a short deadline to get great progress on the robotics swarm research. This program is for preparing students for graduate school. I can truly say that I am prepared for graduate school research, and this helped me realize the amount of freedom that is available to me to research what I want.

This program encouraged me to challenge myself with robotic swarm research. I will be researching robotic swarms’ human interaction for my graduate thesis with my advisor Dr. Butail. This program taught me a lot about responsibility, teamwork, communication, machine learning, and programming. I have learned some new techniques in teamwork which is something I can carry with me throughout my life. It helped me understand the meaning behind narrowing down to what we are trying to solve because the small problems are what help solve the big problems. After learning and gaining experience in the robotic field, this really encourage me to be more persistent and determined on the end goal of my research, my current and future projects, and Senior Design.

How do you think your education at NIU helped you get the position?

I think that some of my courses at NIU helped me a lot to get the position in which I was able to apply the skills I learned about robotics in my mechatronics courses to the applications that were needed to get further with the research progress. Even so, I taught myself to be better as a research assistant at West Virginia University.

How do you hope this experience will help you achieve your career goals?

This experience will help me achieve my career goals to potentially pursue my master’s and Ph.D. in the same research field, but also go into the industry and build cost-efficient robotic swarms for civilians and companies like Boston Dynamics, SpaceX, and NASA etc. Robotic Swarms can be implemented into a lot of applications from automotive, aerospace, and civilian daily use.

CEET offers a chance for students to meet companies looking for interns. Two Job and Internship Fairs are held each year that are available exclusively for engineering and engineering technology students. 

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