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robotic glider at ocean surface
Song’s research experience includes prototyping and testing of autonomous underwater vehicles (Photo courtesy: NOAA)

A new national partnership will put the University of Hawaiʻi at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence (AI) research. UH will contribute research and expertise to a National Science Foundation (NSF) supported effort to establish an AI institute, which will enable innovative research and education in fundamental AI and machine learning theory.

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June Zhang

The new AI Institute for Dynamic Systems, led by the University of Washington, will include partnerships from nine academic institutions across the nation. The institute will use algorithms and applications specifically for safe, real-time learning and control of complex dynamic systems.

“This is a great opportunity to collaborate with researchers to study the dynamics of complex networks and systems like the evolution of news and the spread of infection,” said June Zhang, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering assistant professor, who is one of three UH Mānoa faculty members participating in the institute.

Zhang, Department of Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Zhuoyuan Song and Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology Assistant Researcher Frances Zhu will lead the institute’s efforts in Hawaiʻi and collaborate nationally with AI dynamics and control researchers to lay research foundations for progressing new AI applications. Their research efforts add to the diversity of research thrusts for the new institute and will have applications in a wide range of fields such as space exploration, ocean sciences and network science in local communities.

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Zhuoyuan Song

“My lab will contribute to the institute’s research and education effort in physics-informed machine learning, data-driven dynamics modeling and optimization,” said Song. “This institute will be an ideal platform for us to collaborate with top AI researchers in addressing the unique and local challenges we face in Hawaiʻi.”

The research applications proposed as a part of this effort were specifically framed around place-based learning initiatives and Hawaiʻi’s economy. Efforts aim to attract promising graduate students in this field of research and to address the unique challenges of ocean robotics, public health and space exploration.

“I will demonstrate the ability of space robots to learn and control their own motion on Hawaiian planetary surface analogues due to the geological similarity of Hawaiian landscapes to the Moon and Mars,” said Zhu.

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Frances Zhu

The AI applications will be highlighted and offer opportunities for local students to gain exposure to a broad range of applications with the potential to better prepare them in the field of AI for the rapidly shifting landscapes and career opportunities.

UH’s participation is key to progressing novel, innovative ideas and fostering ongoing and future relationships with other research institutions that are also a part of this effort. Other partnering academic institutions include: Montana State University, University of Nevada Reno, Boise State University, University of Alaska Anchorage, Portland State University, Harvard University and Columbia University. The $220 million investment by NSF establishes a total of 11 new AI institutes nationwide, across seven research areas.

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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