CSL Alum Codes the Future of Autonomous Technology


Lizzie Roehrs, CSL

Thiago Marinho began his career at Illinois as an intern for CSL Professor Naira Hovakimyan working on the L1 Adaptive Control Toolbox. He later returned to earn his PhD, writing his thesis “Bio Inspired Vision Based Evasion Control”.  After graduating from the University of Illinois in August, Thiago Marinho (MechSE, ’19) accepted a position with Waymo. At the Google subsidiary, which is developing self-driving technology, Marinho works closely with what he calls “an awesome, cross-functional team of controls software
Thiago Marinho
Thiago Marinho
and systems engineers.”

Is there one project that you are especially proud of Waymo?

I am proud to be part of a project that has safety as its top priority. Developing self-driving cars means working on a technology that has the potential to save hundreds of lives every day. Developing and supporting control systems is a fundamental part of making self-driving cars safe.

What made you decide to work for Waymo after graduation?

Marinho with a Waymo car and semi
Marinho with a Waymo car and semi

Last year, I was a summer intern at Google X. As the brainchild of Google X, Waymo still shares some of the same culture I really enjoyed working at Google X. I knew I was going to join a competitive, yet friendly and supportive environment where a lot of very smart people work together.

Waymo is viewed as a leader in the self-driving car industry. The company already has a public ride-hailing, self-driving service, called Waymo One, in Metro Phoenix. By working at Waymo, I am exposed to technology that is already impacting people’s lives!

I can also take Waymo self-driving rides to get around the Bay Area, and that is a pretty cool perk.

In general terms, how are you working to create more autonomous vehicles in your current position?

I am contributing to the development of a subsystem that allows self-driving vehicles to drive in a variety of scenarios that will help continually improve the performance and capabilities of our self-driving technology.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re tackling?

I think the general challenge is to be ambitious and develop something innovative while keeping passengers safe and comfortable.

How do you use what you learned at Illinois and CSL in your daily job?

My time at Illinois and CSL shaped the way I think about systems. When I think about a solution or try to understand somebody’s work, I rely on the control theory training I learned at Illinois. My advisor, Professor Naira Hovakimyan has been one of the biggest influences on how I do my job. I learned from her a holistic approach to deeply understand problems, from theory to practice. Building a self-driving car is working on a complex system, where we are trying to solve one of the hardest problems in transportation today, that definitely requires this kind of critical thinking.

During his time at CSL, Thiago shared his research with students at a local Montessori school.
During his time at CSL, Thiago shared his research with students at a local Montessori school.
How did your experiences at Illinois and CSL shape your career?

I learned so much from the professors, students, and seminars at CSL. CSL's large control group allowed me to interact with many different backgrounds, opening my mind to other areas of controls that I would not have been exposed to through my research alone. For example, a lot of my experiences in the CSL Studio robotics lab, such as working with drones and embedded systems, is fundamental to the work I do today.

What advice do you have for current CSL students?

Enjoy and get the most out of your years at CSL! Interact with professors, they are a rare source of knowledge and wisdom. Meet as many students as you can because they will be the strongest network you will have in the future and go to the Decision and Control Seminars every Wednesday! Work hard on your research problems, but get involved with CSL activities like the CSL Student Conference, EOH exhibitions, the CSL Studio labs, the Allerton Conference, and all the other special events.