Several things have to fall into place for a professor to be chosen for a Fulbright Award, and it usually takes several applications. So, University of Detroit Mercy Professor Emeritus Mohan Krishnan was surprised when he was chosen by the international organization this year.
But everything just seemed to work out for Krishnan, who received a 2020-21 Fulbright Research & Teaching Award at the University of Ljubljana in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
“I was frankly surprised I was selected because I’ve been told by multiple people that typically you don’t get it in the first year,” Krishnan said. “I was told you might have to come back and apply multiple times or you may never get it because it’s a small percentage that get it. I was happy my proposal was good enough to meet the threshold.”
Krishnan had to secure a partner institution in a foreign country, have a project they were both interested in and, of course, be selected.
Krishnan decided he wanted to apply for a Fulbright after visiting a friend of his who was doing a Fulbright in Finland.
“I was in Europe on a two-week vacation and at the end of it, he invited me over to stay a couple of days with him,” Krishnan said of his friend, who used to work at the University of Toledo. “He took me to the university and introduced me to his colleagues. I was taken by the atmosphere of collegiality. That’s how I got to know about the program and that’s what got me thinking about applying for it.”
In order to take part in the Fulbright program, Krishnan needed an invitation from a foreign institution. He decided to reach out to Gregor Klančar, an associate professor in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering-Laboratory of Control Systems and Cybernetics at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.
“He’d written a book on robotics that caught my attention a couple of years ago, he was one of the co-authors,” Krishnan said. “I noticed when I looked up his background and his special research areas that he was also working on robot motion planning issues, which I’m very much interested in. So it seemed like a good fit.”
Krishnan wrote him a letter introducing himself and sent Klančar his resume.
“We hit it off and things got going pretty quickly, surprisingly now that I look back,” Krishnan said. “It all happened in about a month. We must have exchanged between 25 and 30 emails. Then we zeroed in on a project and we were off and running.”
Krishnan and Klančar are both interested in motion planning for midsize robots and will be combining their resources to work on a project.
“The main thrust of the project is optimal motion planning,” Krishnan said. “You want robots to be optimal in the ways they move, based on what they see around them. Optimal doesn’t necessarily mean the fastest, optimal could be on the slower side, if it means you don’t run over someone or injure a child. Optimal has a special meaning because based on the circumstances, it has to move in a certain way. And if there’s multiple robots moving around, then the task gets harder.”
Krishnan said optimal motion planning is also key for self-driving cars and one of the problems plaguing companies working on them.
“It is the same theory that is the foundation of the burgeoning self-driving car industry,” Krishnan said.
Krishnan will also help teach a course at the University of Ljubljana and is excited to get to learn the culture of Slovenia.
“The project is the foundation, but that’s not the only thing, you’re also building life-long relationships and sharing cultural viewpoints, in addition to the technical aspects of the project,” Krishnan said. “Fulbright isn’t just open to engineers and scientists, it’s also open to liberal arts people. So it provides an opportunity to share cultural viewpoints and understanding with other Fulrbight Scholars as well as citizens of the host country. And hopefully to build friendships that last far beyond the project.”
Krishnan also plans to travel to other parts of Europe in his off time.
“I love to travel the world,” Krishnan said. “You do the work during the week, but then you sneak off during the weekends. Europe has such a beautiful train system so in a few hours you can get to Paris and be back at work on Monday morning.”