NC A&T students collaborate for US Department of Defense research project

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University students collaborated on control codes for a research project for the US Department of Defense.

In April, the university received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Air Force to develop strategies and codes for unmanned vehicles.

The research TECHLAV (Testing Evaluation and Control of Heterogeneous Large Scale Systems of Autonomous of Vehicles) is a five year research project between NC A&T and two other universities, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.

Dr. Abdollah Homaifar said the research done by both undergraduate and graduate students is the beginning of technology that will change our lives drastically.

“Testing is very important, coming up with testing and evaluation tools that are going to help the designer,” Homaifar said. “Whether it is in military application, healthcare application or detective for example for bridges and roads, all of them are going to require some degree of autonomy.”

The research will explore vehicles in the air, ground and sea level.

Currently, there are about 14 PhD students, 16 undergraduate and three master students that work together often in groups for scenarios to research.

“Their thesis or dissertation topics (PhD students) becomes one of the task that or promises that we made to the Air Force. So each one of them are either working in collaboration or as a single investigator on a particular task,” Dr. Homaifar said.

In the last month students have been working with a robot name “Darwin” that has the capability to talk, identify colors and even kick objects.

Drone testing is expected to begin in another six months.

The research team works with an advisory board to determine a TR level or “technical readiness” level to transfer their research in reality.

“Basically, how do we take the technology that we developed in here and commercialize these things and make it useable by different government agencies for different missions?” Dr. Homaifar explains.

Even after the five year time limit expires, Dr. Homaifar said the research will continue another 10 to 20 years thanks to funding from industries interested in production.

“We consider ourselves very lucky to be at the forefront of this new technology that is going to have significant impact in everything that we do,” Dr. Homaifar said.