UNM engineering student uses research to make safer roads
By Mary Beth King, University Communications and Marketing
University of New Mexico junior Eric Olaguir recently won an award for his poster presentation at the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB’s) 2023 Annual Meeting. Olaguir is a student in Civil Engineering assistant professor Fernando Moreu’s Smart Management of Infrastructure Laboratory (SMILab).
The lab team specializes in using drones, robots, augmented reality, and other smart sensor technology and strategies to promote safer, more cost-effective, sustainable infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and railroad overpasses.
Olaguir’s research, Unmanned Robotic Ground Vehicles Operated Using Augmented Reality (AR): Lessons Learned from Field Implementation, used a robot named BRUTUS, an Augmented Reality headset, and low-cost, credit card sized Raspberry Pi computers to detect rockfall and rock slides that might threaten roads, vehicles, buildings, and people, including road inspectors, below.
“My chief research interest is working with augmented reality and robotics. I do have interest in pursuing a concentration in micro-electromechanical systems as well because I want to have a career in the tech industry,” he said.
Olaguir and graduate student Elijah Wyckoff went to a two-lane road bordered by a rockface in Tijeras, NM, to see how quickly and efficiently they could deploy the equipment and control it with AR versus using remote control to test for deterioration. They found the AR control was smoother and they could almost double the distance between BRUTUS and the inspector. They concluded that the technology helped reduce inspection risks and provided a better assessment of the rock structure.
At Moreu’s urging, Olaguir applied for a TRB Minority Student Fellowship and one of the requirements was to write a paper on his research. He was notified that he had not only been accepted to the Fellowship but would travel to Washington D.C. for the TRB annual meeting where he presented his research poster and won the award for Top Undergraduate Research Presentation Poster.
“With Elijah Wyckoff Eric conducted the field validation of Augmented Reality-enabled tap testing in Tijeras, NM. This work is supported by the New Mexico Space Consortium, TRANSET, the TRB Rail Safety Idea, and the Office of Naval Research,” Moreu explained.
More recently, Olaguir has been working for Odey Yousef in a Sandia National Laboratory project investigating Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) laboratory and theoretical investigation.
“The objective of this project is to replicate in the laboratory vibrations collected in the field using shaking tables and mathematical tools and comparing the results from the structure in the laboratory with the data collected using sensors in the real world. With this laboratory MIMO capability, safer structures can be designed, controlled, and engineered. Experimental dynamics research is a creative area and at the same time not easy, so many experiments and simulations are needed to improve MIMO results. Eric is interested in continuing this research in graduate school and I am looking forward to seeing more of his work in the lab, the field, and publications,” Moreu said.
Olaguir was raised in Albuquerque by his immigrant parents and identifies as Mexican, American, and Filipino.
“Like most whose family comes from immigrants, both of my parents chose to travel to the United States of America in search of greater opportunities. My parents never sought higher education past high school, but they knew that a college degree would open a lot more doors of opportunity,” Olaguir remarked.
While studying mechanical engineering at UNM, Olaguir also serves in the New Mexico Air National Guard and plans to graduate in 2025 with his bachelor’s degree. He is also Ronald E. McNair Scholar, a former El Puente Fellow, and uses UNM resource centers such as El Centro de la Raza and the Engineering Student Services to help him navigate the obstacles of college.
Also, Olaguir is an Apple Scholar. He received a $15,000 scholarship, an Apple mentor for a year, and participated in an exclusive one-week immersion event with Apple. He noted that the program has been rebranded as the Apple Pathways Academy and urged sophomores interested in computer science and engineering to apply. Applications for the next cohort are now open. Deadline to apply is May 19.
After graduation, Olaguir plans to pursue a master’s degree and eventually a Ph.D.
“Career-wise my goal is to start a role with Apple in product design but I’m also open to beginning a career in the aerospace industry as well,” he added.
He cited El Centro de La Raza and El Puente Research Fellowship for providing him with the opportunity to discover and learn about research.
“Alejandro Mendiaz-Rivera, the director of El Puente, has a great team and they have done amazing work with the program. I’d also like to thank other programs like UNM Upward Bound, Men of Color Initiative, Ronald E. McNair Scholars, Engineering Student Services, and the Hispanic Engineering & Science Organization.”
Olaguir also expressed gratitude to Moreu for inviting him to his SMILab and taking an interest in his research, as well as Wyckoff and Yousef.
“Elijah continues to serve as a mentor to me remotely by responding to any questions I might have about augmented reality and Odey has further helped my understanding on equipment to conduct tests on shake tables for structural health monitoring. I also want to express my gratitude to Elsa Castillo and her staff at ESS for going above and beyond to help students and provide them with the necessary resources. I'm thankful to Elsa for her assistance in securing some funding for my research last year. Finally, I want to express my gratitude to Jennifer Serrano and Ricardo Romero at the McNair office for helping me print my TRB research poster.”
“Overall, I have had a great experience attending UNM because I have had the amazing opportunity to network and grow,” Olaguir said. “I am extremely grateful for many of the resource centers and organizations on campus because without the help of their staff and the opportunities they provide, I feel like I would not have been where I am today.”