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Oct. 24, 2022

Student view: Beginning my journey in mobility research

Dominic Mazza is a senior majoring in computer science who conducts research with MSU’s mobility research group — Connected and Autonomous Networked Vehicles for Active Safety, or CANVAS — as part of the Student Organized Autonomy Research Group.

I really started my journey in the field of computer science and mobility during my first year at MSU. I was awarded a professorial assistantship and got the opportunity to work on the MSU SOAR team under Hayder Radha, the director of CANVAS, and two doctoral candidates who were integral to my success in the field. I can confidently say that without them, I would not be the researcher I am today, and they taught me all the foundational skills that I carry with me.

In that first year, I found that there was just so much to learn in terms of mobility. Initially, I requested to work with CANVAS due to the “cool factor” of working on autonomous systems, but after a few weeks, I was hooked. Since then, I have worked with CANVAS on more projects in the SOAR group and with the larger lab itself, and it has further affirmed that this is where I want to be.

The Professorial Assistantship and scholarship opportunities from the university were key to my decision to come to MSU. I have always wanted to work in a research field and having the ability to work in a cutting-edge field from day one made the decision a no-brainer. Working with MSU and CANVAS gives me opportunities to work on research with people who have a lot more experience, and I have continued to learn and grow as a scholar. The research community here is very welcoming to undergraduate researchers, and I think that level of support is unique to the university. I have since worked on a few research projects with CANVAS itself, and the experience I have garnered has prepared me for my dream of pursuing a doctorate in computer science.

Currently, two other project leads and I are working on infrastructure changes to the SOAR student club to ensure that the next generation of engineers have all the tools they need to succeed. We have multiple projects underway to accomplish this goal: a reorganization of our lab space to ensure easy access to physical development resources, an endeavor to flesh out our online resources for learning and reference, the development of a DevOps pipeline to ensure code quality and mitigate integration challenges, and the planning of a hackathon to drive engagement in the organization and our software stack.

We are also currently hosting workshops for our members to teach about the software behind autonomous systems, as well as the many moving parts that make up an autonomous vehicle.

Our group’s underlying goal is to provide a space for MSU students in computer, mechanical and electrical engineering disciplines that allows them to develop using an active vehicular system. We want our organization to provide the education, resources and guidance needed for development in an industry that’s growing rapidly, and we want to provide that to anyone who is interested, regardless of their experience. Functioning as our umbrella lab, MSU CANVAS provides us with a research space in Spartan Village as well as funding and graduate experience with more complex projects. The support of CANVAS has helped me and my team immensely in navigating new development domains on the vehicle, as well as helping us squash bugs in the system that are hard to troubleshoot.    

My biggest goal is to pursue a doctorate working in the field of robotics. I would like to continue the work I began here and explore new domains with other academics in the field. My end goal is to be part of the next generation of educators and researchers in robotics, and I would like to continue my work in making the field more accessible and approachable to those with a passion.


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