Co-op and Research Puts Student on Robotics Career Path

Xavier Hubbard, MS’23, robotics, completed a co-op at Venca Robotics and conducted research as part of his master’s project. Academics, combined with the experiential learning and job experience, helped him land a job as a robotics engineer at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Xavier Hubbard, MS’23, robotics, can point to many things that led to his early success as a robotics engineer: His intelligence and critical thinking skills; the rigorous academic and research opportunities he experienced at the College of Engineering; a challenging co-op that gave him the opportunity to solve real-world problems; and the guidance of COE faculty.

But some of it came down to a well-timed pivot.

After graduating from MIT in 2015 with a BS in electrical engineering, Hubbard worked at a handful of technology startups, none of which inspired him. He was nearly certain he wanted to pursue an advanced degree in robotics, but he wanted to be sure.

He quit his job in January 2020 and decided to travel the world as he figured out his next steps. But before he made it out of Boston, COVID hit. “The world shut down and my plans were no longer viable,” Hubbard says.

That is when he learned how to make a sharp course correction and launch the plan he had long been mulling over. He began a search for robotics programs and identified Northeastern’s Graduate School of Engineering as the best option. Not only did Northeastern offer a master’s degree built around robotics—not common among the other universities he considered—but it also offered co-op opportunities and he was impressed with the faculty.

“It ended up being a perfect fit in many ways,” Hubbard says.

Hubbard started classes in the fall of 2020 and the following summer began a co-op at Venca Robotics, a factory and warehouse automation systems company based in Woburn, Massachusetts.

“My goal was to maximize the amount of hands-on experience I could get,” Hubbard says.

He worked on several robotics and electrical engineering projects, including one that focused on robot localization, or estimating a robot’s location, through LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), and reflective poles.

What he most enjoyed about the work experience was tackling real-world problems, like figuring out how to fix a system bug. “You have to dig in a way that you wouldn’t do in the classroom,” Hubbard says.

Upon returning to campus in the spring of 2022, Hubbard met David Rosen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and jointly appointed in mathematics, who invited him to work on a distributed optimization project in the Robust Autonomy Lab. The two worked through the summer and the research had a big impact on Hubbard.

Although he had originally planned to complete his master’s program on the co-op track, he decided to apply elements of the distributed optimization research to a master’s project.

That research included algorithms that would allow multiple and distributed agents, or processors, to work on pieces of a single, complex problem with minimum communication between them while also maintaining accuracy.

“One thing I will say for sure is doing research with Professor Rosen is where I learned the most,” Hubbard says.

Significantly, the distributed optimization skills he learned with Rosen helped him land his current job at MIT Lincoln Laboratory as a control and autonomous systems engineer. He is working on projects focused on the control systems related to drone surveillance and inertial navigation systems.

Hubbard also continues his research with Rosen on distributed optimization.

“So, it was a little bit happenstance and a little bit circumstantial,” Hubbard says to his recent education. “But it ultimately ended up going well for me.”

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering