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Spencer F

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)


Drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Guidance and Control, Path Planning.


My name is Spencer, I am a PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, studying robotics at the GRASP Lab. My studies are broadly on planning, estimation, and control for aerial vehicles (i.e. drones). My research tries to address questions of how we can improve both the intelligence and capabilities of small aerial robots, often by taking inspiration from biology. In my research we look at how wind might be sensed and exploited by drones. My expertise is three-fold: 1) designing and building drones from off-the-shelf hardware, 2) writing and implementing control algorithms to fly drones with little or no human input, and 3) enhancing a drone's perception and decision-making when in windy environments. Prior to entering my PhD, I worked on the design of 3D-printed drones with the US Army Research Laboratory. When I am not researching, my primary hobby is biking. I also play the drums, fly drones as a hobby, and often indulge in videogames.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Solar Soaring: Designing a Solar-Powered RC Glider

This hands-on project will have you modifying a small RC glider with solar panels to improve the aircraft's endurance on sunny days. The project will teach you about power management of small drones, and how we might use renewable energy to improve their capabilities. You will need experience flying RC aircraft, as well as access to a suitable workspace, somewhere to fly RC aircraft (like a park), and electrical equipment (soldering station, wiring, misc. tools, etc.).

A Survey of Bio-Inspired Drones

In this project you will learn about recent attempts to incorporate observations from biology in the design of novel drones. You will write a review article that surveys relevant literature and key results regarding bio-inspired aerial vehicles ranging from flapping wing drones to robotic maple seeds.

Coding skills

MATLAB, Python, C++

Teaching experience

While in college, I mentored students both in 1-on-1 and group settings as part of my institution's tutoring hub. In my PhD I've held four positions as a teaching assistant--holding office hours, lecturing, and designing course assignments. I have been involved with Polygence for two years now, mentoring 4 students in that time.


Work experience

US Army Research Laboratory (2017 - 2019)
Research Intern
NASA (2022 - Current)
Student Trainee


Lafayette College
BS Bachelor of Science (2019)
Mechanical Engineering
University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
MS Master of Science (2022)
University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics

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