Campus News - October 15, 2001

ISE receives $1 million from NASA

By Michael Padilla

The recently created Center for Intelligent Systems Engineering (ISE) at the UNM School of Engineering has two primary functions: Encourage minority students to go to graduate school and design and develop projects for NASA.

“The functions of the center really do complement each other,” said Peter Dorato, Electrical and Computer Engineering professor, who serves as director of the center, funded recently by a $1 million grant from NASA renewable each year for five years.

“It’s a great challenge,” said Dorato. “We must show NASA that we are doing a great job while ensuring that we meet our goal in helping our students succeed.”

Dorato said the focus of the center is on the design of intelligent systems, that is, systems with a high degree of autonomy. Autonomy is the functioning of systems without human intervention.

Currently there are seven minority master and three minority doctoral students working on research projects in three departments including Electrical and Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. Projects include creating cooperative satellite arrays, diagnostics of turbulent flow, fuzzy-logic modeling, intelligent biomedical engineering and intelligent image processing.

One project at the center is creating robots that can communicate with each other while working on a specific problem. The intention is to make the robots work cooperatively similar to the way ants work.

Led by Professors Mohammad Jamshidi and Nader Vadiee, the project involves several small robots working on various tasks instead of one large robot trying to accomplish many tasks. An example of a task would be to gather rocks or other objects and bring them together for analysis. The robots could also be used to transport hazardous waste materials or for other activities that are dangerous for human contact.

Dorato said he is fascinated with the level of students who are involved with the projects.

“It’s amazing what they know,” he said. “They teach me new things everyday.”

John Sanchez, a 1997 graduate from St. Pius X High School, is helping create the robots. He is working with various computer programs to create a system in which the robots can see and communicate with each other.

“The robots are built from scratch,” he said. “We can program them to do most anything.”

In a demonstration, the robots were able to complete an obstacle course without bumping into walls and boxes. With sensors attached to them, the robots were able to figure out if something was in their way. The robots are powered by small batteries and are instructed by commands entered into a computer, which in turn relays them messages.

Dorato, who serves as the principal investigator for the first year of the grant, is assisted by co-director Professor Timothy Ross of Civil Engineering.

The grant also supports research at three partner institutions: North Carolina A&T, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Highlands University. NASA has been supporting research efforts at UNM since 1995, under the Center for Autonomous Control Engineering (ACE), directed by Professor Mohammad Jamshidi.

In its first five years, the program graduated 45 minority MS students and 12 minority Ph.D. students.

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