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Visions of the future: Alexandria grad working on drones, driverless cars

Kevin Setterstrom, a 2013 Alexandria graduate who is a senior at North Dakota State University, is soldering components of a remote controller together for a self-driving car, as classmates Caitlyn Bachmeier and Dieumerci Christel look on. (Contributed)1 / 2
Kevin Setterstrom, a 2013 Alexandria graduate, is a senior at North Dakota State University. He is standing next to a Ford Fusion that he and his team have been working on. On top of the car is a dome containing four cameras that are used to help guide the vehicle. (Contributed) 2 / 2

At a young age, Kevin Setterstrom knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.

The 2013 Alexandria graduate looked up to his dad, David Setterstrom, an electrical engineer at Brenton Engineering and was also enamored by all the "Iron Man" movies and their gadgets.

Watching his dad and watching those movies is what drove his interest in engineering, computer science and artificial intelligence, and what led him to know early on that he wanted to become an engineer.

Setterstrom, a senior at North Dakota State University, majored in electrical engineering and minored in computer science. He will graduate in the spring and already has plans to pursue a master's degree and doctorate with a focus in artificial intelligence.

While a student at NDSU, Setterstrom has been the student team lead for the self-driving car research group, and he is also the president of the Drone Flight student organization.

His drone group is working to make drone flight training more generally accessible to students across the nation, instead of just at specialty flight schools. The group will sponsor a national competition in the spring that will bring student teams from across the nation to the competition in Fargo.

Setterstrom said he believes that within the next few years, drones will populate the skies much more than they do now. Farmers could start using them more to inspect crops and for land surveying. Companies such as Amazon will expand on its recent introduction of using drones for package deliveries. Photographers will also use them more when trying to capture that perfect moment.

As for self-driving — or autonomous — cars, Setterstrom said he has done tons of research and has written papers on the subject.

"I see an increase in autonomous cars in the future," he said. "And I see fully autonomous intersections with no street lights. There could even come a day when there is unmanned everything."

He believes that the autonomy that happened in the "Iron Man" movies is "definitely doable."

When it comes to self-driving cars, Setterstrom and his team at NDSU are developing a system that will seek to improve the ability of a vehicle to make decisions. This will be used to evaluate both the software that his team is making, as well as software created by automobile manufacturers.

The efforts of the student group, he said, are targeted at developing and securing the technologies that self-driving cars could be using in the future.

Setterstrom's talents have not gone unnoticed. Since the summer of 2016, he has been employed by UTC Aerospace Systems based in Jamestown, North Dakota. UTC is one of the world's largest suppliers of technologically advanced aerospace and defense products.

"I was hired in the advanced technology department and fell in love with my job," he said, adding that he actually got to be in a design role and didn't have to do just the "grunt work."

This past summer, Setterstrom worked again for the company as an intern and has since been hired part-time until he finishes school. He said the company has allowed him to work from home some of the time, which has been helpful.

When he finishes school, Setterstrom said he will be working full-time at UTC Aerospace Systems.

Setterstrom said there are plenty of people who are afraid of artificial intelligence, but that they shouldn't be. He said it would be better if more people tried to understand it instead.

"That is why I want to go to grad school," he said. "To learn more about it. That is the kind of thing that interests me. That kind of technology."

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. She enjoys running and has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon distances.

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