Faces of the Pack: Engineering student is making a difference in autonomous systems research

Tung Dang, doctoral candidate, has been active in the College of Engineering’s Autonomous Robots Lab

A group of researchers in blue vests are posing with one of their robots during the DARPA competition.

Tung Dang, left, poses with his advisor, labmates, and their Alpha robot after a successful flying test in Edgar Mines, Colorado.

Faces of the Pack: Engineering student is making a difference in autonomous systems research

Tung Dang, doctoral candidate, has been active in the College of Engineering’s Autonomous Robots Lab

Tung Dang, left, poses with his advisor, labmates, and their Alpha robot after a successful flying test in Edgar Mines, Colorado.

A group of researchers in blue vests are posing with one of their robots during the DARPA competition.

Tung Dang, left, poses with his advisor, labmates, and their Alpha robot after a successful flying test in Edgar Mines, Colorado.

A blue and silver logo of faces of the pack.

Tung Dang is a student passionate about intelligent machines, or robots, and has been involved with research projects since his days as an electrical engineering major. 

Kostas Alexis, assistant professor at the computer science department, is Dang’s mentor. “I have been very fortunate to have him as my advisor from the beginning. He is always passionate about robotics, which motivates me a lot,” Dang said. “He also sets a very high standard for the research which keeps pushing our research to the frontier, and I can continuously improve myself through that process. On top of that, he truly cares about building a welcome and healthy research environment which is definitely important to me as an international student.”

As Dang continued his research on topics essential to intelligent machines, such as visual importance, path planning and anomaly detection, he realized that this was the career path he wanted to take. Applying to the University’s doctorate program and joining the Autonomous Robots Lab, which primarily focuses on autonomous systems like flying and ground robots, helped Dang discover that he is most interested in projects that have a high impact on society in the future.

Dang is grateful to have participated in many research opportunities, with his favorite being able to explore a gold mine in Winnemucca during the 2017 winter break. He had the ability to do experiments with his labmates and their aerial robots during his first time in a real underground mine environment. Mine exploration has its own challenge levels can range from 500 to 1,700 feet underground and are extremely hot or cold, so Dang and his group had to prepare thick and light jackets for safety purposes. The team also had to follow the same rules as real mine workers with safety training and an all-day schedule from 6:30 AM to 5 PM.

“Since that trip, I have been to dozens of mines in Nevada, California, Colorado, and Pittsburgh, but that one remains the most memorable,” he said. “I feel very thankful for the chance to join such exciting research projects at the University.”

Recently, Dang is a part of team CERBERUS and was able to participate in the DARPA SubT challenge, an international robotics competition that seeks innovative robotics solutions for exploration and search operations in underground environments.

“I am the lead researcher of the autonomous exploration planning algorithm for all robots on the team including flying and walking robots,” he said. “Since our team consists of several sub-teams in different countries, we have online meetings to discuss and track the progress. In addition, we organize common integration tests in the US and Switzerland to prepare further for competitions.”

"Tung's research has been instrumental in addressing the problem of autonomous subterranean exploration for both legged and flying robots collaborating to map and search underground mines, urban facilities and caves," said Kostas Alexis, assistant professor of computer science and engineering.

Dang believes that students who are passionate about engineering should look into joining a research lab where they have unique opportunities to work and learn from their peers, graduate students and professors who can help them to gain deeper knowledge and more skills on a particular research domain.

“I personally prefer learning by doing so I would say [students] should start with some small, hands-on projects to first build up the passion regarding engineering work,” he said. “At the same time, such projects are very useful to improve practical engineering skills as well as strengthen the theoretical understanding.” 

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