Acikmese receives NSF CAREER Award

ICES Professor Behcet Acikmese with his research drone. Photo courtesy of UT Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department.

New ICES Professor Behcet Acikmese has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, NSF's most prestigious honor for faculty under the age of 40.

Acikmese, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, and his team will use the $500,000 to improve the decision-making abilities of autonomous systems, commonly known as drones.

Specifically, Acikmese will develop theoretical and algorithmic products that will form a strong technical foundation to help transition into practice real-time optimization-based control for autonomous systems.

"To meet new and challenging performance and reliability requirements, future drones must make the best possible decisions to control their actions without a human operator in the loop," said Acikmese. "Unfortunately so far, real-time optimization-based control has not become common practice due to shortcomings in current algorithms."

Acikmese spent almost 10 years developing software for drones as a member of NASA's Guidance and Control Analysis Group at their Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). At JPL, he developed guidance, control, and estimation algorithms for formation-flying spacecraft and distributed networked systems, proximity operations around asteroids and comets, and planetary landing, as well as developing interior point methods algorithms for the real-time solution of convex optimization problems.

Dr. Acikmese also was a member of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory team, where he developed and delivered guidance and control algorithms used in the "fly-away phase" of the successful Curiosity rover landing in August 2012. In addition, he developed reaction control system algorithms for NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, which will be launched in 2014.

A broad range of emerging technologies outside of NASA use autonomy systems, including self-driving vehicles, quadrotors for delivery, search and rescue robots, mobile sensors for environmental monitoring, climate control systems for warehouses and buildings, automated drug dispensing, and next-generation power networks.

"Although we are far from autonomous decision-making that can handle many things that humans can do effortlessly, we are making progress," Acikmese said.

Posted: March 30, 2015