Robot(icists) Swarm

Leonardo Mouta Pereira Pinheiro

MRSD 2025

Pool at Robolounge: the national sport of MRSD and a great way to relieve stress.
It’s a shame we’re all terrible at it.


“Hey friend! Do you know person X, by any chance? I met him a couple of days ago. He is from the same program and year as you!”

“Really? I don’t actually…”



There goes the average, usually awkward, conversation I have with students in most programs at CMU. And make no mistake, the Robotics Institute is in general no exception. I understand we are not a tiny department, but it still feels kind of sad when people from the same program and year have no clue who their colleagues are. Credit where credit is due, CMU doesn’t make it easy either: we tend to put our heart way too much in the work, missing out on many opportunities to see the world and the people around us.


But MRSD is different. And that difference is all too often overlooked. 


Before coming here, I searched extensively on all sorts of forums on what makes MRSD unique. People almost always pointed out, with very little variance, the same things: you get to take all these awesome classes, you’ll study with rockstar professors at this great robotics school, you will have a great portfolio and a capstone project, etc. Don’t get me wrong, these are all true. But very few places mentioned how well you’d get to know your batchmates, and I think there is real value in that. 


In a sense, the MRSD program is reminiscent of ancient Sparta (bear with me here): we train together in the same courses, we spend almost the full course developing a capstone project as teams, and we complain about the same things all the time. We even choose electives based on which courses our friends plan on taking, so that we don’t have to be alone. If you think this analogy is far-fetched, I would like to add that one of our first events as a cohort was a physically-demanding (and very fun) ropes course. No wonder Robolounge is pretty much an MRSD fiefdom by now: no other program can stand our might!

The '25 cohort after learning the ropes


I’m joking, of course, but only partially. The fact of the matter is that I only know of a handful of robotics programs in the entire world where the batch members become so familiar with one another. Given that “networking” is one of the buzzwords of the moment, with even the FED having studies on how important knowing people is for one’s prospects [source], it is nice to know that we will always have a safety net by relying on our classmates, especially in moments such as the one we are going through now, where the tech markets aren’t riding the high of previous years anymore.

The network created here isn’t only useful for jobs. The growing concern with mental health has forced colleges throughout America to come to terms with some uncomfortable truths about how unhappy their student bodies are. CMU, unfortunately, ranks high on overall unhappiness [source]. Even though we can’t say we were lied to, as everyone knows CMU is a demanding school, still the stress takes its toll from time to time. In those times, having actual friends who are going through the same problems as us helps a great deal, and I know people who have quit their programs elsewhere because they didn’t have a similar level of camaraderie.

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MRSD Juniors and Seniors enjoying the RI semi-formal

Even more impressive is that not only the batches themselves are incredibly cohesive, but we also have a lot of junior-senior interactions, meaning we get to know people across batches too. Our seniors did a fantastic job of welcoming us, providing guidance and overall facilitating our entrance into CMU. We like them so much that we hold no grudges for all the points they docked us as our TAs.

To put it using robotics vocabulary, there are several advantages to working as a swarm rather than as individual entities. We can better distribute processing workload, we can scale operations better and we have a much, much higher carrying capacity. Not a single one of the projects achieved at MRSD could have been done by single students working alone. Sure, coordinating swarms is more complicated. Pretty much everything has to be decided by the class as a whole, after all. But the upside is that our reach is considerably longer.

MRSD Alums - present and future - on their way to participating in the newsletter. Image source