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Kayla Stevenson standing in a lab at NASA

Student Spotlight: Kayla Stevenson

Applied artificial intelligence major Kayla Stevenson completed an internship with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the summer 2023 semester.

My name is Kayla Stevenson. I’m an undergraduate junior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Applied Artificial Intelligence. Last year, I interned as a mechatronics and robotics software support engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I was recruited to work on the Mars Sample Return System, a project in collaboration with JPL and the European Space Agency (ESA). The project involves taking the Sample Retrieval Lander, a rocket, and the Mars Perseverance Rover to deliver Martian samples back to Earth through an interplanetary relay team system.

My main role was to test the active compliance software for the robotic arm that would be picking up the sample tubes. This involved conducting kinematic configuration tests, collecting data on how quickly the arms moved, and scanning for potential bugs. I conducted these tests on three different robotic arms and then participated in data analysis meetings to dissect the information we gathered from the tests and any software issues.

I also led a mechanical engineering project on Bradbury, a 7-degree-of-freedom robotic arm. The cable carrier that carried wires and cords throughout the robot would frequently get stuck on sharper actuators and components on the robot. I ended up 3D-printing and installing cable bumpers on different areas of the robot to improve cable management. Outside of these tasks, I also facilitated communications between ESA and JPL by completing their project action items and was introduced to utilizing ROS2, a middleware used to develop the software for robotic systems.

This internship helped me not only learn more about robotics and its application to planetary exploration but further sparked the passion I have for space and engineering. It challenged me to improve my programming, CADing, and project management skills. Visit the Engineering Professional Practice Office to learn more about gaining opportunities for internships and co-op programs.

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