Kyle Morgenstein

Robots, AI, and Astrobiology


Kyle Morgenstein is a second year PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is excited about developing algorithms that will empower autonomous systems for astrobiology research, space exploration, and social robotics. Kyle studies extreme-terrain locomotion, manipulation, and learning-based control for highly articulated robots. Additionally, he works on gesture-based control for robots in dense social environments, and on developing low-cost robot hardware for open source research platforms. Kyle is also interested in the role of robotics and AI in society, and the ethics of automation.

Previously, Kyle graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with degrees in Aerospace Engineering and in Earth Atmospheric & Planetary Science, and won the Christopher Goetze Award for undergraduate research. As an undergraduate, Kyle's research focused on astrobiology, with projects spanning stellar interferometry, computer vision algorithms for visual navigation, and cyanobacterial micro-fossilization.

When Kyle is not in lab, he's an avid hiker, stargazer, and tinkerer. Kyle is always working on some sort of ridiculous personal project, and loves using tech to make people laugh. He also enjoys cooking, drawing, lifting weights, chocolate ice cream, and Club Penguin.

Current Research

Gesture-based Control with Safety Guarantees

In a joint collaboration with the UT Good Systems Network, we are building end-to-end deep reinforcement learning controllers to cooperate with and navigate around humans in densely populated environments. These controllers must be able to respond to social cues and respond in real time, adjusting task priorities online as the robot avoids collision while quickly completing its objectives.

State Estimation for Legged Robotics

We are collaborating with CSIRO and NASA JPL to develop state-of-the-art state estimation and control algorithms for hexapod, quadruped, and bipedal robots. These robots must navigate difficult terrain, from caves on Earth to craters on Mars.

Kyle is experimenting with filamentous Cyanobacteria from Shark Bay, Australia to understand how silica controls in the Proterozoic ocean affected the preservation potential of ancient microbial mats.


Kyle is passionate about science outreach, education, and communication:

  • Since March 2020 Kyle has been an instructor for Skype-A-Scientist, offering guest lectures for K-12 classrooms across the country. Kyle primarily teaches astronomy and earth science.

  • Kyle is also an instructor through Beavers Who Tutor, where he teaches "Hands-On Machine Learning for the Curious Novice" for students ranging from high school to graduate-level.

  • Most recently, Kyle joined Letters to a Pre-Scientist, an organization promoting outreach by matching middle-schoolers with professional STEM pen-pals.

Hot Nozzle Society

Kyle is a founding member, pad technician, and PR lead for the Hot Nozzle Society, the organization behind Hot Nozzle Summer.

"Hot Nozzle Summer" is a movement within the amateur rocket community that seeks to break down the barriers that exist within the hobby and make it more accessible to new people, regardless of skill or training in rocketry or engineering. This movement celebrates all aspects of rocketry whether its getting a Level 1 high powered certification through NAR or Tripoli, or just shooting model rockets in the backyard. The event had over 130 participants in its first year, and over 40 high power certification flights.