We welcome new members in our lab

September 6, 2017

Our new team members:

Postdoc: Donghwan Lee.
Ph.D. students: Arman Shahinyan, Neng Wan, and Muhammad Aneeq Uz Zaman.
Undergraduate students: Zhengyu Chen, Chenghao‎ Duan, and Jad Faraj.




DURIP award granted

March 24, 2017

We just got a DURIP award to build a scaled-down airspace physical simulator. This testbed will consist of an indoor flight-test area equipped with a motion capture system and an ultra-wideband (UWB) radio-based positioning system to provide scalable indoor positioning for large-scale UAS fleets, a large number of heterogeneous vehicles to provide high-fidelity physical simulation of real airspace that would also allow development of vehicle-agnostic algorithms, a flexible wireless communication framework to permit experiments with centralized and decentralized algorithms, control stations to manage the simulated airspace and perform mission control, and a rapid prototyping workshop to facilitate the logistics of equipment. The press release can be found here.




New book now available: Time-Critical Cooperative Control of Autonomous Air Vehicles

February 8, 2017

Time-Critical Cooperative Control of Autonomous Air Vehicles presents, in an easy-to-read style, the latest research conducted in the industry, while also introducing a set of novel ideas that illuminate a new approach to problem-solving. The book is virtually self-contained, giving the reader a complete, integrated presentation of the different concepts, mathematical tools, and control solutions needed to tackle and solve a number of problems concerning time-critical cooperative control of UAVs.

By including case studies of fixed-wing and multirotor UAVs, the book effectively broadens the scope of application of the methodologies developed. This theoretical presentation is complemented with the results of flight tests with real UAVs, and is an ideal reference for researchers and practitioners from academia, research labs, commercial companies, government workers, and those in the international aerospace industry.

Find out more about it here.




Hovakimyan named AIAA Fellow

January 30, 2017

Professor Naira Hovakimyan is named among the class of 2017 Fellows of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Click here to read the official AIAA press release.

Read more about this award from the MechSE News and Events page!

By: Fatima Farha
01/20/2017

Naira Hovakimyan
  Professor Naira Hovakimyan

MechSE professor Naira Hovakimyan was recently named a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AAIA) “for pioneering development of technical knowledge in robust adaptive control and its transition to aerospace and commercial applications.”

Hovakimyan is the W. Grafton and Lillian B. Wilkins Professor, Schaller Faculty Scholar, University Scholar, Director of the Intelligent Robotics Lab, and an affiliate of the Beckman Institute, the Coordinated Science Lab, Information Trust Institute, and the Aerospace and ECE departments. Her research is primarily focused on robust adaptive control, networks of autonomous systems, and game theory applications regarding safety-critical systems in various engineering fields. She has conducted research and experiments involving domestic drones, robots, and her L1 adaptive control system.

The rank of Fellow is one of AIAA’s most competitive, with only about 20 individuals named each year.

“I feel very honored by this recognition,” said Hovakimyan. “The Fellow rank is the highest rank of AIAA and is very prestigious. I feel humbled to be among those few honorees.”

AAIA is a professional society of individuals who are studying, teaching, and researching the field of aerospace. The society also publishes journals, magazines, e-books, and other documents written by individuals conducting various research on aerospace advancements and technology.

 




Drones Featured at Aging 2.0 OPTIMIZE in San Francisco

October 18, 2016

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Aging 2.0 OPTIMIZE was created to address the issues with the aging process, in particular, the lack of good technology available for elderly people and caregivers. Among other industry leaders and entrepreneurs Dr. Hovakimyan was chosen to give one of the keynote talks, highlighting our research in human-robot interaction as it applies to prolonging the independence of the elderly. We also had the opportunity to demo some of our research in their Experience Zone over the three day event, flying one of our vehicles designed toward performing tasks like delivering medication and carrying household items.

The video above was part of Dr. Hovakimyan’s keynote talk, showing autonomous trajectory tracking using ultra-wide band localization, aerial manipulation, and other research. The video below is coverage of the event by CNBC Nightly Business Report, concluding with talk of our research and the potential for these vehicles to make a positive impact on aging people.

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Coverage of our research begins at 24:59

 




F-16 Testing Featured in Aviation Week

September 1, 2016

F-16 VISTA Experimental Aircraft

This fall’s flight test on the variable stability F-16 at Edwards Air Force Base has sparked interest with Aviation Week, commenting on the potential for the L1 control system to be used as a failsafe system for aircraft. Aviation Week Intelligent Network has featured the article on their webpage: “Adaptive Safety System Flies On Variable Stability F-16”.

By: Guy Norris, Sept 2, 2016, Aviation Week & Space Technology

Testing of an adaptive flight controller that could enable pilots to save a damaged or out-of-control aircraft is underway on an F-16 at Edwards AFB, California, as a critical step toward eventual certification of the system for piloted and unmanned aircraft.
The first flight of the L1 adaptive control law on Calspan’s variable stability inflight simulator test aircraft (VISTA) F-16 took place at Edwards on Aug. 26 following a week of ground tests. The two-week campaign is expected to cover 10 2-hr. flights, which will test the ability of the L1 system to safely control the aircraft over a wide range of flight conditions and simulated failures.
Developed by researchers from the Advanced Controls Research Lab at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, the L1 is designed as a backup safety flight control system (FCS) to augment a standard FCS in a conventional aircraft, or as the main control system for an unmanned aircraft. The L1 automatically intervenes if the aircraft has control problems, immediately reconfiguring the FCS to compensate for degraded flying qualities from mechanical failures, miss-trimming or battle damage. Advanced testing of the L1 comes as loss-of-control inflight (LOC-I) air transport accidents have escalated; they are now the cause of the greatest number of fatalities. International Air Transport Association records list 31 LOC-I accidents in 2011-15, 30 of which involved fatalities—an average of six loss-of-control accidents per year. The LOC-1 problem is also widespread in general aviation. And according to the National Transportation Safety Board, it resulted in 1,210 deaths in the U.S. alone in 2008-14.
The L1 is designed to provide safe, predictable, reliable and repeatable responses, freeing pilots to deal with the emergency and compensating for reduced performance. The system works in real time to predict transient behavior by estimating an aggregate of uncertainties, rather than relying on the selection of preprogrammed gains, as do most other adaptive control systems. The L1 controller includes a state predictor and a fast estimation law, which together approximate the dynamics of the aircraft to gauge the uncertainties. These estimates are provided as input to a bandwidth-limited filter that generates a control signal to the FCS.
The evaluation is the second time the L1 controller has flown on a manned aircraft; it follows an initial phase conducted at Edwards in 2015 that used Calspan’s specially modified variable stability Learjet 25. Led by the U.S. Air Force Test Pilots School (TPS), the initial evaluation investigated the ability of the control system to maintain nominal aircraft handling qualities and prevent unfavorable aircraft-pilot interactions in the presence of aircraft failures such as changes in aerodynamics, loss-of-control effectiveness and coupling between control channels.
The new tests, which also involve the TPS, will study the system’s performance in the more dynamically challenging environment provided by the VISTA F-16. Additional failure configurations will be vetted on the more maneuverable fighter aircraft to demonstrate the ability of the control law to compensate for off-nominal dynamics, actuator failures and other types of uncertainties not flown in 2015. Like the Learjet, the VISTA is configured with a variable stability simulator (VSS) computer that simulates off-nominal dynamics and aircraft failures. If a problem is encountered, the VSS locks out the research flight control system and gives control back to the safety pilot.
“Hopefully the tests will prove our work one more time,” says the University of Illinois’s Naira Hovakimyan who, along with Chengyu Cao, developed the controller in 2004 with funding by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. “My objective is to get closer to certification if at all possible, and to show the L1 is capable of handling more uncertainty and unpredictable situations in a predictable and safe way.”
Hovakimyan says a successful flight trial in a sophisticated aircraft like the F-16 “could be a wake-up call to the FAA and possibly lead to more interest in taking a flight control system and adding our control system as a back-up. That is my big vision.” However, Hovakimyan recognizes that introducing the system into an aircraft with an established and certificated FCS faces more than technical challenges: “It’s a very conservative industry and very protective, but if you have a backup flight control system that is doable, then that should be welcomed.”
Initial production applications of the L1 are likely to be on unmanned systems, says Hovakimyan. The L1 was flown for the first time in 2006 in the Rascal unmanned aerial vehicle at the Naval Postgraduate School and again in 2009 when NASA evaluated the controller on the AirSTAR Dynamically Scaled Generic Transport Model research aircraft. Making changes to existing large aircraft programs is hard, but the newly emerging industries should be open to this, Hovakimyan says. “We’d like to see the greenlight to go for certification of the L1 as the basic FCS of UAV,” she adds.

 




L1 Flight Controller Soon on F-16 Fighter Jet

April 15, 2016

F-16 VISTA Experimental Aircraft

The L1 Flight Controller will soon be tested on another manned aircraft, the F-16. ACRL students are working hard to design the flight controller for the test that will be carried out this fall. MechSE website has featured a detailed article on the upcoming challenge: “Hovakimyan’s adaptive control to be tested on fighter jet”.

By: Fatima Farha, Apr 12, 2016, MechSE Communications

After a successful flight test on Calspan’s variable-stability Learjet aircraft last year, an L1 adaptive flight control system is being modified for the U.S. Air Force’s VISTA F-16 aircraft by Professor Naira Hovakimyan and her graduate students, Kasey Ackerman and Javier Puig-Navarro. Hovakimyan, a W. Grafton and Lillian B. Wilkins Professor in MechSE, has been developing the L1 adaptive control theory since 2005.

The VISTA flight test, conducted by the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, is expected to take place in September of this year at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The progression from testing on the Learjet to the VISTA F-16 was a natural one, said Puig-Navarro, and the next steps will be crucial. The Learjet testing itself was a huge milestone, but only certain aspects of the L1 system were tested on the Learjet aircraft. The Learjet was chosen for the first test at Edwards Air force base because it is less expensive to operate and allowed the researchers to collect over 18 hours of flight data.

“The Learjet is a slower aircraft with inherently stable dynamics, while the F-16 is more maneuverable, with faster dynamics,” Puig-Navarro explained. “The Learjet was definitely very challenging, and a necessary step on the way to the F-16. As a result, all the experience acquired from the Learjet tests was very important to move on to a faster and more dynamically challenging aircraft.”

Ackerman said the Learjet flight tests demonstrated the ability of the L1 flight control system to consistently restore the safe flying and handling qualities of the nominal Learjet aircraft in the presence of several failure configurations.

With the VISTA F-16, additional failure configurations will be tested to demonstrate the ability of the L1 flight control law to compensate for off-nominal dynamics, actuator failures, and other types of uncertainties not included in the Learjet flight tests. Additionally, the structure of the control algorithm will include some modifications to better estimate the internal states of the aircraft and account for a wider range of uncertainties. Once these changes are in place, the L1 can be implemented on the VISTA for flight testing.

Like the Learjet, the VISTA flights will be manned, so safety during the flight test is a major concern. The VISTA comes with a Variable Stability System (VSS) computer, which is used to simulate off-nominal dynamics and aircraft failures, as well as ensure the safety of the flight crew. In the event of a problem, the VSS computers can lock out the research flight control system and give control back to the safety pilot. Because of these safety features, Ackerman said it isn’t necessary to do as much verification and validation testing of the flight control system as would be required for a non-research aircraft.

“If something does go very badly, you have a safety system that gives control to a safety pilot in a configuration that is known to be safe,” Ackerman said. “That being said, being a manned aircraft, and wanting the project to succeed, we put a lot of work into making sure the software works the way we want it to.”

Before the algorithms are tested in flight, extensive computer simulations will be performed to guarantee that the flight control algorithm is correct and the L1 performs as expected. The team will initiate simulations with the nominal VISTA aircraft model and will progressively stress the control algorithm by exposing it to more challenging scenarios.

After the September flight tests, Hovakimyan and her team hope to be one step closer to incorporating an L1 control system on more advanced aircraft, leading (in the distant future) to implementation on commercial aircraft. L1 adaptive control has the potential to make flights much safer, Ackerman said. In the event of a failure, it allows the pilot to focus on landing the airplane and getting the passengers out safely. Additionally, since the L1 system can compensate for undesirable dynamics, it may result in a more pleasant flight experience for passengers, said Puig-Navarro.

L1 adaptive control has been in development for only 10 years, and many more test flights and extended research are required before it can be considered for commercial use.

“Every new opportunity is extremely precious, and we value our relationship with Edwards Air Force Base Test Pilot School students and instructors for helping us to test our methods on a new platform every year,” said Hovakimyan. “The benefits to humanity will be safer aviation, fewer crashes, and more robust and stable flight.”

The first flight tests resulting from Hovakimyan’s research in L1 adaptive control started when NASA, Boeing, and the Air Force were researching methods for improving aviation safety from 2005 to 2010. According to Hovakimyan, previous adaptive methods for controlling aircraft under dangerous conditions needed improvements.

“It was clear that the conventional approach to adaptive control aiming for complete compensation of uncertainties, irrespective of their frequency range, achieved only asymptotic results without any quantification of the transient performance bounds, and it is during the transients resulting from unpredictable circumstances that crashes happen,” she said.

During the first tests on NASA’s AirSTAR’s Generic Transport Model remotely piloted aircraft, the L1 adaptive flight control system was the only research flight controller cleared by NASA test pilots for the unpredictable, highly uncertain stall and post-stall flight regimes, and it consistently delivered predictable performance, rendering the aircraft controllable for the pilots.

Ackerman and Puig-Navarro are looking forward to how their work will continue to unfold. The team believes that the VISTA flight tests will build upon the success of the NASA AirSTAR and Learjet projects and continue to demonstrate the efficacy of L1 adaptive control in aviation safety.

 




NICER Robotics Awarded CSL Video of the Month

February 28, 2016

Our research focuses on providing framework for cyber-physical systems to co-operate inside congested urban zones amidst human population.
Next 10 years will see unprecedented demand for personal, medical and public robots. Autonomous robots in delivery services will become commonplace.
NICER robotics merges research from control engineering, psychological sciences & computer science to formulate a human-centered approach to design of robust safety-critical systems.

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CSL February video of the month
 




Human-Robot Interaction in Virtual Reality

January 18, 2016

We have built a virtual-reality simulator to design quadrotor robots that increase the independence of elderly persons living alone. The simulator lets us measure under what conditions a robot makes someone feel intrigued, or alarmed, or unconcerned, extending to nonhumanoids the studies of emotion that have been done for robots with facial expressions. This better model of how the virtual robot is perceived lets us agilely improve its appearance and behavior, containing the combinatorial explosion of parameters to study in costlier real-world experiments. The residence and the robot are rendered with Unity, and viewed with an Oculus Rift. Audio corresponding to flight maneuvers is resynthesized from recordings of an actual quadrotor. Flight dynamics using L1 adaptive control run in MATLAB and Simulink. Through menus operated by a Leap Motion hand tracker, the human subject commands the quadrotor to fly to various rooms (Unity waypoints), along precomputed paths that avoid collisions. The flight path is varied through a mathematical mapping to Laban Motion Factors (e.g., directness, sustainedness, lightness, and boundness) to provoke a range of responses. The subject’s emotion is estimated from heart rate, skin conductance, and head tilt from the Rift’s IMU (which is a quick metric for discomfort level).

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Video submitted for the IEEE-VR Conference
 




ASPIRE Featured in The New York Times

December 4, 2015

Nairanytimes

John Markoff from The New York Times has featured ASPIRE in his article “As Aging Population Grows, So Do Robotic Health Aides”.

You can also check out the article published by The Daily Mail where ASPIRE is also featured! Click here

By John Markoff, Dec 4, 2015, The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — The ranks of older and frail adults are growing rapidly in the developed world, raising alarms about how society is going to help them take care of themselves in their own homes.

FROM OUR ADVERTISERS

Naira Hovakimyan has an idea: drones.

The University of Illinois roboticist recently received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to explore the idea of designing small autonomous drones to perform simple household chores, like retrieving a bottle of medicine from another room. Dr. Hovakimyan acknowledged that the idea might seem off-putting to many, but she believes that drones will not only be safe, but will become an everyday fixture in elder care within a decade or two.

“I’m convinced that within 20 years drones will be today’s cellphones,” she said.

Her research is just one example of many approaches being studied to use technology to help aging people.

Even though fully functioning robot caregivers may be a long way off, roboticists and physicians predict that a new wave of advances in computerized, robotic and Internet-connected technologies will be available in coming years to help older adults stay at home longer.

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A drone being demonstrated at a University of Illinois lab. Dr. Hovakimyan refers to the drones as “Bibbidi Bobbidi Bots” to make them seem less intimidating. Credit Daniel Acker for The New York Times
“Loneliness is at epidemic levels among elders in the U.S. today,” said Juliet Holt Klinger, senior director of dementia care and programs at Brookdale Senior Living, one of the nation’s largest providers of assisted living and home care.

Brookdale is using a variety of Internet-connected services to help aging clients stay more closely connected with family and friends. Ms. Holt Klinger said there was growing evidence that staying connected, even electronically, offsets the cognitive decline associated with aging. “We have story after story of reconnection with families through Skype,” she added.

For all the promising ideas, however, skeptics also note that many ideas are “technologies looking for a solution” that inevitably fail the test of practicality.

“We all get really excited on the upside, and then we go through this trough of disillusionment,” said Laurie Orlov, a business analyst who began the Aging in Place Technology Watch blog in 2008.

Even so, examples of robotic and artificial-intelligence-derived technologies that will be commercially available in the next decade include intelligent walkers, smart pendants that track falls and “wandering,” room and home sensors that monitor health status, balancing aids, virtual and robotic electronic companions, and even drones.

In her lab, Dr. Hovakimyan has begun experimenting with small and large drones.

She refers to them as “Bibbidi Bobbidi Bots,” borrowing a phrase from the “Cinderella” movie, to make them seem less intimidating. Last month, in the Nicer Robotics laboratory at the University of Illinois, researchers began experimenting with an Oculus Rift virtual reality viewer to show people how it might feel to be close to a small drone. She believes that drones could ultimately be used to perform all manner of household chores, like reaching under a table to grab an object, cleaning chandeliers and weeding the lawn.

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Many others are trying to devise solutions, as well. In a crowded four-room laboratory in South Seattle, the former Microsoft software designer and executive Tandy Trower is experimenting with a four-foot-tall rolling robot he calls Robby. With cameras, radar, microphone, speaker, a tablet interface and a movable tray, Robby may someday be able to serve as a mobile companion and even perform some light chores.

Mr. Trower said the robot, now a prototype in his Hoaloha Robotics laboratory, would be able to monitor the health of its human companion and assist with tasks like keeping track of medicines. Its screen could also be used for video conferences with physicians and other health care providers.

He said that the science-fiction future of elder-care robots is closer than many people believe.

“Rather than seeing the train in the distance, we’re seeing the light shining in our face right now,” he said.

Toyota Motor Corp. said last month that it would spend $1 billion to establish a new research laboratory adjacent to Stanford University to focus on artificial intelligence, underscoring the company’s view that it should be added to cars to make human drivers safer rather than to replace them. The hope is that such technologies will make it possible for aging people to drive safely longer.

“Driver assistance will turn cars into elder-care robots in a very positive sense,” said Rodney Brooks, a pioneering roboticist and a former director of the M.I.T. Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “In the United States, when you can’t drive any longer, you’ve lost your independence.”

The need for such technology will grow sharply, given the broad demographic shifts sweeping through the world’s population.

An aging population will place enormous burdens on the world’s health care system by 2050, according to demographers. Already, for the first time in history, 14 percent of the world’s population is older than 65, a sharp contrast with the 9.1 percent of the population that is less than 5 years old.

Globally, the number of people 60 and over is expected to more than double by 2050 and triple by 2100. The number of people 80 and above is expected to double by 2050 and increase more than sevenfold by the end of the century.

Despite a patchwork of research and some commercial products, the United States appears to be lagging Japan and Europe in developing solutions.

“In both Japan and Europe, it seems that government is more attuned to the potential of technology for aging populations,” said Jeffrey A. Kaye, a neurologist at Oregon Health & Science University who focuses on technologies for the aging.

China reached out more than a decade ago to Eric Dishman, an Intel scientist who has focused on developing technologies to assist older adults.

“Now I have a team in China working with third parties, collaborating on their Age Friendly City Initiative,” Mr. Dishman said. That has led to the installation of sensors in homes to monitor as many as 100,000 people.

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The Intel China project uses so-called machine-learning techniques, charting patterns of behavior for caregivers.

“Your daily patterns are a vital sign,” Mr. Dishman said.

In addition to smart-home sensors and mobile robots, there are a variety of other efforts to add stationary robots to provide everything from coaching to communications to companionship.

Catalia Health, a San Francisco-based design company, has introduced the Mabu personal health care companion, an interactive robot about the size of a coffeepot. The system, which has a cartoonish form, listens and speaks and holds a touch-tablet interface. It is designed to act both as a health care coach and to provide a way to stay in touch with doctor’s offices and pharmacies.

“My approach is, ‘Here are the challenges we see in health care. What is the right technology?’” said Cory Kidd, chief executive of the start-up firm. “Robots happen to be great for helping with behavior.”

A more profound question is whether robots or virtual assistants, in tandem with Internet communications, can help forestall the effects of aging, like dementia. Isolation is one of the most vexing problems for older adults, and there is evidence that human contact can postpone intellectual decline.

A study published last summer in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that a group of both healthy and mildly cognitively impaired people in their 70s and 80s who engaged in face-to-face daily online conversations for six weeks showed significant improvements in cognitive skills compared with a control group.

“It is not possible to simply tell people to go out and get more friends, so the idea here was to provide a meaningful and frequent dose of social engagement,” said Dr. Kaye, the Oregon Health & Science neurologist, who helped organize the study.

Internet, tablet and smartphone systems such as grandPad, a simplified tablet for older adults, and CareAngel, a telephone system to help younger family members stay connected, are emerging to help with care and staving off isolation.

The ultimate test for all these ideas will be whether people will want to use them.

At the Aging 2.0 Conference last month in San Francisco, which focused on new elder-care technologies, Cynthia Breazeal, an M.I.T. Media Lab roboticist, showed off Jibo, an Internet-connected tabletop robot with a round swiveling screen that portrays a friendly robotic face.

The concept did not thrill everyone in the large lunchtime audience.

During a question-and-answer session at the end of the presentation, a 91-year-old woman said, “If Jibo were my last friend, I would be very depressed.”