Arriaga will be studying how to control robots from a distance at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center



San Mateo High School graduate Omar Arriaga has always loved building robots. That passion led him to study electrical engineering at Cañada College and has resulted in a prestigious summer internship at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Arriaga will be working in the center’s Virtual Environments Lab designing teleoperation interfaces for robotic systems. Teleoperations is the science of controlling a machine from a distance. An example is the MARCbot, a low-cost robotic platform used in Iraq for inspecting suspicious packages at a safe distance. The MARCbot is one of the primary robots Arriaga will study as part of his internship.

“The Marshall Space Center has a manipulator for testing the capture of inactive orbital objects such as dead satellites,” Arriaga said. “They also have other robotic systems such as a simple task arm. I will be responsible for establishing a teleoperation connection to one or more of these systems using human interface components in the Virtual Environments Lab.”

Arriaga said he will study the interface between desktop computers, off-the-shelf game controllers, game system body trackers, and virtual reality motion tracking systems and the robotic systems. The goal is to learn more about using the human body and machines to better control robots from afar.

“Testing will include evaluation of the robot’s capabilities, strengths, and constraints associated with different teleoperation controls and displays,” he said. “I learned about the internship through Professor Amelito Enriquez. When I saw the opportunity to work for NASA with the MARCbot, I knew that I had to apply.”

The internship is perfect for Arriaga, who enjoys building different kinds of electronics and robots. “I want a career that enables me to design my own consumer electronics and sell them,” he said. “I am still debating if I want to pursue an MBA in Marketing, so I could market the electronics that I build.”

When he finishes his studies at Cañada, Arriaga plans to transfer to UC Davis.

Arriaga said Cañada has helped his professional development by providing internship opportunities, encouraging his attendance at professional conferences, and providing academic support. He said having the STEM Center on campus provides him with the help he needs on homework.

“Our professors are usually in the STEM Center during office hours and other classmates are always there to study with,” Arriaga said. “Being part of study groups and working as a tutor has helped me excel in my academics.”

Arriaga said students serious about pursuing STEM-related majors should take advantage of the opportunities available at Cañada. “I would tell incoming students to get involved with clubs and take advantage of the programs that Cañada has to offer STEM majors. Networking is the key to success, whether it’s getting to know your professor or one of your peers.”
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