Dr. Baek-Young Choi Explores the Internet of Things at NASA

Dr. Baek-Young Choi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at UMKC. She is a faculty fellow at the NASA Marshall Space and Flight Center and spent the previous summer researching wireless communication methods.


What is your area of interest?

My interests lie in the broad area of algorithms and systems development for diverse types of communication networks and cloud computing. My recent research has been focused on wireless communication methods for Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications and Software-Defined Networking. My work is around figuring out how to make all these physical devices talk to each other in a computing space. I imagine 10 years ago very few of you would have guessed we could one day talk to our watches and send a message to our mom, but that is happening now, called the internet of things – taking ordinary objects and making them extraordinary through connectivity.
How does that connect to your time at NASA?

As a faculty fellow at the NASA Marshall Space and Flight Center in Huntsville AL, I am working on reliable wireless communication schemes for wireless sensors around spacecrafts or space habitats in the Electronic Systems Branch of the Space Systems Department. Basically, I help figure out how a sensor on one side of the space craft collects and relays information to another side of the space craft. Unlike earth, where wireless technology work seamlessly, space creates a unique environment with unique needs.

Have you worked with them previously?

There are numerous needs of sensing in space applications, such as temperature, humidity, pressure and radiation, air and water quality, and crew’s vital signs. The benefits of wireless sensors include flexible placement, changes in location and number of sensors, enabled data gathering from a challenging area, faster deployment, and reduced weight of the spacecraft. However, besides the inevitable long-range communication with the Earth, wireless technology has not been deployed much in space systems. It is because the space environment poses unique and extreme challenges such as radiation from solar events and cosmic rays, extreme temperatures – both hot and cold – depending on its location relative to the Sun and the lack of the insulating atmosphere of the Earth. In the midst of the harsh operational environment, reliability is a primary concern of NASA’s missions, like the well-known quote, “Failure is not an option!” My reliable communication scheme was shaped while trying to understand the space environment and the physics of wireless communication as well as from the previous research experiences in IoT and software-defined approach.

 What were you hoping to accomplish over this summer?

This summer has been a truly enriching experience for me. After the Apollo program that accomplished sending humans to the Moon in the 60’s and early 70’s, NASA put their primary focus on space stations (Skylab, Spacelab and International Space Station) and shuttle (Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis) programs for three decades. The space shuttle program has now ended, and scientific discoveries through the International Space Station are being continued with the assistance of the commercial sector. NASA now embarks on another bold exploration mission to send humans to Mars. I believe this is a particularly exciting time for technologists, as the mission requires overcoming unprecedented challenges. I look forward to continuing working with them and involving my students in investigating the technical issues that NASA faces.

Throughout this summer, in addition to meeting and working with people with similar research tracks, I have been privileged to meet many NASA scientists and engineers from very different and unique fields, including rocket scientists who develop propulsion systems; chemical engineers who turn urine into drinkable water; mechanical engineers who build gigantic space vehicle modules; physicists who design solar sailing satellites; and various scientists who analyze and study the data collected from space. I find NASA to be an incredible interdisciplinary organization where people from all walks of science and engineering imaginable come together for massive and complex missions. Most of all, I am impressed by their openness and passion for their work.

How might this experience play into your future work?

Prior to coming to NASA, I have been focusing on pretty earthly matters. Now, I feel I am very deep in space mode. For instance, I named my family vehicles as SLS and Orion after NASA’s space launch vehicle and spacecraft, respectively, that are under development for its journey Mars. 🙂

Transforming America’s Roads

Recently, Dr. John Kevern’s proposal entitled “Evaluation of Penetrating Sealers Applied to Saw Cut Faces in Concrete Pavement Joints” was approved for funding by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation policy research program. Dr. Kevern shared more about his proposal and how he got involved with this project.

Tell us more about the project.

For the last six years, the WisDOT, as part of the high-performance concrete (HPC) pavement standard special provision, has specified the use of a penetrating concrete sealer be applied to the saw cut faces in the joints. The HPC pavements on the Interstate 94 North-South corridor and the Interstate 41 corridor from Oshkosh to Green Bay have received this joint treatment. The specification requires a silane or siloxane-based concrete penetrating sealer be applied as soon as possible after the sawing operation is complete. To date, a variety of different products have been used, a number of different application methods have been employed, and the rates of application have been variable. In addition, the construction process and the construction inspection have not been uniform or consistent statewide. Therefore, there is no assurance that WisDOT is accomplishing the goal of distress free joints and longer life of the pavement. Finally, there has been no assessment by WisDOT on whether there are benefits and cost effectiveness to doing this work. The goals of this project are to (1) evaluate the concrete sealers used to date and the construction methods employed to determine if the achievement of sealing concrete pavement saw cut faces is accomplished with effectiveness and uniformity; (2) Assess the work done to date to determine if we are achieving the goal of longer lasting concrete pavement joints; and (3) Develop standard specification language for applying penetrating sealers to concrete pavement saw cuts along with construction inspection guidelines.

How did you get connected to this project?

I currently have a research project with the Wisconsin DOT on a related topic. We are partnering for this project with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville which is where I did my undergraduate degree.

Why did those sections of the interstate receive the joint treatment?

The highly traveled sections of the interstate in Wisconsin are constructed using high performance pavement. In essence they spend a little bit more money to hopefully get longer service life. Along with better pavement quality the DOT has been applying a super hydrophobic water proofing material.

Who is funding the research?

The Wisconsin Highway Research Program (WHRP), basically the research side of the DOT.

Is the goal of the project to determine the best method and sealer for these joints and make that a best practice for the state? For the country?

The primary goal is to evaluate if the state of Wisconsin is getting better service using the water proofing coatings. We will be evaluating different kinds and application techniques. The research will be distributed and although the state of Wisconsin is funding the work, all states will benefit.

Best-case scenario, how much time could these improvements add to the lifespan of concrete pavements?

Best case scenario they will double the lifespan of concrete pavement.

Seniors Design App for Microsoft’s New HaloLens

By Alex Maurer

Every semester at UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering (SCE), students apply their skills and knowledge to their hands-on Capstone Senior Design Project.  For computer science seniors Eric Lytle, Zach Wolf, Jarren Back, Cameron Knight, Eric Wilson, and Alex Mammele, this capstone project afforded them the opportunity to work with the innovative technology of the HoloLens.  Teaming up with the School of Computing and Engineering’s Recruitment staff, these seniors designed an app that can be used in high school and middle school classrooms throughout the Kansas City area to showcase the exciting and cutting-edge work of SCE students.

Through the use of the programming language Unity, a language that will be introduced into computer science classes in SCE this spring, they developed an app that provides a mixed reality for users that combines augmented and virtual realities.  With this app, users can spatially map the environment they are standing in and incorporate holograms that interact with their actual environment.  In this case, UMKC’s mascot, Kasey the Kangaroo, will chase after objects that the user can “throw” into their environment.  This gives the user a fun interactive experience with the environment they live in (augmented reality) and the objects created within the app (virtual reality).

Due to the recent release of the HoloLens, these students were presented with the unique challenge of not only programming the app, but researching and discovering how to create successful programming and code through a trial-and-error process.  While this process proved tedious, Eric Lytle noted that the “exploratory programming” of this app was one of their favorite experiences with this project as it allowed them to develop new skills and knowledge, and be at the forefront of technology.  Not only did this exploratory programming provide a unique experience for this group of students, it also stands to create new opportunities for future SCE students who seek to further develop the app and create new uses for the HoloLens.

Learn more about the HaloLens at: https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-hololens/en-us

View the HaloLens in action at SCE: https://www.facebook.com/pg/UMKCSCE/videos/?ref=page_internal

A New Center For Nanotechnology

Recent NSF Grant awarded to Masud Chowdhury, Ahmed Hassan and Mostafizur Rahman will be used to establish a new center for nanotechnology.

Remember when cell phones looks like bricks and had about enough computing power to make a call and send a text… and that was it?! Sure – by the time most of you reading this were born, Nokia offered snake and…for a very hefty price tag…you might get a very slow internet connection, but mostly phones were clunky and did very little.

So how did cell phones get smaller AND more powerful? Nanotechnology. Researchers across the globe are rushing to discover new and innovative ways to cram more computing power into smaller and more efficient devices, and it’s not just the phones you use. Nanoelectronics research supports wearable technology, circuitry and systems for your laptops and desktops, materials that are stronger and lighter than materials we use today, and applications in energy efficiency and biomedical advances that are shaping our futures.

All of this is why at UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering (SCE) we are proud to have top researchers in nanoelectronics committed to engaging our graduate and undergraduate students in this growing field. Dr. Masud Chowdhury, Dr. Ahmed Hassan and Dr. Mostafizur Rahman have recently received a grant for $771,000 from National Science Foundation to develop a nanotechnology research facility.

This new center is named Center for Interdisciplinary Nano Technology Research (CINTR). This new center will be comprised of an equipment laboratory that will allow researchers and students for experimentation and fabrication of nanoscale devices and circuits, and a high-powered computer simulation to perform in-depth analysis and validation of nanoscale designs and applications. Additional goals for the team include ramping up K-12 STEM outreach around nanotechnology themes and welcoming high school students to utilize the facility for learning

“The types of research we are doing now are focused on the theoretical. With this new facility and centralized focus on nanotechnology, we can bring our research to next level,” shared Dr. Chowdhury. The research laboratory is already under development and we look forward to bringing you updates from the lab this Spring 2017.

About the NSF CISE Research Infrastructure Program Grant:

Grant Title: Experimental Characterization and CAD Development Testbed for Nanoscale Integrated Circuits

Agency: National Science Foundation

Approved Budget: $771,000

Project Summary: The aim of this NSF CRI-II-NEW project is to develop a testbed for computer aided design (CAD) simulations, experimental metrology, and software and hardware calibrations to support cross-layer evaluation of novel nanoscale 3D heterogeneous integration of CMOS and post-CMOS technologies. Proposed tools and equipment acquisitions and sustainment will allow bottom-up evaluations from materials, fundamental physics, and experimental metrology to device and circuits to large-scale systems. The proposed infrastructure is unique and will enable thorough evaluation of new 3D heterogeneous integration concepts with accuracy only parallel to full-scale experimental prototyping. It will directly impact the nano-electromagnetics, nano-device, circuits, 3D IC and manufacturing research directions, and will also have significant impact on the big data analytics, renewable energy, smart-city, RF and electromagnetics research initiatives in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering (CSEE) department at University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). The testbed will not only facilitate transformative research, but will also allow broad ranging educational and outreach activities such as new undergraduate and graduate curriculum development with lab modules, training and mentoring of research students, research dissemination thorough forums and seminars, development of online repositories and online labs, and nanotechnology awareness for K-12 students through summer workshops. The boarder impact of this project is that the proposed infrastructure will provide unique opportunities for research, education and community outreach in the fields of nanomaterials, nanodevice, nanocircuit, biosensing, heterogonous integration, and nanomanufacturing.

Learning to Fly with Dr. Fields

Click here to play video via YouTube.

We’re all a little fascinated with drones now, right? A quick visit to amazon and you can find over 10,000 commercial unmanned aircrafts available for purchase. If you’ve visited a local park, headed out to a sporting event, or popped by UMKC’s campus, you’ve probably seen them in the skies taking video or photographs – but for SCE faculty member, Dr. Travis Fields, they are doing something a bit more complicated, learning to fly.

Dr. Fields is conducting a research project that is focused on the building of a quadcopter that is much cooler than the traditional ones. How so? This drone can learn. Funded by a University of Missouri Research Board grant, his project entitled “In-Flight Learning with Indirect Adaptive Control: A New Paradigm in Flight Testing and Control” explores how to build an aircraft that can adapt as it is dropped and figure out how to adjust its behavior to stay in the air and avoid crashing.

As Dr. Fields explains, “the learning-based control system invokes small oscillations to the four quadcopter motors in order to learn how each motor effects the quadcopter motion. The oscillations provide sufficient data to create a model that can be used to efficiently control the aircraft.” Graduate student, Mohammed Alabsi, has been developing and testing this control system alongside Dr. Fields in the UMKC Drone Research and Teaching Lad (The DRAT). Check out our video to see what’s happening now. When the full research is completed, the ideal quadcopter would have a “fresh-brain” of its own. It will then be tossed from a building and will teach it’s self how to fly prior to reaching the ground!