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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Making airport parking less of a nightmare

Another success story from URI's international engineering program
Stanley Robotics robot positions a car into a parking spot
The Stanley Robotics robot positions a car into a parking
spot at the airport. Photo courtesy of Stanley Robotics.
One of the most inconvenient aspects of air travel happens on the ground and it’s on-site parking.
University of Rhode Island alumnus Ian McElroy is using technology to make parking at airports a stress-free experience.
As a software engineer, McElroy programs and tests electric-powered, autonomous robots that enable customers to drop their cars off at the airport and pick them up without waiting. 

The robot accomplishes this by lifting the vehicle up, bringing it to a vacant spot and knowing when to return it to the drop-off point.
The company McElroy works for is Stanley Robotics, which is based in France. After graduating in May 2019 with bachelor’s degrees in ocean engineering and French, through URI’s International Engineering Program, McElroy joined the rapidly growing start-up a few months later.
Responsible for coding, developing new features and fixing bugs in the system, McElroy plays an important role in getting the robots to work properly.

“A lot of my work entails testing the code piece-by-piece and integrating new features,” said McElroy.

“One feature I helped develop was the system supervision and auto diagnostics, which enables the robot to diagnose itself and provide feedback to technicians on any problems it’s experiencing. For example, the robot can analyze its GPS and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) to determine if the positioning is reliable and send an alert or stop if it is not.”

McElroy has also worked on the robots’ ability to determine the proximity to other robots for navigation purposes.
“The idea is to program the robots so that they can recognize each other and cross paths fully autonomously, in a similar manner to a traffic intersection,” McElroy said. “I’ve been responsible for developing the algorithms needed on the robot to interpret and execute the crossing strategy that is given and resolve any conflicts that occur.”
Even though the robots McElroy works on are on land and not under the sea, he regularly uses the skills he acquired while studying ocean engineering.
“My education in underwater robotics at URI was a great blend of programming, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering,” said McElroy. 

“I had all the tools I needed to hit the ground running at Stanley Robotics. I’ve been able to directly apply my programming experience and knowledge of robotics that I gained from my ocean engineering classes, projects and independent research.”
It didn’t take long for the URI graduate to make an impression on his supervisor.
“We attach great importance to having multidisciplinary skills,” said Anthony Troublé, robot team manager. “In less than four months, Ian has worked on almost all aspects of the software. He brings a fresh perspective on the issues and bugs we are facing. His insights are clearly taken into account.”
One skill that McElroy has improved upon since joining the company is his French language skills.
“My French has improved significantly thanks to the immersion,” said McElroy. “One of my main motivations for working in France was to use my French degree from the IEP. Therefore, I’ve taken every opportunity to communicate in French with my co-workers. Fortunately, Stanley Robotics is an international company, and when my French falls short, nearly all of my co-workers are fluent in English. In addition, many of the announcements and meetings are in English.”
By working for a successful company that was created just a few years ago (2015), McElroy is well-positioned to advance quickly in his career.
“I have the opportunity to work closely with the senior developers on the team, which helps my knowledge grow significantly,” McElroy said. “As people join the team and as I learn more and master the system, I expect to have much broader responsibilities.”
Troublé envisions McElroy’s role growing as the company grows.
“As our company is growing fast, there will be plenty of great opportunities for Ian’s career development,” Troublé said. “Given his curiosity and versatility, Ian could develop an expertise in a sub-domain of the embedded software, take a transverse role in architecture or systems engineering, or take on management responsibilities, to name just a few possibilities.”