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New Algorithm Helps Autonomous Vehicles Find Themselves, Summer or Winter

06-24-21

Without GPS, autonomous systems get lost easily. Now a new algorithm developed at Caltech allows autonomous systems to recognize where they are simply by looking at the terrain around them—and for the first time, the technology works regardless of seasonal changes to that terrain. The general process, known as visual terrain-relative navigation (VTRN), was first developed in the 1960s. By comparing nearby terrain to high-resolution satellite images, autonomous systems can locate themselves. The problem is that, in order for it to work, the current generation of VTRN requires that the terrain it is looking at closely matches the images in its database. To overcome this challenge, Anthony Fragoso, Lecturer in Aerospace; Staff Scientist, Connor Lee, Graduate student in Aerospace, Austin McCoy, Undergraduate, and Soon-Jo Chung, Bren Professor of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems and research scientist at JPL, turned to deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to remove seasonal content that hinders current VTRN systems. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE CMS Soon-Jo Chung Anthony Fragoso Connor Lee Austin McCoy

EAS New Horizons Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Award

05-04-21

The Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences seeks nominations to recognize and honor individuals within the EAS community who have actively contributed to EAS’s goal to be a diverse, equitable, and inclusive engineering community. The award is available to members of the EAS community, including current students, postdoctoral scholars, staff, and faculty. Nominations are due Wednesday, May 19, 2021 and are accepted from anyone in the EAS community, EAS alumni and members of the Caltech community. Click here for full description of how to make a nomination.

Tags: APhMS EE honors GALCIT MedE MCE CMS ESE

FUTURE Ignited

11-04-20

Nearly 200 undergraduates from more than 120 colleges and universities across the country joined Caltech for FUTURE Ignited, a virtual event that aimed to encourage students of color to pursue graduate studies in science and engineering. The goal of FUTURE Ignited is to diversify STEM with students of color who will go on to become incredible graduate students and scientific leaders in their respective fields. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS EE GALCIT MCE CMS ESE FUTURE Ignited

EAS Remembers Jakob van Zyl

08-27-20

Jakob van Zyl, Senior Faculty Associate in Electrical Engineering and Aerospace, passed away on August 26, 2020 at the age of 63. He came to Caltech in 1982 and received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1983 and 1986, respectively. He joined JPL in 1986 and retired in 2019 as the Director of Solar System Exploration. He was world-renowned for his research in imaging radar polarimetry. He made pioneering contributions to the design and development of many synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems, including SIR-C, SRTM, AIRSAR, TOPSAR, and GeoSAR. He held management roles at JPL including, Director for Astronomy and Physics (2006-2011), Associate Director of Project Formulation and Strategy (2011-2015), and Director of Solar System Exploration (2016-2019). He received many honors and awards, including an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa in 2015 for his contributions to space missions, for being a good ambassador for Africa, and for inspiring young scientists and engineers in his home continent. Over the last two decades, he taught EE/Ae 157 Introduction to the Physics of Remote Sensing. He contributed in numerous ways to promote interactions between EAS and JPL.

Tags: EE GALCIT EAS history alumni Jakob van Zyl

Microstructures Self-Assemble into New Materials

03-03-20

A new process developed at Caltech makes it possible for the first time to manufacture large quantities of materials whose structure is designed at a nanometer scale—the size of DNA's double helix. Pioneered by Julia R. Greer, Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics and Medical Engineering; Fletcher Jones Foundation Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute, "nanoarchitected materials" exhibit unusual, often surprising properties—for example, exceptionally lightweight ceramics that spring back to their original shape, like a sponge, after being compressed. Now, a team of engineers at Caltech and ETH Zurich have developed a material that is designed at the nanoscale but assembles itself—with no need for the precision laser assembly. "We couldn't 3-D print this much nanoarchitected material even in a month; instead we're able to grow it in a matter of hours," says Carlos M. Portela, Postdoctoral Scholar. "It is exciting to see our computationally designed optimal nanoscale architectures being realized experimentally in the lab," says Dennis M. Kochmann, Visiting Associate. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights GALCIT MedE MCE Julia Greer KNI Dennis Kochmann postdocs Carlos Portela

Best Paper Award

10-30-19

Postdoctoral Scholar Carlos M. Portela, working with Professor Julia Greer and Dennis Kochmann, has won the Gold Paper Award. The title of the paper is "Supersonic Impact on Carbon Nano-architected Materials." The award was granted to the best student contribution across all topic areas at the Society of Engineering Science (SES) 56th Technical Meeting.

Tags: APhMS honors Julia Greer Dennis Kochmann postdocs Carlos Portela

"Neural Lander" Uses AI to Land Drones Smoothly

05-23-19

Professors Chung, Anandkumar, and Yue have teamed up to develop a system that uses a deep neural network to help autonomous drones "learn" how to land more safely and quickly, while gobbling up less power. The system they have created, dubbed the "Neural Lander," is a learning-based controller that tracks the position and speed of the drone, and modifies its landing trajectory and rotor speed accordingly to achieve the smoothest possible landing. The new system could prove crucial to projects currently under development at CAST, including an autonomous medical transport that could land in difficult-to-reach locations (such as a gridlocked traffic). "The importance of being able to land swiftly and smoothly when transporting an injured individual cannot be overstated," says Professor Gharib who is the director of CAST; and one of the lead researchers of the air ambulance project. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Morteza Gharib Yisong Yue Soon-Jo Chung Animashree Anandkumar

President Rosenbaum Highlights Postdocs as "Unsung Heroes"

09-24-18

In a letter to the Caltech community during National Postdoc Appreciation Week, the Caltech President emphasizes the role this key group plays at the Institute. He stated, “Caltech's mission of world-leading research and education depends crucially on our postdoctoral scholars. Although their time at Caltech may be short, they quickly become vital parts of the Institute's intellectual fabric.” [President’s Letter] [EAS Postdoc Resource Page]

Tags: APhMS EE GALCIT MedE MCE CMS ESE Thomas Rosenbaum postdocs

A Gift of Autonomy

06-21-18

Trustees Lynn Booth and Kent Kresa have decided to endow the Booth-Kresa Leadership Chair for Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST). Professor Mory Gharib explains, “in science and technology, freedom is the most powerful gift you can offer. The Booth-Kresa Leadership Chair will help ensure that CAST can move nimbly into our emerging more autonomous future, unleashing the creativity of our faculty, students, and scholars. I am personally grateful to Lynn and Kent for their generosity, enthusiasm, and trust in our vision.” [Breakthrough story]

Tags: GALCIT Morteza Gharib Kent Kresa Lynn Booth Caltech Trustees

The Future is Autonomous

05-01-17

On April 19, 2017 Electrical Engineering alumnus Evangelos Simoudis (BS '83) moderated a panel titled "The Road Ahead: A Panel on the Future of Driverless Vehicles," hosted by the Caltech Associates. The panel members were Professors Mory Gharib, Richard Murray, and Pietro Perona, along with Reuters automotive industry reporter, Paul Lienert. They discuss a variety of opportunities and challenges associated with autonomous technologies and systems. Beyond the legal and ethical challenges, several technological obstacles must be overcome before driverless cars become common on the road. One key challenge is teaching driverless cars how to read the behavior of other cars and react accordingly. Professor Perona described the problem of a car attempting to merge onto a crowded freeway. A driverless car would see an impenetrable wall of vehicles, but a human driver could edge forward and wave at other drivers to work his or her way into the line of traffic. [Caltech story]

Tags: EE GALCIT CMS Morteza Gharib Pietro Perona alumni Richard Murray Evangelos Simoudis Paul Lienert