CI-TEAm Implementation Project; Collaborative Research: Cyber-Infrastructure for Engineering Informatics Education

Principal Investigator: Ming Lin
Funding Agency: National Scicence Foundation
Agency Number: OCI-0636208

Complex engineering systems are now routinely designed and analyzed in-silico, with minimal reliance on expensive physical prototyping. Such systems are essentially massive data sets embedded within a highly intricate semantic structure. Enabling current and future generations of engineers to perform in-silico prototyping (including design, visualization, and physics-based simulation) systems remains a formidable task. The problems are multi-disciplinary and the tools require substantial integrative knowledge to master. This CI-Teams Implementation proposal is designed to build on the momemtum of the team’s current CITeams Demonstration, the objective of which is the creation of a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach to engineering modeling. For the CI-Team implementation, the team will use the important emerging engineering domain of biologically-inspired robotic systems as a focal point. Building on the CI-Team Demonstration with snake-inspired robots, the investigators will aim to create novel ways in which to train future generations of engineering and computer science students to build physically realized systems for important applications in medicine, civil engineering (e.g., inspection), search and rescue, and homeland security. Results from the CITeam demonstration include a program of education around the creation of comprehensive engineering models. These models include semantic descriptions of robotic components, behavioral and simulation software, software for snake robot control and navigation, as well as the tools needed to perform analysis, component surrogation and mission assessment. The team has created a project portal, a “Source Forge”, focused on the domain of building shared engineering models for the domain of bio-inspired robots. As the project concludes over the coming months, the PIs will execute a coordinated set of multi-disciplinary courses concurrently taught across the partner institutions. The focus of the CI-Teams Implementation effort will be to transition this demonstratation beyond merely the team members and their direct collaborators. Specifically, we propose to (1) advance a general educational program in Engineering Informatics and (2) deploy a Repository that contains components and tools needed to advance the state of the art in snake-inspired and bio-inspired robotic systems. This repository will be made available over the Internet and provided for use by educators and researchers around the country and the world. A major challenge for the team will be ensuring the self-sustainability of the work beyond the conclusion of the CI-Team’s Implementation program. Intellectual Merit: The proposed CI-Team is an inter-disciplinary group from four universities consisting of computer scientists and engineers with complimentary expertise needed to create both the shared model and the educational deliverables. In doing so, the CI-Team will create a lasting piece of Cyber-Infrastructure. The technical work spans and integrates disciplines: semantics, engineering model representations, and computational tools. The efforts of this CI-Team will show how to more deeply connect different sub-fields of engineering and computer science. In addition, the resulting model will enable the rapid creation and simulation of new bio-inspired robot designs. While the targeted domain is bio-robotics, the proposed modeling effort also applies to other complex engineered artifacts such as power-plants, aircraft, MEMS, and other emerging technologies in which design and simulation is important. Broader Impact: The proposal contributes to the transformation of engineering into an “informatics” discipline and broadens the interface between computer science and engineering. Ultimately the CI-Team aims to stimulate creation of a new engineering knowledge industry, leading to productivity gains similar to those that resulted from introduction of CAD systems over the last twenty years. The “science of integration” that can be enabled by improving our collective ability to create shared models will be instrumental in developing the next generation undergraduate and graduate curricula in engineering and computer science. Education and Training Impact: Recent reports from NSF, NAE and DoD have all lamented the fact that the “inter-disciplinary engineers” so desperately needed simply do not exist in adequate numbers to fulfill current needs. There are not enough educational initiatives and programs to produce these new engineers, nor have the standard, stove-piped, curriculas of engineering and computer science departments adapted to this need. This CI-Team, representing a set not found at any one university, is uniquely positioned to address this national challenge. The team plans to creatively leverage the CI-Team project to inter-connect existing education and training programs on our respective campuses. The team plans an ambitious use of tele-collaboration, eLearning and distance education technologies to propel this project and generate initial Cyber-Infrastructure content. The ultimate goal is to enable students to begin a curriculum of “Engineering Informatics” and define the content of the new Cyber-Engineering discipline that unites computer and information sciences with traditional engineering domains.

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