“Not everybody will accept drones, not everybody will accept self-driving cars, but they’re going to happen anyways.”
Student Profile: Reza Radmanesh
Mohammadreza Radmanesh is both a PhD and master’s student—mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering, respectively. I meet him for coffee at the Starbucks off Calhoun. First he tells me he prefers to be called Reza, sans the Mohammad, then tells me he didn’t sleep the night before, literally did not sleep a single minute, and orders a coffee with a double shot of espresso.
“How are you awake?”
“That’s the fascinating part,” he tells me. “I don’t know. I was working all night, because today we have a meeting with the Air Force.”
By we he means he and his team, and they’re actually having weekly meetings with the Air Force, concerning investments. Investments in their drone research.
Reza is 27. He fell into mechanical and aerospace engineering after first falling in love with chemistry. He’s presented his research in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. He tells me his favorite place is the airport, and not because of just the airplanes, but because of the system: “Seeing the logistics of the ordered chaos,” he explains. He’s been working in drone research for about nine years now. At first it was simply designing them, the actual mechanical body of the drone, but now his research focuses on the real life implementation of the drone concept. Reza summarizes this concept with the term smart city.
"My idea of research is futuristic. This is a place where Amazon is delivering packages with drones instead of human beings. All delivery couriers are corporate drones. It's under the category of smart cities. It's a city with less chance of chaos."
What exactly does Reza mean when he says less chance of chaos? Think of it like this: a city where delivery deadlines are always met and packages are never lost. A city where human error is not a thing. Because there is no room for error—the decisions are not being made by humans, but by drones.
Reza asks me to imagine a sky filled with millions of drones, going from corporations to domestic doorsteps, doing their jobs. They do not collide, their pathways from A to B connect smoothly. His job is to organize these pathways for minimal chaos. “The whole point of my research,” says Reza, “is to figure out the best way we can have millions of drones up in the sky, successfully.”
“The aim is that by 2022, which is not that far from now, we will have the capability to implement this drone technology. But the question my research answers is, how can we manage all of this? My job is to design the protocol and design the paths for this drone system, so that everything actually works. All the moving parts. So that packages may be delivered to your doorstep without collision and without incident.”
Reza then mentions cars. Cars, too, will be nothing but large glorified drones: self-driving automated vehicles. “The smart city will be interconnected. The cars, the drones, everything will be connected. Everything will understand each other. This sort of artificial intelligence is inevitable.”
My mind goes to Tesla’s self-driving cars, which then makes me think of the time Elon Musk said AI scares him more than nuclear weapons.
“People are always going to have trouble trusting new ideas,” says Reza. “Think about the airplane. It wasn’t too long ago that the airplane was first introduced. And guess what, it took the general public about ten years to really trust this new concept. To actually board an airplane and feel good about it. Not everybody will accept drones, not everybody will accept self-driving cars, but they’re going to happen anyways.”
I am reminded of all the things that at first weirded me out, if only because of their newness, which are now considered normal and mainstream, if not essential. Tinder, smart watches, kombucha, Instagram, Uber—I can remember telling my mom, Wait, they really expect me to get in a car with a man who is an actual stranger?—little inventions that initially seem unnecessary, even a bit creepy, are eventually considered powerhouses.
Although I do not feel Tinder and corporate drones rather comparable, the concept remains the same. What we are not used to makes us uncomfortable, and the passing of time corrects this feeling of discomfort until it morphs into trust.
“What is happening is happening whether we like it or not,” says Reza. “We have these capabilities and we are building. Artificial intelligence will be mainstream sooner rather than later.”
And isn’t that the way technology has always reached us? Someone comes up with an idea, and if it’s a good idea, the research and the building and the tweaking is what follows. The idea slowly becomes reality, slowly inserts itself from the page into our real life.
Reza finishes his coffee, he’s fidgeting with the empty cup now, and I’m wondering what would, in the perfect futuristic world, be even better than drone technology. I ask him if he believes teleportation is possible. He says, after some laughter, that no, he does not think teleportation is possible. He begins discussing mathematics and physics and the ideals of reality. I’m not convinced. Later when I get home I fall into a quantum teleportation wiki hole.
I ask him one last question. If he wasn’t in engineering, what would he be doing?
“I’ve thought about this a lot,” he says, "Uber driver."
For a man who spends most of his time researching automated forms of transportation, this answer surprises me. But maybe it’s a good backup plan, in case this drone-artificial-intelligence-smart-city future decides to give in to the chaos and self-implode.
Written by Danniah Daher, graduate assistant to the graduate school office.