Cosumnes Oaks High School students Alex Towfigh and Justin Wong completed four weeks of courses at the 2019 MIT Beaver Works Summer Institute (BWSI). They were among 240 high school students around the nation who were selected to participate in the program.
From July 8 to Aug. 4, they worked on hands-on projects, took online courses, and attended lectures presented by leading scientific researchers.
The program is hosted by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Beaver Works Center, a research center in Cambridge jointly chartered by MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the MIT School of Engineering, and the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Calling the program “truly unique,” Towfigh, 16, said they “had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with inspired students from around the country and work on cutting-edge projects that you’d almost never find in a high school environment.”
In agreement, Wong, 15, and a sophomore at Cosumnes Oaks High School, said the program at MIT was “a fantastic and surreal experience.”
“It opened a new realm of programming and robotics for me. It was arduous and challenging, but the skills that I learned and acquired were beneficial. MIT Beaverworks overall provided a fun and unique learning atmosphere and expanded my creativity and knowledge,” Wong said.
Students in the RACECAR course at BWSI programmed miniature self-driving cars, integrating sensors and collision avoidance logic to allow the cars to navigate complex racetracks.
They learned how to work together to test their software to recognize signs, follow a path, and avoid obstacles. The students were taught about integrating sensors, teaching machines to visually recognize objects, controlling the miniature car, and working in teams, according to a press release.
Towfigh said the biggest challenge was debugging the racecar whenever code didn’t work correctly or the car would just stop working. On the other hand, he said, “the biggest accomplishments came when after hours of hard work and debugging, our code would finally work and the car would reach its objective.”
At Cosumnes Oaks High, Towfigh and Wong are members of the Autonomous Circuits Racing Team, an independent, after-school program that is focused on self-driving vehicles.
Towfigh said in college he would like to study Electronics and Computer Science that focuses on robotics.
“I would love to study at MIT, as they’re doing cutting-edge robotics research, but in the long run it’s about the experience and skills gained, and not just the degree,” he said.
In the future, Wong hopes to attend a prominent university such as MIT, Harvard, Stanford, or CalTech.
“I plan on majoring in computer science and getting a future job as a software developer at a major technology company such as Apple, Oracle, Google, etc.,” he said.