Center for Autonomy saw year of expansion in 2020

1/28/2021

Allie Arp, CSL

With two new robotics working spaces, new equipment, new hires, and a new master’s program in the works, the Center for Autonomy (CfA) has expanded in 2020, and is ready to continue their success in 2021.

The CSL Pavilion.

New space
In early 2020, two new spaces were created for CfA researchers: the Pavilion and the High Bay. The Pavilion joins the Aerial Arena in the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory (IRL), within the Coordinated Science Lab (CSL) Studio, and is a space for arm and ground-based robotics. The High Bay is located in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Research Park and includes space for autonomous vehicles, along with access to areas that allow researchers to drive on road-like environments.

These additions in particular are crucial to the expansion of the center as a whole.

“We just didn’t have space for many of these activities [prior to having these areas], they just didn’t happen on our campus, and creating these areas has provided significant support for our faculty to develop an autonomous driving program,” said Geir Dullerud, CfA director and CSL professor. “These spaces are nucleation points and allow people to share infrastructure and also create a community.”

New equipment
CfA debuted their first vehicle, an electric two-seater from AutonomouStuff, last year. This year, they add a second to the fleet, an off-road vehicle donated by John Deere. Both vehicles are being used by a number of classes taught by CfA faculty. There are also a number of robots with arms that researchers and students are using to program a variety of tasks, including sanitizing medical areas.

A group of staff and students in front of a smart car in the CSL High Bay.

New hires
The CfA currently has one engineer to help with faculty projects, and is looking to hire another full time. The number of faculty affiliated with the center has also grown to 90, coming from departments all over campus. The newest affiliates being Negar Mehr from aerospace engineering, whose research focuses on mixed vehicle autonomy, and Jeff Shamma, the Head of the Industrial and Systems Enterprise Engineering Department, whose research includes game theory, robotics, and machine learning.

Safe Autonomy Workshop
In December, CfA hosted a Safe Autonomy Workshop focuses on learning, verification, and trusted operation of autonomous systems. More than a dozen speakers from academia, industry, and government entities were invited to share their research and experiences with autonomous systems. Over the two-day workshop, the group explored the scope of safe autonomy, identified challenges, and discussed solutions. Specific topics included control and robotics, AI and machine learning, human-robot interaction, and their applications to the domains of ground, air, and space. The full workshop is available on YouTube.

New degree program
In the coming year, once fully approved, a new Master of Engineering program will become available graduate students. Recently approved by Geir DullerudThe Grainger College of Engineering, the program would feature faculty from computer science, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical science and engineering (MechSE), aerospace engineering, and industrial and systems enterprise engineering, with room to add more areas as the program expands. The program still needs to be approved by the academic senate, but Dullerud is excited by the future possibilities.

“We believe that students with undergraduate degrees in any of these departments may be interested in our program because of its interdisciplinary- and project-oriented architecture,” said Dullerud, W. Grafton and Lillian B. Wilkins Professor in MechSE. “It took considerable inter-departmental collaboration to get to this point, but we’re excited to work through the university process and welcome students to campus.”

Learn more at the Center for Autonomy website.