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Monday, June 29, 2015

Robots, Sensors and Math at Penn

Good, thoughtful but non technical article,
 I have posted about the GRASP Laboratory here before.  In the Alumni magazine.

" ... Last March seven researchers from the University of Pennsylvania landed in Dayton, Ohio for two days of meetings at the Air Force Research Laboratory. The lab, housed on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, has been home over the years to breakthroughs in everything from lasers to propulsion technology, and the agenda for these meetings was no less forward-looking: to consider ways of engineering fully autonomous flying robots able to work together to search buildings, track targets, and gather information about areas that are too dangerous for US soldiers to enter.

Among the representatives from Penn was Andrea Mitchell University Professor Robert Ghrist, a Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) professor with appointments in the departments of mathematics and electrical/systems engineering. Not long ago, the presence of an applied mathematician like Ghrist at this kind of meeting would have been surprising. His specialty is algebraic topology, an abstract branch of mathematics that studies the properties of different kinds of spaces and has existed as a purely academic pursuit for most of its history.

Yet over the last decade, Ghrist has found a number of innovative ways to use algebraic topology to solve real-world problems in robotics and sensor networks. These discoveries have helped make him one of the best-funded mathematicians in the world. Over the last decade he’s been a principal investigator on more than $20 million in grants from military organizations including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Office of Naval Research. 
 ... " 
" ... Since coming to Penn, Ghrist has spent a lot of time collaborating with engineers in the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception, or GRASP, Laboratory. Much of his work there has focused on technology for autonomous vehicles, which, rather than taking commands from a remote human operator, as many drones do, are able navigate an environment completely on their own. This ability is especially useful in places where good maps are lacking and GPS signals are unreliable, like the interior of a building or beneath the ocean.  .... " 

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