AEM Student Awarded MnDRIVE PhD Graduate Assistantship

Fellowship supports research, tuition, and smaller stipends for travel

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (6/15/21) – Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics (AEM) graduate student, Ali Tevfik Buyukkocak, has been awarded the 2021 MnDRIVE PhD Graduate Assistantship. The fellowship supports UMN PhD candidates pursuing research at the intersection of informatics and any of the five MnDRIVE areas: Robotics, Sensors and Advanced Manufacturing; Global Food Ventures; Advancing Industry, Conserving Our Environment; Discoveries and Treatments for Brain Conditions; and Cancer Clinical Trials.

The program aims to support approximately ten 12-month research assistantships for a 12-month (2 semesters and 1 summer), 50% graduate research assistantship, including tuition for up to 14 credits each semester (fall & spring) and subsidized health insurance through the Graduate Assistant Health Plan. Depending on the number of applicants and the availability of funding, smaller stipends may also be offered and awards may include up to $1,500 for travel to a conference or to defray costs for specialized training support if they are directly related to the proposed research.

Buyukkocak, who received his B.S. and M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Middle East Technical University in his hometown, Ankara, Turkey, has been working with AEM Professor Derya Aksaray on autonomous robots. Autonomous robots have been proven to be useful for a variety of applications in recent years. Single robots have many uses, but groups of them working together could expand their capabilities. These multi-agent systems, however, are more difficult to program and control.

Despite some loss of lab accessibility due to COVID-19, Buyukkocak has been able to focus on researching on motion planning and control algorithms with performance guarantees for multi-agent systems. Currently, the goal is to design and implement decision-making algorithms to achieve complex multi-agent tasks that can be accomplished at specific locations by a sufficient number of robots within desired time-windows with minimal human intervention. The accomplishment of this goal will enable autonomous robots to collaborate at both team and agent level and operate in dull, dirty, and dangerous missions instead of human beings. The ultimate goal would be to create computationally efficient optimization algorithms to coordinate and control these systems efficiently.

Aside from research, he hopes to earn his PhD then continue in academia possibly as a researcher and teacher.

“I consider engineering as a puzzle, and by receiving my BS and MS degrees, I covered only a small portion of the whole. The ultimate goal in my career is to solve that puzzle as completely as possible. …Learning is a never-ending process, and I want to keep improving myself as much as I can in my field. In my view, academia is the most suitable place to achieve this, and such a prestigious award will have a valuable contribution to my resume and strengthen the possibility of holding an academic position in the future for me. [This] award will not only reinforce my motivation to continue my research on multi-agent systems but will also support the hands-on part of my research.” - Ali Buyukkocak

Working with Professor Aksaray, an expert in control theory and robotics, the graduate student has received much support transitioning into this research, also noting that her Formal Methods class taught key concepts integral to the published research in the MnDRIVE fellowship. “[Professor Aksaray’s] supervision and active participation in shaping my research have taken the quality of the resultant work to another level.” Buyukkocak said. “I would like to express my gratitude to the award committee members, and also to Prof. Derya Aksaray, Prof. Yasin Yazıcıoğlu, and Prof. Nicola Elia for their support.”

More information about the MnDRIVE PhD Graduate Assistantship Program can be found on the University of Minnesota Research page.