When he started out in the Autonomous Intelligent Robotics stream, Patricio (Pato) Lankenau had no idea that he’d soon become known as the ‘quadcopter guy’ for his research teaching paradrones to scan their environments. For his independent research, Lankenau used a Microsoft Kinect® to track the trajectory of a Ping-Pong ball and command a quadcopter to move in 3-d space to catch it.
Now whenever the lab needs to show off its aerial skills Lankenau is the one behind the controls. Robotics research is a new experience for the Computer Science major, who mentioned that “it’s fine when it’s a computer that will crash, but it’s not fine when it’s a quadcopter that’s coming at you.”
The project is an extension of the Turing Scholars student’s fascination with localization. Lankneau is currently working on his honors thesis with the Principal Investigator of the robotics stream, Peter Stone, to track objects as they move through non-static environments. Today interactive robots create permanent maps of the objects around them, so there’s currently “no way to differentiate between a wall that’s unlikely to move and a table or chair or even a person,” according to Lankenau. A better system would incorporate multiple robots to form a more accurate representation of the environment, an idea which Lankenau hopes to explore using the Building-Wide Intelligence Project of five robots located in the Gates-Dell Science Complex.
Matteo Leonetti, the Research Educator for the Robotics stream, says that Lankenau stood out in lab from the beginning, adding that he is “passionate about computer science and research, ambitious and competent,” and that “working with him has been a pleasure.”
Lankenau’s successes aren’t confined to university programs: after showing a friend a project he was working on freshman year, Lankenau was brought in on the ground floor of a technology startup, NetworkLift. The web service used algorithms to trawl Instagram profiles and customize a user’s account actions in order to grow a following. The team found that the most effective way to gain new followers is through systematically liking photos, successfully managing the accounts of celebrities and public figures. Lankenau left the company when it moved from Texas, but noted that it has since expanded to include other social media platforms.
Along with artificial intelligence, Lankenau developed an affinity for distributed systems while completing an internship at Apple, where he worked on iCloud storage systems. Distributed systems are fault tolerant, meaning that if one part of a system fails, the information contained within isn’t compromised. Talking about his work with information, Lankenau said “you want the data to be set up in a way that hard drives can fail, machines can die, and you never lose the integrity of the user data.”
Accomplishing so much in a just a few years requires making some sacrifices. Lankenau stopped watching TV in favor of working on coding and taking time to network, saying that “if you manage your time well you have plenty of time to do other interesting things.”
One of the extracurriculars Lankenau promotes is going to meetups in your field of interest. By introducing himself to specialized communities within Austin, Lankenau has made valuable connections outside of UT. Company recruiters aren’t looking for the work students do in class, “because everybody does that,” he said. Instead, students should do work outside of class and use their free time wisely in order to be competitive.
Lankenau is looking forward to a career in distributed systems after he graduates with the class of 2016, and has full-time offers from Apple and Uber. Lankenau is compelled to return to Apple in order to continue working with Bernard Gallet, a Sr. Engineering Manager of a team that specializes on Apple infrastructure projects, after completing an internship together over the summer. According to Lankenau, Gallet is a visionary with innovative views for where his team should be in the next few years. “I want him to be my mentor, so I definitely want to stick to him,” Lankenau said.
UT Journalism Student
This article was the first in a continuing series of monthly features on FRI students, called Faces of FRI. Expect to learn about a distinguished FRI student on the first FRIday of every month.