Closets are not an ideal living space.
In the Spring of 2017, I accepted a job as a Software Engineering Intern at Vergence Automation, a self-driving car startup located in Madison, Wisconsin. Knowing Vergence is a startup, pay was not my motivation for accepting the position. I chose Vergence to get a formative experience in a hot industry, with significant responsibility on small project teams. Shortly after taking the job and budgeting for a low-expected income for the summer, I visited my older brother, who lives in Madison, to scope out living accommodations. I scored a 5 x 9 spare closet – I mean ROOM -in my brother’s apartment in Madison.
While planning for how I would manage to fit in a twin bed, storage, and desk, I reconciled with my closet-room by reminding myself that Jobs and Wozniak started in a cramped garage. Bezos, Brin, and Page, too. Perhaps this was my humbling start to an illustrious future! My romanticism soon faded, and I feared this would be the beginning of an unfulfilling and certainly uncomfortable summer, and seriously questioned whether I would be able to make work at Vergence Automation a reality.
But, the Jerome Fisher Program had my back.
Unlike the great tech company founders, I was able to receive financial support from the Jerome Fisher Program via the Intern Fellowship Award. With this financial support, I was able to sublet an actual bedroom in my brother’s apartment, cover utilities, and other living expenses. The funds helped me kick-start what became my most productive summer yet.
At Vergence, I work on the development of an active camera sensor for self-driving vehicles. Some of the coolest properties of the camera I helped develop are the capability to eliminate shadows and glare from objects, better distinguish reflective objects like street signs and pavement markings in images, and the ability to image through fog. I also programmed the Graphical User Interface, and image alignment and processing algorithms to make these features possible.
Some of my favorite moments from the internship were the nights when a few other team members and I would come back to the office to test the camera and image processing algorithms in real life scenarios. We would stage past AV accidents like Tesla’s car crash into a semi-truck and Uber’s fatal accident with a biking pedestrian. We demonstrated how our camera would have produced sensor data, illuminating the reflectivity of the semi-truck and bicyclist, making it clear to downstream decision making that an object was obstructing the roadway, causing it to stop in time.
I especially enjoyed spending half the day smoking out rooms in the office with artificial fog generators to test the 4D camera’s ability to image objects and street signs on the wall through fog. This exercise was not just lighthearted and fun, it helped us determine how to make the cameras see more and keep passengers safer. Knowing my work has the potential to save lives and usher in a safer self-driving future was certainly gratifying.
All of these experiences, not to mention my beauty rest in my mansion of a room, would not have been possible without the support of the Jerome Fisher Program and the Intern Fellowship Award. This has truly been a summer to remember: not because I almost spent it in a closet, but because it gave me real-life experience in cutting edge technology. It’s an experience I couldn’t have had without the support of the Jerome Fisher Program and community. I look forward to what next year will bring!
Isaac Schrof is a member of the Class of 2021 studying Computer Science with a concentration in Business Analytics.