NASA has awarded California State University, Northridge a three-year, $3 million grant to establish a multidisciplinary research center at the university to study all aspects of increasingly autonomous (IA) systems, from such automated systems as autopilots to advanced systems with artificial intelligence able to adapt and evolve.
The grant will fund the creation of the NASA Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM (Science, Technology and engineering, Entrepreneurship, Arts, Humanities and Mathematics) at CSUN. The center will serve as a research base for faculty from six of the university’s colleges studying various aspects of IA systems — from their creation and the extent of their capabilities to such legal and societal concerns such as individual rights and privacy.
“Approaching research from an inter- and multidisciplinary perspective deepens and extends the positive impact of hands-on, cutting-edge research across the university,” CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison said. “This grant enables us to offer even more opportunities to students, positioning CSUN faculty and our graduates to be thought-leaders in this emerging field, adept at collaborative innovation and prepared to thrive as leaders in the workforce of tomorrow.”
The grant was awarded by NASA’s MIRO (Minority University Research and Education Project Institutional Research Opportunity) program. The program this summer awarded more than $8.2 million to eight universities across the country to perform research and education around NASA’s four mission directorates — aeronautics research, human exploration and space operations, science, and space technology.
Mechanical engineering professor Nhut Ho said CSUN will use its grant money to create a multidisciplinary center that will examine all aspects involved in IA.
“And I mean all aspects,” Ho said. “IA vehicles are essential to NASA as it moves forward in its mission of space exploration, urban air mobility and innovation, but there remains a lot of research questions when it comes to vehicles with different levels of autonomy and artificial intelligence. We are going to create a center that will involve faculty and students from multiple disciplines who will be researching all aspects of what is means to create increasingly autonomous vehicles and then introduce them to society.”
CSUN’s NASA Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM will involve faculty from the College of Engineering and Computer Science; College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; College of Science and Mathematics; College of Humanities; David Nazarian College of Business and Economics; and Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication.
Joining Ho on the project are electrical and computer engineering professor Ashley Geng; computer science professors Li Liu and Kyle Dewey; computer engineering graduate student Seyed Sajjadi; anthropology professor Suzanne Scheld; psychology professor Ellie Kazemi; Kevin Zemlicka, an advisor in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Tim Tiemann, director of the CSUN Innovation Incubator; art professor Joe Bautista; math professor Maria-Rita D’Orsogna; and Asian American studies professor Gina Masequesmay.
Ho said faculty and students from the engineering and science colleges will focus on the creation and development of increasingly autonomous systems and artificial intelligence; Nazarian College faculty and students will explore the business aspects of customer discovery and paths to societal impact; and Curb College faculty and students will play a role in the design and other creative aspects of development of potential products. Faculty and students from the Colleges of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences will explore human interaction with artificial intelligence and increasingly autonomous vehicles, as well as legal and moral questions surrounding such issues as privacy, trust and individual rights.
The CSUN researchers also will be working with researchers and scientists from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena on various projects.
“At the core of the research center will be deep interdisciplinary collaboration,” Ho said. “In this day and age, researchers and scientists cannot stay in their boxes if they want to be forward thinking and innovative. We will embrace convergence research as a culture for doing research. This means that for all projects that we work on, we will connect expertise, methods and knowledge from different disciplines and create new approaches to solve complex problems motivated by societal needs.”
Eventually, Ho said, he would like to see every college on the campus involved with the center.
“There is so much to be learned by working across disciplines,” he said. “The more fields of study are involved, the more opportunities there are for innovation, learning and understanding, and, ultimately, solving big, complex problems.
“The world of the future — its research and science communities, its business, social and political communities, even its creative communities — is going to be much more interconnected than it is now,” Ho said. “If our students are going to be the innovative and creative leaders that we know they can and will be, then we need to start now in creating those interconnected, creative and innovative environments on college campuses. That’s what we’re doing at CSUN.”