Published: June 27, 2022 By

We all fail sometimes, but how we respond to those failures is important. Classical robotic failure mitigation focuses on trying to anticipate every way a system could fail and having an answer. 

Gilberto Briscoe-martinez (PhDCompSci‘26) wants robots to be able to learn from their mistakes and continue persevering to finish a task as best they can. He was recently awarded a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research (NSTGRO) fellowship for his exploration of this topic, titled “Enabling Long-term Robot Autonomy through Adaptable Fault Resilience”. He is the first Computer Science P.h.D. student at CU Boulder to receive this award. The fellowship will fund Gilberto for 4 years and will allow him to collaborate with scientists at NASA research centers.

Alessandro Roncone, Briscoe-martinez' advisor and director of the Human Interaction and RObotics (HIRO) Group at CU Boulder, said "The NASA NSTGRO is one of the most prestigious fellowships awarded to graduate students in robotics at the national level. With this support from NASA, Gilberto will be able to not only advance the science of robotic fault resilience, but also understand how to transfer his discoveries to real systems, and, eventually, see his research deployed in space."

We asked Briscoe-martinez a few questions about his research and fellowship, here are his answers: 

How would you describe this project to someone not familiar with your area of research? 

Humans have an incredible, innate ability to compensate for an injury that we experience. If you’ve ever stubbed your toe, you’ve probably tried not to put weight on it without explicitly thinking about doing so. On the other hand, robots have an unchanging understanding of their physical selves. If anything breaks, even something as small as a piece of the robot’s gripper falling off, the robot is useless until a human can fix it. For NASA, this presents a problem. Robots will need to work reliably for months or even years on new space stations and future inter-planetary missions with few or no ways to fix themselves. My research will discover methods for these robots to compensate for injuries and wear they experience, as humans do, so they can continue to do their mission-critical work. 

What does winning this fellowship mean to you? 

For me, receiving this fellowship feels like a transition point. Until now, I’ve only used robotic technology developed by others, solving “engineering problems,” as my advisor likes to say. Now, I look forward to researching the ways that will push robotic abilities to the stars. The research I will be conducting through this fellowship is critical to enabling humans to go beyond the reaches of our planet. I am beyond excited to be at the forefront of space robotics.

How has it been working in the Human Interaction and RObotics (HIRO) Group?

My experience in the HIRO lab has been fantastic. The lab, as a whole, is focused on wholistically researching robotic systems. This enables unique collaboration opportunities between those working on the main research threads of robotic ability, physical Human-Robot Interaction(HRI), and Social HRI. My colleagues have been great inspirations because we have different outlooks, experiences, and research approaches. In addition, I believe the lab has a great work-life balance, where we are pushed to excel but can go out to ski on a snow day in the middle of the week.

What inspired your love of robotics?

My curiosity was first piqued when I took a middle-school robotics class after my school received a grant from LEGO to use their Mindstorm systems. I realized robotics would be a lifelong passion when I joined my high school robotics club. We competed in both the VEX and FIRST robotics competitions. By designing and building robots to complete many challenges, I realized that the only limits of robotic ability are the limits of our imagination. From those experiences, I was inspired to pursue the robotics research that I do today.

Any advice for folks not sure if STEM is right for them? 

My advice for someone on the fence about entering STEM is to not be afraid to try it. If you’re thinking about it then that curiosity is already there which can turn into your life’s work. And it is important to remember that if it turns out that STEM is not right for you, switching majors, and even switching careers is something that many people successfully do.