News & Events


Tweaking Turbine Angles Squeezes More Power Out of Wind Farms


A new control algorithm for wind farms that alters how individual turbines are oriented into the wind promises to boost farms' overall efficiency and energy output by optimizing how they deal with their turbulent wake. "Individual turbines generate choppy air, or a wake, which hurts the performance of every turbine downwind of them," says John O. Dabiri, Centennial Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering. "To cope with that, wind farm turbines are traditionally spaced as far apart as possible, which unfortunately takes up a lot of real estate." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE John Dabiri alumni Michael Howland

Improving Aircraft Design with Machine Learning and a More Efficient Model of Turbulent Airflows


Turbulent airflows are chaotic and unpredictable: consider the bumps and jolts one might experience during an airplane flight encountering turbulent air. With increased knowledge of turbulent airflows, airplane designs could become safer, more resilient, and ultimately more fuel efficient.  H. Jane Bae, Assistant Professor of Aerospace, has developed a way to use machine learning to further improve the design process. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT H. Jane Bae

Lab Earthquakes Show How Grains at Fault Boundaries Lead to Major Quakes


By simulating earthquakes in a lab, Caltech engineers have provided strong experimental support for a form of earthquake propagation now thought responsible for the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that devastated the coast of Japan in 2011. "Our novel experimental approach has enabled us to look into the earthquake process up close, and to uncover key features of rupture propagation and friction evolution in rock gouge," says Vito Rubino, research scientist and lead author of the Nature paper. The Nature paper is titled "Intermittent lab earthquakes in dynamically weakening fault gouge." Rubino and his co-authors Nadia Lapusta, Lawrence A. Hanson, Jr., Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Geophysics, and Ares Rosakis, Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, show that so-called "stable" or "creeping" faults are not actually immune to major ruptures after all, as previously suspected. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE Ares Rosakis Nadia Lapusta Vito Rubino

The 2022 Caltech Space Challenge—to Titan and Back


Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only planetary body in our solar system besides Earth where there is clear evidence of surface liquid. This is an essential element to life as we know it and makes Titan a prime target in the search for extraterrestrial life. Two teams of 16 space exploration enthusiasts, including five Caltech students along with university students from around the globe, were given five days to design an autonomous mission to collect three different samples from Titan. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Brit Wylie Maximilian Adang Lucas Pabarcius Liam Heidt Josefine Graebener Eric Smith Theresa Marlin

Rapid Adaptation of Deep Learning Teaches Drones to Survive Any Weather


To be truly useful, drones—that is, autonomous flying vehicles—will need to learn to navigate real-world weather and wind conditions. A team of engineers from Caltech has developed Neural-Fly, a deep-learning method that can help drones cope with new and unknown wind conditions in real time just by updating a few key parameters. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT CMS Yisong Yue Soon-Jo Chung Animashree Anandkumar Xichen Shi Guanya Shi Michael O'Connell Kamyar Azizzadenesheli

What Is the Future of Wind Energy?


Humans have used windmills to capture the force of the wind as mechanical energy for more than 1,300 years. Unlike early windmills, however, modern wind turbines use generators and other components to convert energy from the spinning blades into a smooth flow of AC electricity. In this video, John Dabiri, Centennial Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering discusses the future of wind energy technology. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE John Dabiri

Gunnarson and Dabiri Teach AI to Navigate Ocean with Minimal Energy


Engineers at Caltech, ETH Zurich, and Harvard are developing an artificial intelligence (AI) that will allow autonomous drones to use ocean currents to aid their navigation, rather than fighting their way through them. "When we want robots to explore the deep ocean, especially in swarms, it's almost impossible to control them with a joystick from 20,000 feet away at the surface. We also can't feed them data about the local ocean currents they need to navigate because we can't detect them from the surface. Instead, at a certain point we need ocean-borne drones to be able to make decisions about how to move for themselves," says John Dabiri, Centennial Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE John Dabiri Peter Gunnarson

LEONARDO, the Bipedal Robot, Can Ride a Skateboard and Walk a Slackline


Researchers have built a bipedal robot that combines walking with flying to create a new type of locomotion, making it exceptionally nimble and capable of complex movements. "We drew inspiration from nature. Think about the way birds are able to flap and hop to navigate telephone lines," says Soon-Jo Chung, Bren Professor of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Research Scientist. "A complex yet intriguing behavior happens as birds move between walking and flying. We wanted to understand and learn from that." A paper titled "A bipedal walking robot that can fly, slackline, and skateboard" about the LEO robot was published online on October 6 and was featured on the October 2021 cover of Science Robotics. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights CMS Soon-Jo Chung Elena-Sorina Lupu Kyunam Kim Patrick Spieler Alireza Ramezani

New Algorithm Helps Autonomous Vehicles Find Themselves, Summer or Winter


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

How Do You Test a Helicopter Bound for Mars?


Caltech grad students helped JPL build a custom wind tunnel in a vacuum chamber for the Mars Ingenuity helicopter. The Ingenuity helicopter may be the first vehicle ever to fly on Mars, but Mars was not the first place it has ever flown. Before packaging it up and blasting it to the Red Planet, engineers at JPL gave the helicopter a trial run in a special wind tunnel. The fan array was designed and built by JPL engineers with input from Chris Dougherty and Marcel Veismann, who are currently working with Morteza Gharib, Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering and Booth-Kresa Leadership Chair of Caltech's Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST). Jason Rabinovitch, who was a mechanical engineer at JPL working on testing the helicopter, reached out to the CAST team in 2017. "I'd earned my PhD at GALCIT, so I was aware of CAST and its facilities," says Rabinovitch. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT Morteza Gharib Jason Rabinovitch Marcel Veismann Chris Dougherty