Miguel Angel Olivares Mendez works on mobile robots – more specifically: he develops algorithms that enable drones to fly around and perform various tasks autonomously, such as inspecting big structures. The Spanish national came to Luxembourg in 2013 after he came across a Postdoc position that fit like a glove. Currently a Principal Investigator on an FNR PoC project at the University of Luxembourg’s SnT, Miguel’s goal is to help bridge the gap between research and industry.
When Miguel finished his PhD Robotics and Automation in his home country Spain, he and his wife made a list of potential countries they could move to for the next step. At first, Luxembourg was not on the list, but then Miguel found a Postdoc opportunity he could not resist:
“The position that Prof. Holger Voos was offering me was to have the possibility to create from scratch a section of his group related to research with drones. The mix between the big challenge to construct this research line from nothing, combined with the beautiful city, the sensation of security in the streets, how this country is great to raise kids and to be located in the center of Europe convinced us to come to Luxembourg.”
Miguel’s work revolves around mobile robots (mainly unmanned aerial vehicles) – also called drones.
“My research is focused on the development of the algorithms needed to give to the drones the capabilities to fly autonomously to conduct civil applications,” Miguel explains, adding that he for example works on selecting the sensor to fit on the drone, developing the algorithm that extracts the information gathered by the drone – and using AI techniques to make the drone able to navigate on its own.
Autonomous inspection of large areas and structures
The idea of drones that can navigate an area on their own might sound very science fiction, but Miguel explains they have multiple uses in industry, such as the application he is currently working on in his FNR Proof-of-Concept (PoC) project: “Some of the civil applications I’m working on are the use of drones for the autonomous inspection of big structures, such as airplanes”.
Miguel has been involved in several projects during his time in Luxembourg, all focused around making autonomous drones ready for industry use. One collaboration with the Luxembourgish army and LuxConnect saw him working on drones to help with the surveillance of big areas, while an FNR CORE project he worked on focused on developing a safety control system for remotely human-piloted drones.
But what does it take for a drone to be able to inspect airplanes and large areas, without someone manually controlling every move? Miguel explains: “To accomplish these tasks, the drones have to be able to take off and land autonomously (even on moving vehicles), measure the environment, detect obstacles, avoid collisions, follow moving objects and generate optimal trajectories to reach the desired destination.”
“I’m absolutely impressed by Luxembourg”
So how is Miguel feeling about his choice to move to Luxembourg to continue his research career? The answer is positive, with Miguel especially appreciating the many opportunities he has had to collaborate with partners outside academia:
“I’m absolutely impressed by Luxembourg. I already met some people from the government, and many companies. I never could imagine to be seated with CEOs, CTOs, general managers from big companies and feel that they are more interested in what I was doing that me in what they are doing.
“This level of respect, confidence and trust in research is completely unique and wonderful. I was involved in projects with the Luxemburgish Army, and the Department of Defense of Luxembourg, Luxair, CargoLux, Luxconnect, Deep Space Industries, CopterSystems, VdL, MUDAM, and I talked with more than 10 companies in the last years.”
Since December 2016, Miguel has taken on major responsibilities in the research activities on mobiles robotics in the Automation & Robotics Research Group at the SnT at the University of Luxembourg, and currently also co-supervises no less than 3 PhD candidates.
Miguel was also recently featured in science.lu’s series ‘Meet the Scientists’:
Article published 24 August 2017
About Spotlight on Young Researchers
Spotlight on Young Researchers is an FNR initiative to highlight early career researchers across the world who have a connection to Luxembourg. This article is the final in a series of 25 articles, which are published on a weekly basis. You can see more articles below as and when they are published.