National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Thomas V. Vo

Thomas V. VoUniversity of Akron
Akron, OH

Electrical Engineering
Bachelor of Science, May 2008

NASA Academy Research Project
Power Systems for Future Venus Exploration Missions

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Geoffrey A. Landis

Philosophy

Ever since my first robotics competition in high school, I have been interested in the field of robotics and electronics. I was fascinated with the idea that by taking a few sensors, a controller, and some motors, I could make those parts become something ‘intelligent’. I wanted to learn more about the various components and what made them work the way they did. This started me on my path to becoming an Electrical Engineer.

Over the years I have come to realize that the field of robotics has many benefits. In terms of education, I have seen that robotics are a great way to become involved in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas on a personal level as well as being a mentor at STEM workshops for middle school students. The applications for robotics are endless and it seems that they will continue to make their presence in assisting with household chores, medical applications and all the way to space exploration. I hope someday to work on technologies that will help improve the quality of life of others as well as contributing to advancements in the field of robotics.

Work Experience/ Research

While studying as an undergraduate student at the University of Akron I had the privilege to participate in a research project under the direct supervision of engineering faculty and staff. This was the Intelligent Balloon Project, which was a multi-discipline (mechanical and electrical) group engineering project. The objective of the project was to take a payload to near-space (defined as 75,000 feet and above) and have it descend back to Earth via a parachute and recover it. During the payload’s ascent and descent, it transmitted real-time sensor data and GPS coordinates which allowed a chase vehicle on the ground to track it. The project took place over a year and a half, in which time three launches were conducted. Through this project I gained valuable experience as a project leader for the Electrical Engineering Team, independent research experience and as well as working within a group environment. In addition, I also had the opportunity to participate in conferences as a poster presenter and to deliver oral presentations in regards to this project.

I also gained valuable research experience working at NASA Glenn Research Center as an ESMD intern. There I was able to participate in research in a multi-discipline group environment as well. The research involved using signal processing and data algorithms to verify whether a sensor has failed or whether the data it is reporting is valid. This was to ensure that false system aborts did not take place as a result of faulty data from failed sensors.

As the capstone project of my undergraduate studies I had great research experiences in a group environment working on my senior design project. The project was to design a robot for the annual Fire Fighting Robot Competition held at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. The competition consists of a model arena representative of a house in which a robot must navigate room-to-room in search of a flame. Upon finding the flame the robot must extinguish it and return back to its starting point in the smallest amount of time possible. My main role in the group project was serving as the project leader and head of software design. The group consisted of three Electrical Engineers, including myself. We were challenged to step out of our electrical engineering comfort zone in order to complete a functional design for the mechanical aspects of the robot. The project involved team collaboration and research to identify sensors and design filters, and to develop algorithms, motor controller designs, component interfacing, and the power system. Although the project was very time-consuming, it allowed the three of us to get valuable experience in working on a project from the design phase through to the implementation.

Hobbies

During my free-time I enjoy spending time in the outdoors with friends and family. I like to go hiking and camping. I went on my first white-water rafting trip on the New River last summer and I had a really great time. I hope to go white-water rafting in the future at different locations across the U.S. My favorite sport that I have played since I was very young is soccer. Unfortunately, due to a serious knee injury I am currently working on rehabbing my knee and hope to play soccer again soon. In the meantime, I enjoy watching my nieces at their soccer games.

Career Objectives

My long range goal is to work with cutting-edge technologies involving sensors, embedded controllers, and robotics. I am pursuing my Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering in the fall at the University of Akron in order to refine and increase my knowledge in those areas. From there I would like to continue to work in the areas of robotics, controls systems and embedded controls either as a civil servant for NASA, the Air Force, or in the private sector for a company that serves as a contractor for the latter two.