Skip to Content

Programming Tomorrow’s Automatons

Back to News Listing


Connor Mokrzycki


Profile  •
Campus Life  •

Ritchie School graduate Ori Miller concludes his six-year journey as a student and researcher at the University.

Alumnus and graduate student Ori Miller, carrying a robot that the ARISE lab uses in its research

Imagine a future where robotics revolutionizes safety and efficiency in high-stress, complex and dangerous environments—from bustling hospitals to pitch-black caves in deep underground mines. Throughout his years as an undergraduate and graduate researcher, Ori Miller (BS ’22) has been writing the code to make that future a reality.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Miller became interested in computer science in middle school, when he was first introduced to coding during a STEM event. “I had never seen programming before,” Miller says. “It was like the first thing in school that I felt like I was good at, and I latched onto it.”

When it came time to apply for college, Miller says he was drawn to DU because of the ability to combine computer science with a liberal arts education, the opportunities offered by the Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science, and the small class sizes. And as an avid skier, the hour-and-a-half drive to Colorado’s snowy slopes made the decision even easier.

While majoring in computer science, Miller rounded out his skillset by minoring in math and entrepreneurship. “I felt like that was beneficial in terms of getting a perspective on the business world, as someone who is on the computer science side of things,” Miller says.

The University’s liberal arts underpinnings allowed Miller to explore and discover new interests, as he took electives that turned out to be some of his favorite classes—from Russian literature to philosophy and film courses. “I knew that there wasn't necessarily a direct benefit to my career, but you know, I don't do everything for a career,” he says. “I want to I want to live a good, whole life.”

Inspired in part by his older sister who was conducting research at another university at the time, Miller began looking for research opportunities during his junior year. “I thought, ‘If she can do that, I can do that.’” He started reaching out to professors and landed his first research role in the Autonomous Robotics and Interactive Systems Experimental Laboratory (ARISE Lab), developing code to guide robots though their environments and researching with Christopher Reardon, ARISE Lab director and assistant professor of computer science.

After completing his undergraduate studies in the spring of 2022, Miller began a year-long remote internship with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland, and returned to DU that fall to begin working on a master’s in computer science and continue researching in the ARISE Lab.

Throughout his graduate studies, Miller has worked primarily on two research projects which focus on “the novelty in the software,” he says. In the ARISE Lab, Miller and his fellow researchers write code that uses data from sensors capturing images, motion and other factors to allow automatons to adapt to changing conditions and environments while safely and efficiently accomplishing the task at hand. Miller was one of several DU researchers to present on their work at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2023 in London.

Miller’s first project, which is funded by a Department of Energy Environment Management Grant, aims to create robots that can operate in and survey underground mines containing irradiated materials in New Mexico. The second—which his master’s thesis is based on—is developing an algorithm to train pairs of airborne and ground-based drones to follow a person or other agent through a complicated environment like a hospital. “They have different abilities and different resources,” he says. “They need to talk back and forth and trade information when it's most relevant, so they can help each other with their objective.”

While Miller spends much of his days developing the code that will drive the next generation of robots, he also frequently explores and learns new technologies and techniques through his role as a graduate research assistant. But when he’s not in the lab, he’s as far from his keyboard as possible. “When I have free time, honestly, last thing I want to do is work on the computer,” he says. “That’s part of my research, so I’m fulfilled in that sense. Buy when I’m done for the weekend, I’m skiing and running.”

Now, nearly six years after his journey at the University began, Miller is ready for his next step. Whether that be in industry or continuing on in academic research, Miller has cemented his role programming robots to better integrate into all aspects of daily life—which he’s excited to be a part of. And with increasingly capable robots, the possibilities are nearly endless, Miller says. “That’s the really exciting part.”