Professor Cathy Wu’s PhD work on autonomous vehicles featured in Wired Insider article

August 30th, 20192019 News in Brief

Gilbert W. Winslow Assistant Professor Cathy Wu’s PhD work on Autonomous vehicles was featured in a Wired Insiderarticle. The article discusses the inevitable issue of traffic, and how researchers used reinforcement learning to create simulations and visualizations of traffic flow. At the University of Berkeley, the Director for the Institute of Transportation Studies and Liao-Cho Professor of Engineering, and Professor Wu who was a PhD student at the time, conducted research on the ways in which autonomous vehicles could positively impact traffic flow. Their studies found that if there are five to 10 percent of autonomous vehicles on the road, it can help alleviate localized congestion which would in turn, lessen traffic at the larger scale. Read more here.

Gilbert W. Winslow Assistant Professor Cathy Wu’s PhD work on Autonomous vehicles was featured in a Wired Insiderarticle. The article discusses the inevitable issue of traffic, and how researchers used reinforcement learning to create simulations and visualizations of traffic flow. At the University of Berkeley, the Director for the Institute of Transportation Studies and Liao-Cho Professor of Engineering, and Professor Wu who was a PhD student at the time, conducted research on the ways in which autonomous vehicles could positively impact traffic flow. Their studies found that if there are five to 10 percent of autonomous vehicles on the road, it can help alleviate localized congestion which would in turn, lessen traffic at the larger scale. Read more here.

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MISTI Chile: “Dos chicas solas en las montañas, Guau”

August 27th, 2019Uncategorized

By Shannon Wing '22 I woke up on Saturday morning at 9am to a text from a friend, “I am heading off to hike Cerro Provincia. I am assuming you and Lulu aren’t going to make it since you were up late last night, but just in case, I have my three person tent and you are still welcome to join me.” Jokes on her, I laughed. She clearly doesn’t know Lulu and I that well. I grabbed my backpack, a bar for breakfast and took off to the metro to meet Lulu. We then ubered to the start of the trailhead. 11am start - not bad. As you can probably tell by now from my last posts, I don’t tend to take rest days and I for sure do not miss a beautiful hiking opportunity. Neither does my friend Lulu and we have figured out from traveling with each other this summer that this is a bit of an unhealthy combination. I would argue, however, that it has led us to some pretty incredible experiences here in Chile. This past weekend we had a 2-day traverse of Cerro Provincia and Cerro San Roman planned. Our main goal was to get some acclimatization days in before we head to Peru for two weeks to hike one of the most beautiful alpine treks in the world, the Huayhuash. Can you tell I am excited? It has been on my bucket list ever since I figured out I enjoyed hiking. Our second [...]

By Shannon Wing ’22

I woke up on Saturday morning at 9am to a text from a friend, “I am heading off to hike Cerro Provincia. I am assuming you and Lulu aren’t going to make it since you were up late last night, but just in case, I have my three person tent and you are still welcome to join me.” Jokes on her, I laughed. She clearly doesn’t know Lulu and I that well. I grabbed my backpack, a bar for breakfast and took off to the metro to meet Lulu. We then ubered to the start of the trailhead. 11am start – not bad.

As you can probably tell by now from my last posts, I don’t tend to take rest days and I for sure do not miss a beautiful hiking opportunity. Neither does my friend Lulu and we have figured out from traveling with each other this summer that this is a bit of an unhealthy combination. I would argue, however, that it has led us to some pretty incredible experiences here in Chile.

This past weekend we had a 2-day traverse of Cerro Provincia and Cerro San Roman planned. Our main goal was to get some acclimatization days in before we head to Peru for two weeks to hike one of the most beautiful alpine treks in the world, the Huayhuash. Can you tell I am excited? It has been on my bucket list ever since I figured out I enjoyed hiking. Our second goal, was to have a great time. Both were accomplished, and we even made some new friends along the way.

The first night we were lucky enough to snag a spot in the refugio on top of Cerro Provincia. Our friend had chosen to camp below the summit, but since we were going for the traverse, we had to make the summit of Provincia that day. In the refugio we met 2 chileans, one who would be joining us on the traverse. We also got to experience one of the most incredible sunsets I have seen to date. This is the only time that I have appreciated the smog of Santiago; it for sure makes for a beautiful sunset. 

The next morning we headed out for 15km of snow-covered ridgeline, right in the backyard of Santiago! There were challenges in route-finding, wind and steep slope management that we met in stride. We made good friends with the Chilean who had an “I’ll just follow you” attitude. In sketchy terrain, we would wait for him to catch up to pass and made sure to include him whenever we made a route change or decision. He was alone and the weather the next morning was looking questionable, so we made sure he made it down with us. It felt as though we were in it together. 

There was some scrambling up and down rock, passing down packs, and glissading down snow slopes. We finished the last 2 miles in the dark with our headlamps, but we made it. We came out on a random sidestreet and sitting on our backpacks in an empty parking lot, eating our snickers bar, we ordered our uber. Crazy that such beautiful mountaineering can be just an ubers ride away. Our uber driver, very confused why there were two random girls at the end of this street asks, “Where did you both come from”, we reply “the mountains!” to which he goes “Two girls alone in the mountains, wow.”

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MISTI Bikepacks the Atacama

August 27th, 2019CEE, Uncategorized

By Shannon Wing '22 When hearing about the Atacama Desert from my coworkers, I immediately knew that it was where I wanted to go for my one long weekend of the summer. Not until a few weeks after booking my flights did I have the idea to bikepack through the Atacama since it’s flat, there is lots of open space, it would be cheap and well, it would be an adventure. I pitched the idea to my adventure buddy for the summer, Lulu, and from there we were on our computers doing lots of research. There surprisingly wasn’t much to find. No one had done and documented a bikepacking trip through the Atacama besides a famous mountainbiker, and we were neither good at mountain biking or famous, so her itinerary wasn’t going to vibe with us. Now, at this moment I do admit we should have questioned WHY no one has done an overnight bikepacking trip through the Atacama, but as you can tell from the title, we did not. Before we left, we had acquired two other MISTI students, Cooper and Gianna, that were crazy enough to join us despite my thorough explanation that we have never done a biking trip as long as this,  and we would not have a route planned until we arrived. If I can, this is how I prefer to travel since it gives you the ability to be flexible. I think the best knowledge you will find about a place is when you [...]

By Shannon Wing ’22

When hearing about the Atacama Desert from my coworkers, I immediately knew that it was where I wanted to go for my one long weekend of the summer. Not until a few weeks after booking my flights did I have the idea to bikepack through the Atacama since it’s flat, there is lots of open space, it would be cheap and well, it would be an adventure. I pitched the idea to my adventure buddy for the summer, Lulu, and from there we were on our computers doing lots of research. There surprisingly wasn’t much to find. No one had done and documented a bikepacking trip through the Atacama besides a famous mountainbiker, and we were neither good at mountain biking or famous, so her itinerary wasn’t going to vibe with us. Now, at this moment I do admit we should have questioned WHY no one has done an overnight bikepacking trip through the Atacama, but as you can tell from the title, we did not.

Before we left, we had acquired two other MISTI students, Cooper and Gianna, that were crazy enough to join us despite my thorough explanation that we have never done a biking trip as long as this,  and we would not have a route planned until we arrived. If I can, this is how I prefer to travel since it gives you the ability to be flexible. I think the best knowledge you will find about a place is when you hit the ground and ask, and that was exactly the plan. Show up with a hostel booking for one night, find a bike rental shop, a tourist information center, and anyone else that could give us details on where to bike, where to camp and what to see. Then, we would take off on our adventure. 

The plan went accordingly as we arrived, rented cheap bikes, acquired all of our equipment and food, and got a route to bike. The route, however, did not go as planned. Roads that were on our map did not exist in real life and campsites that we were told existed were nowhere to be found. Being good environmentally friendly citizens, we did not illegally free camp, but rather stayed in random people’s houses instead that, to quote Cooper, were “Quite possibly the three nicest people I have met in my life.” A huge thank you to them for taking us stranded travelers in! I think that it is also worth noting that at one point we had a llama in our backyard.

Yes, we backtracked and biked much more than expected, but also encountered many beautiful sites including Valle de la Luna, Lagunas Altipanicas, and Salar de Atacama. We even managed to fit in some sandboarding at Valle de la Muerte and swam in one of the alpine lagoons. Ultimately, the trip did not go as planned, but I would say it was for the better. Cheers to the bikepacking crew!

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ONE-MA3: Atlantis and Gotham in One Roman City

August 27th, 2019Uncategorized

By Marcin Hajduczek '22 Standing in the middle of the city, I could barely open my eyes against the sun reflecting off of endless slabs of marble. The piazza I stood in was the size of a soccer field, its green turf replaced by polished white stone. Intricately carved columns lined the edges, stacked one on top of the other with a stone beam stretching from column to column above each layer; bold letters inscribed on the beam trumpeted the wealth of donors that had funded the elaborate masonry. In the piazza’s center stood an equestrian statue of a local hero, whose copper glaze had corroded to green and whose heroics were perhaps more folklore than history. It served as a role model for the senators and businessmen that would come every morning to work at the Curiaand bureaucratic offices just behind the columned promenade. At the front of the square stood a massive temple to the Capitoline Triad. More imposing than any surrounding building, its multiple floors of marble and gold decorations were topped with a statue of Jupiter. Juno and Minerva faithfully stood by his sides, their shadows creating thin strips of grey across the otherwise white piazza. Or at least that’s what Pompeii’s Forum would have looked like before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, explained our personal tour guide and Professor at the University of Queensland Duncan Jones. Much of what was once a bustling city center was lost in the last two thousand years, with only [...]

By Marcin Hajduczek ’22

Standing in the middle of the city, I could barely open my eyes against the sun reflecting off of endless slabs of marble. The piazza I stood in was the size of a soccer field, its green turf replaced by polished white stone. Intricately carved columns lined the edges, stacked one on top of the other with a stone beam stretching from column to column above each layer; bold letters inscribed on the beam trumpeted the wealth of donors that had funded the elaborate masonry. In the piazza’s center stood an equestrian statue of a local hero, whose copper glaze had corroded to green and whose heroics were perhaps more folklore than history. It served as a role model for the senators and businessmen that would come every morning to work at the Curiaand bureaucratic offices just behind the columned promenade. At the front of the square stood a massive temple to the Capitoline Triad. More imposing than any surrounding building, its multiple floors of marble and gold decorations were topped with a statue of Jupiter. Juno and Minerva faithfully stood by his sides, their shadows creating thin strips of grey across the otherwise white piazza.

Or at least that’s what Pompeii’s Forum would have looked like before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, explained our personal tour guide and Professor at the University of Queensland Duncan Jones. Much of what was once a bustling city center was lost in the last two thousand years, with only fragments remaining to hint at its former grandeur. The stone ground of the square was still polished, but by the footsteps of tourists rather than Roman manual labor. Some of the columns lining the edge of the forum were still partly erect, but only in one spot was the dual-layered promenade still visible; even this had been evidently put back together from scattered pieces like an archeological Lego set, red bricks filling the spaces where marble was missing. The names of the forum’s patrons were eroded beyond recognition, and written in a dead language, no less. The ruins of the temple hugged the earth too tightly to cast any shadows across the piazza, with only the base of a few thick columns remaining. Pompeiians might have felt that their gods had failed to protect their home from devastating destruction, but even if the city had survived, Jupiter would probably have been toppled and replaced by a figure of Christ in the later Roman Empire. At first glance Pompeii seemed to be a door into a foreign civilization: one with a confusing language, with unrelatable deities, and with emperors who decided food rations and put on gladiatorial spectacles.

“It might look a little destroyed now,” Duncan conceded, “but it’s still the best example we have of Roman urban architecture and engineering. Use your imagination to fill in the blanks- it is the basis for our own western civilization after all.” His commentary forced me to think about how the parts of Roman culture that have transcended time might be more important than what has been left behind. Although smaller, Pompeii’s forum wasn’t all that different from Washington DC’s National Mall; America replaced the senatorial Curiawith the Capitol Building and the White House, but they still served similar legislative purposes and were even built in a neo-classical style imitating the ancients. With a temple to Lincoln on one end of the Mall and an obelisk commemorating Washington in the middle, America clearly has its own “gods” and heroes to look up to. The city of Pompeii met its demise under the rule of an emperor, but it was built in Rome’s earlier Republican era, whose values and governmental separation of power was a clear inspiration for America’s founding fathers.

As an average citizen, American politics seemed somehow distant and tucked far away on Capitol Hill; Pompeiians, no doubt, felt equally far removed from an emperor in Rome. More prevalent to the typical plebeian was his everyday life. In the early morning, they would go greet their wealthy sponsors in their mansions in the wealthy district surrounding the forum. These mansions, orDomus, had lavish doorways kept open to show off the frescoes and mosaics decorating the interior to passing-by pedestrians. It was no different than modern celebrities wearing Gucci suits and being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce to impress tabloid readers and one-up their peers. Pompeii’s poor didn’t benefit from the same luxuries. The city’s water system was made of lead pipes even though Vitruvius’ writing tells us that the Romans were aware of the health risks involved. Like modern corporations judging if it’s cheaper to recall a product or settle lawsuits over the death of customers, the Roman elite judged that using cheaper pipes was more valuable than the lives of those drinking the water. Perhaps that’s why Pompeiians choose to drink beer and wine instead. As today, bars offered the cheapest meals, brothels coaxed the drunkards, and fresco-painted campaign posters advertised politicians that wouldn’t fulfil their campaign promises. Pompeii had all the elements of a city slum just a few streets away from its dazzling forum, a stinging reminder of the inequity of wealth that most Romans- and Americans- could never overcome.

Although literature and movies had romanticized my perception of Greeks and Romans, standing in the forum helped me realize that the gleaming column promenade and the wealth of the senators was no more than a daydream for Pompeii’s ninety-nine percent. Many may have felt that their gods abandoned them in favor of the rich well before the first flake of volcanic ash touched the city, and it wasn’t hard to understand their complaints as a modern city-dweller. Despite their emperors and gladiators, were the Romans really all that different from us?

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Flying Drones in the Construction Industry

August 23rd, 2019Uncategorized

Zachary Roberts '21 Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—also known as drones—are disrupting the construction industry. They provide a cheap alternative for aerial surveying and surveillance, which has attracted the interest of many contractors and sent them in a rush to get their employees FAA certified, with the Part 107 exam. This blog post intends to serve as a guide to getting your certification and to tell you about my experiences as a drone pilot. I have been a commercial UAS pilot for two years, and I started my experience with D.L. Howell & Associates, Inc., out of West Chester, Pennsylvania. We used a software program there called DroneDeploy, which automates a drone flight, causing it to piece together a bunch of images to create one large picture, known as an orthomosaic image. The drone flies around in a zig-zag pattern and takes pictures every couple seconds. Drones also came in handy for construction updates. I would go out to a construction site weekly or biweekly and take photos and video. The images and video captured presented well for clients and gave them a better perspective about job progress. I currently fly for Skanska USA as a summer intern in Virtual Design in Construction (VDC), where we use drones for communication between all stakeholders by analyzing up-to-date site progress and activity, safety, quality control and coordination to name a few. Newer-model DJI drones take 360-degree photos, which provide an interactive and complete view of a construction site. Getting your drone license involves [...]

Zachary Roberts ’21

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—also known as drones—are disrupting the construction industry. They provide a cheap alternative for aerial surveying and surveillance, which has attracted the interest of many contractors and sent them in a rush to get their employees FAA certified, with the Part 107 exam. This blog post intends to serve as a guide to getting your certification and to tell you about my experiences as a drone pilot.

I have been a commercial UAS pilot for two years, and I started my experience with D.L. Howell & Associates, Inc., out of West Chester, Pennsylvania. We used a software program there called DroneDeploy, which automates a drone flight, causing it to piece together a bunch of images to create one large picture, known as an orthomosaic image. The drone flies around in a zig-zag pattern and takes pictures every couple seconds.

Drones also came in handy for construction updates. I would go out to a construction site weekly or biweekly and take photos and video. The images and video captured presented well for clients and gave them a better perspective about job progress. I currently fly for Skanska USA as a summer intern in Virtual Design in Construction (VDC), where we use drones for communication between all stakeholders by analyzing up-to-date site progress and activity, safety, quality control and coordination to name a few. Newer-model DJI drones take 360-degree photos, which provide an interactive and complete view of a construction site.

Getting your drone license involves a lot of preparation, but as a member of the construction workforce, having it is valuable. I was given the opportunity to take a training course provided by DARTDrones. This company was featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” and it gave me all the tools I needed to learn. You don’t need to spend money on a training course though. By visiting the FAA website or doing a Google search, you can find test material and study guides that should prepare you well for the licensing exam. I can personally endorse an app called Prepware Remote Pilot, which properly prepares you to take the exam. YouTube also provides a lot of free lessons that are really helpful for studying purposes.

There are plenty of uses for drones from a construction standpoint. The first is aerial surveying. Aerial surveys offer a new perspective on a construction site or property, give more accurate measurements than a Google Earth image would, and provide teams with accurate, up-to-date site conditions and layout. Drones also offer the possibility of doing an inspection that would certainly be dangerous for a person. For example, when there’s an overhanging beam off the edge of a building that needs inspection, you can use the drone to inspect the beam with no risk to a person’s safety. Another purpose for drones that I’ve seen personally is marketing. Drone imagery gives a company a great deliverable to send to a client or a showcase piece to help get that next job.

Taking the drone Part 107 licensing test requires you to go to an FAA-authorized location to take an online test, and you need a score of at least 70 percent to pass. Your FAA Part 107 license gives you permission to fly for commercial purposes. There are many types of photos that can be taken with drones that provide great service to the construction industry, including 360-degree, panorama and orthomosaic imagery, in addition to automated video functions.

The presence of drones are expanding in the construction industry. As one of two pilots at my first internship with DLHowell, I learned they expanded their number this summer to include two more engineers. I was part of a drone onboarding effort from Skanska USA’s Boston office this summer, where they introduced their first five pilots to fly in the area. As a national company, Skanska USA has a rapidly expanding program with over 20 FAA certified pilots.

Please feel free to reach out to me at zroberts@mit.eduif you have any questions! See below for some imagery from my personal flights this summer at Briggs Field – MIT and Kenmore Square – Boston:

 

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Professor Martin Polz publishes research in Cell titled “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations”

August 16th, 20192019 News in Brief

Professor Martin Polz published a new research paper in Cell titled, “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations.” The researchers have developed a new method that allows for the identification of ecologically and medically relevant microbial population structure that can help pinpoint the genetic factors associated with environmental factors as well as human diseases. Read more on MIT News.

Professor Martin Polz published a new research paper in Cell titled, “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations.” The researchers have developed a new method that allows for the identification of ecologically and medically relevant microbial population structure that can help pinpoint the genetic factors associated with environmental factors as well as human diseases. Read more on MIT News.

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