Patrick Babb fell in love with engineering because it can make the magical appear commonplace by combining knowledge and creativity to solve problems on a societal scale.
In pursuing his dream of becoming an engineer, this rising senior at California State University, Fullerton, has worked on everything from water sanitation to energy-efficient vehicles.
While completing the eight-week Stanford Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) this past summer, Babb was introduced to the rapidly evolving field of control systems and artificial intelligence. He worked in the Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory (SISL), led by aeronautics and astronautics professor Mykel Kochenderfer, to develop computer vision applications. Enabling computers to see and make sense of the world around them is a key element in helping autonomous vehicles navigate safely.
Working with postdoctoral scholar Ransalu Senanayake and graduate student Patrick Slade, Babb got a deep dive into Tensor Processing Units (TPUs) — computer chips designed to work with computer vision algorithms to detect objects in an image up to 30 times faster than can be done by relying on traditional CPUs. Faster object detection, notes Babb, leads directly to increased safety in the vision systems for autonomous cars, for instance. He is continuing the research with SISL by integrating a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor into the TPU to map the environment more quickly and improve the safety and performance of autonomous vehicle navigation systems.
He’s now integrating what he learned at SURF into a drone of his own making that he hopes to use in humanitarian aid efforts delivering food, water and medicine or in making key damage assessments in areas where humans cannot go.
Babb, who is a member of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, serves as membership chair and secretary for the National Society of Black Engineers, and is president of TitanSat, a CSU Fullerton student club that builds cube-shaped miniaturized satellites. His takeaways from his SURF experience are a greater confidence in his ability to thrive as a researcher and a pride in what he, even as an undergrad, was able to contribute to the lab.
“I also learned that asking for help is critical,” says Babb, who was stuck on a coding problem for a week until he asked a friend for help. “Within an hour I realized the solution to the problem and the rest of the research progressed smoothly.”