Patriot Profile: Dinesh Karri

Dinesh Karri portrait
Mason PhD student Dinesh Karri has been working with the student teams competing in the annual Defend the Republic LTA robotics competition, held this year at EagleBank Arena. Photo by DeRon Rockingham/Creative Services

Dinesh Karri
Year: PhD Student
Major: Electrical and Computer Engineering, Controls and Robotics
Hometown: Hyderabad, India

Many people dream of flying through the sky in a Quidditch game straight out of the world of Harry Potter. While Mason PhD student Dinesh Karri, MS Electrical Engineering ’19, isn’t personally reaching new heights in a Quidditch match, his team’s technology is.

It’s a…Shark Blimp: A lighter-than-air (LTA) robotic shark blimp, to be exact. Three years ago, Karri started working with his academic advisor, Mason engineering professor Cameron Nowzari, on an LTA project funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The goal is to develop a minimally viable swarm of robots that can safely maneuver and achieve their mission in a unique environment. ONR supports this project at universities across the country, and teams all meet up at the biannual Defend the Republic game to test their new technology, learn from each other, and compete in a Quidditch-like tournament. “It’s a great chance to see what other people came up with. It’s always different than what your team thought of,” said Karri.

Back to Basics: To create minimally viable robots, Karri says it’s best to keep it simple and stick to the basics. “At one of the Defend the Republic matches, I learned about how a team uses basic timers in a clever way to achieve the objective. It was so interesting,” said Karri. It may seem counterintuitive to have dumb robots, but in the case of Karri and his LTA shark blimp team, the simpler, the better.

The Best Advice? Fail Fast: Nowzari gave Karri some of the best advice that he employs both inside and outside the research lab. “Learn first, test fast, fail fast, and get better,” says Karri. “I’m not sure if he meant it to be such impactful advice, but for me, it is.” In research, things rarely go as planned the first time around. But if you keep waiting for everything to be perfect, or you’re afraid to even try, you won’t be able to learn. “You can’t know what’s wrong until you test your work,” Karri said. Even if a test fails, he believes he is still that much closer to the solution.

Doing His Homework: Karri came to the United States from India in 2017 to attend graduate school. He said he applied to Mason because it offered robotics and was in the Washington, D.C., area., but his research did not stop there. “I reached out to a lot of alumni to get information on the educational prospects, and I got a very positive response, which pushed me toward choosing Mason.”

The Quality of the Question: Karri admits that his PhD has been a rollercoaster ride, and sometimes the lows outweigh the highs. However, through it all, his mentors have taught him that even when the ride seems to be going off track, you’re still learning. “You’re always learning how to ask quality questions and find new ways to answer them,” he said. “When I started my research, my professors let me ask some dumb questions, but they never saw them that way. They always gave me a chance to learn.”

Try Anything…Once: Karri thinks everyone should take the opportunity to try new things, and with the large number of student organizations available at Mason, he’s found a few of his hobbies by simply saying yes. Dancing, ping-pong, chess, and cricket are a few of his passions. “Try new things and stick with what you like,” he said.


Watch to learn more about how Dinesh Karri and the Mason team did at the Defend the Republic Game hosted this year by Mason.