Ancient Civilizations, Artificial Intelligence -- Just a Routine Day for UCF Professor

Ancient Civilizations, Artificial Intelligence — Just a Routine Day for UCF Professor

Credit: Nick Russett

During Hispanic Heritage Month, UCF Today will share some of our students’ and faculty members’ stories and how being Latino has shaped their lives.

Luis Rabelo’s day job is pretty impressive. The University of Central Florida engineering professor investigates artificial intelligence and simulations, and how to use both to innovate and enhance operations for public and private agencies.

Over the past 20 years he’s led teams at places such as NASA and Honeywell International. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce, even hired him for a stint.

Looking to the future takes creativity and vision, Rabelo said. But equally important is knowing where you come from. That may explain why he is so passionate about history. He has turned his home into a museum with a collection of artifacts from Latin America representing some of the most well-known civilizations. Each of his rooms has a theme from the Mayans to modern-day Panama, his homeland.

“Artifacts from the Moche in Peru to the Mayans in Mexico are examples of the evolution of the human mind and knowledge,” Rabelo said. “It’s amazing what they were able to do in a couple of thousand years utilizing the concept of zero. The math we get from them is a product of evolution and that’s fascinating when you consider artificial intelligence is a form of evolution itself.”

Culture and history are very important to him. Not only does it represent part of who he is as an individual, but the history of Latin America represents the kind of forward thinking that leads to disruptive technology, which can change everything, he said.

It’s a lesson he tries to pass on to his students: Know the past. Know where you come from before leaping ahead.

If artificial intelligence and simulation are his day job and history is his hobby, teaching the next generation of engineers is his calling.

“I still remember my math teacher in high school,” Rabelo said. “No one could figure out a math problem in the textbook, not even him. I did it. He didn’t get defensive or make me feel bad. Instead he encouraged me to pursue knowledge. He told me to go make a difference in the world. That’s the same thing I tell all my students. You have to want more, do more.”

He has mentored or acted as an advisor to more than 40 graduate students since joining UCF in 2001.

Rabelo, who also is a coffee connoisseur, holds multiple degrees from MIT, University of Missouri, Florida Institute of Technology and Technological University of Panama. He left Honeywell International, where he was a senior principal research scientist, to join UCF. He loved the idea of teaching, he said.

He also worked for NASA at the same time running a national program for them. While he continues his research, he also serves as a consultant to a variety of companies including Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Today, the associate professor teaches hundreds of promising engineering students and has taken on a new role: Industrial Engineering & Management Systems’ senior design coordinator for the college. When he’s not at UCF, he spends a lot of time cultivating his museum-like collection. It includes hundreds of masks, sculptures, paintings, tapestries, newspaper clippings and photos. He even has original photos of the opening of the Panama Canal and the visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to Panama.

“I am very proud of my roots,” he said. “I have not forgotten them. I am American and Hispanic. I am proud of that.”