Distributed Sensing, Computation and Actuation: From Heterogeneous Wireless Control Networks to Structured Computational Polymers
Robotics and Cyber-Physical Systems are ushering in a new age of engineering design with new techniques and new materials. The old way of design in which we assume decoupled, low-order, block-diagonal models is breaking down at all levels and all scales. This presents numerous problems as our ad hoc design methods are not able to properly account for, test and validate systems of greatly increasing complexity. But it also presents numerous opportunities for new capabilities, such as soft robotics, in which the behavior of a designed artifact is tightly coupled to its environment.
In this talk, I will describe steps we are taking at opposite ends of the spectrum of distributed control infrastructure to realize advanced, intelligent systems. At the coarse end of the spectrum, we are developing a framework for heterogeneous wireless control networks that incorporates reconfigurable hardware, as well as reconfigurable software, into design and implementation tools for dynamic, self-adaptive systems. Based on our Port-Based Object/Real-Time OS (PBO/RT), we are developing tools for software code migration and hardware partial dynamic reconfiguration to realize an embedded virtual machine that simplifies hardware-independent distributed control design.
At the fine end of the spectrum, we are using shape deposition manufacturing techniques to produce 1-D, 2-D and 3-D polymer building blocks that incorporate sensing, actuation, cognition, and structure into convenient, specifiable smart materials. Our cognitive architecture is based on fully-interconnected Synthetic Neural Networks, which implement parallel artificial neurons from polymer electronics. We have produced memristive bistable devices to create artificial synapses and have a simple design for a single-transistor artificial soma to achieve a sigmoidal activation function, yielding the possibility of producing synthetic, trainable, massively parallel cognitive circuits. Our actuation mechanisms, which traditionally have been difficult to achieve in all-polymer materials with usable power levels, are based on active and passive fluids. We are using ""active"" fluid-based actuation schemes, such as water hammer based impulsive actuation, to channel meaningful forces for actuation as well as ""passive"" fluid-based actuation from electrorheological and magnetorheological fluids which can be used to dampen forces.
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