Dr. Heydari Gives Seminar Over Theory of Reinforcement Learning and Its Practice in Robotics and Autonomous Systems

Ali Heydari, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at Southern Methodist University, gave a seminar on Monday, February 17th. He spoke about, “Theory of Reinforcement Learning and Its Practice in Robotics and Autonomous Systems.”

Abstract: Ali Heydari received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Sharif University of Technology, Iran, in 2005 and 2008, respectively, and his Ph.D. degree from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, Missouri, in 2013. He is currently an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. His research is mainly focused on Adaptive Dynamic Programming and on applications of this machine learning scheme in robotics and autonomous systems. He serves on the editorial boards of IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks and Learning Systems and IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology.

Biography: Control plays the role of enabler in mechanisms in which, a parameter “changes”. For decades, a controller design was deemed successful, when the desired motion/change was achieved. However, today, the standards are much higher. “Qualities” including low energy consumption for a better range, human friendliness for safe and efficient interactions, high accuracy and productivity, high robustness to uncertainties and imperfections, and small footprint on environment are important “requirements” now.

Adaptive Dynamic Programming (ADP), also called Reinforcement Learning (RL), has a great potential to win in these new domains. The reason is, ADP/RL is motivated by nature, that is, the perfect way humans learn to operate machinery and control mechanisms. As an “intelligent control” tool, however, ADP/RL has been subject to shortcomings both in terms of its “rigor” (guarantees of desired performance) and its “scalability” (possibility of extension to challenging problems, beyond toy examples). An overview of my past and future research activities on resolving these two deficiencies will be presented in the seminar. Moreover, applications of the developed methods in challenging problems of autonomous systems and robotics will be discussed, including human-machine interaction and co-design of mechanisms and their controllers.

Oklahoma Aerospace Engineering Students Kickoff Design Project to Support International Space Station Resupply Missions

OU students travelled to Louisville, Colorado to meet with engineers at Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), and kickoff their capstone project work of designing ground support equipment for SNC’s Dream Chaser International Space Station resupply mission. Sierra Nevada Corporation is under contract with NASA to supply and recover payloads from the space station in support of NASA’s science and human spaceflight missions. Seven OU students from the Gallogly College of Engineering will spend their spring semester designing hardware to encapsulate and protect the Shooting Star cargo module of the Dream Chaser as it is prepared for flight.

Pictured from left to right: Chris Raatz (SNC), Brayden Cole, Alix Caudill, Sebastian Medina, Chandler Ziegler, Blake Mattioda, Patrick Turner, Abdelwahab Makhlouf, and Maggie Mueller (SNC)

This press release was written by Dr. Thomas Hays.

Dr. Jeongmoo Huh Gives Presentation Over Micro Propulsion Systems for the Next Generation Space Missions

On Friday, February 14th, Dr. Jeongmoo Huh gave a presentation over, “Micro Propulsion Systems for the Next Generation Space Missions.” Dr. Huh currently works in the Space Engineering Department in the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology as a visiting researcher.

Abstract: Many miniaturized satellites have recently been launched and proved the feasibility of distributed space systems in space missions with improved revisit time, the time elapsed between observations by satellites, at an extremely low cost. Most preliminary small-scale satellites such as CubeSat and PocketQube, however, were either not equipped with a micro-propulsion system for its altitude/orbit control or not ready for various space missions due to inherent theoretical performance limitations of space propulsion systems that currently exist as well as limited performance achievement of micro propulsion systems. Not only normal operation of miniaturized satellites but also the next generation space mission using CubeSat/PocketQube will not be feasible without successful downsizing of space propulsion systems and their performance improvement.

The seminar will start with general principles of several chemical rockets and difficulties of downsizing of chemical rockets, and report how a chemical rocket was successfully miniaturized including a photolithography process, a MEMS (Micro-electro-mechanical Systems) based fabrication technology, and catalyst manufacturing process as well. Performance of thruster generation and propellant decomposition efficiency of 50 mN class MEMS-based monopropellant micro thrusters will be discussed based on experimental data showing how much performance was improved by using a blended propellant and regenerative micro cooling channels in micro scale thruster systems.

This will be followed by an introduction to electrospray micro colloid propulsion, one of space electric propulsion systems, which has arguably the highest specific impulse performance, up to a range of 1,500-7,000 s depending on electric power supplied. The different nature of the working principle of the system and its performance characteristics compared with chemical one will be identified. Pros and cons of chemical and electric propulsion systems will be discussed with inherent performance limitation of both propulsion systems, and a new system configuration for space micro propulsion will be suggested to meet the performance requirement of miniaturized propulsion systems for the next generation space missions, an interplanetary mission of miniaturized satellites.

Biography: Dr. Jeongmoo Huh currently works in Space Engineering Department in the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands as a visiting researcher starting from July 2019. In Delft, He’s working on high energetic gel phase novel propellant development for space propulsion applications. Before joining the group, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL), in the UK from April 2017 to June 2019 participating in an electric propulsion project funded by the EU. The project was about high-performance low-cost disruptive propulsion technology using electrospray colloid propulsion for small-scale satellite applications. There was a consortium for the project and it was composed of a university, QMUL, and three different space-related companies, AirBus in the UK, NanoSpace in Sweden, and SystematIC in the Netherlands. The successful outcome is now on its way to commercialization. Dr. Huh stayed in Daejeon, South Korea for about 5 years from Feb 2012, for his graduate course and one year of postdoc experience. He received an M.S./Ph.D. degree in the Department of Aerospace Engineering from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon in Feb 2016. For his Bachelor’s degree, he studied in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Korea Aerospace University, Goyang, South Korea, from March 2008 to Feb 2012. His research topic in graduate school was about micro-scale chemical space propulsion for Nano-satellite applications, for which a MEMS(Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) fabrication process was designed and employed, validating successful manufacturing and operation of 50 mN class monopropellant thrusters with the suggested development procedure. As a postdoctoral researcher at KAIST, he also experienced classical size monopropellant, bipropellant, and hybrid propellant rockets and had hands-on experience on its application to sounding rockets, sounding rocket flight testing, and numerical code development for propulsion performance and flight performance estimation. One of his journal papers related to the micro chemical propulsion was selected as the best paper in Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering at 2013 and 2014, and several conference papers related to micro propulsion, sounding rockets, and micro reactors were the best paper awarded and selected for further manuscript work at several international conferences held in the UK, France, Korea, and the US. Overall, chemical and electric space propulsion, sounding rocket systems, MEMS-based combustion and propulsion, and new energetic materials and novel propellants are what he has experienced and where his expertise lies in.

 

Dr. Kazempoor Receives $1.8 M+ Grant for Natural Gas Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In January, Dr. Pejman Kazempoor received a grant to start work on his natural gas project titled, “Low-Cost Retrofit Kit for Integral Reciprocating Compressors (IRCs) to Reduce Emissions and Enhance Efficiency.” This new retrofit technology—consisting of a combustion optimizer integrated sensors, and a cloud-connected control system—will significantly reduce emissions (i.e., methane and volatile organic compounds), improve operating efficiency, and reduce operating costs for existing IRCs used in production, gathering, transmission, and processing sections of the natural gas industry. This project received a DOE Funding of $1,488,391 plus $394,751 of Non-DOE Funding; and will be done over the course of 3 years.

Dr. Pejman Kazempoor, Dr. Hamid Shabgard, and Dr. Ramkumar Parthasarathy are the three professors involved in the project from the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Sridhar Radhakrishnan, a professor from the School of Computer Science, is also involved in the project. Industry partners include WAGO Automation and Mid-Continent Rental.

According to Kazempoor and his research team, they, “expect to decrease emissions significantly from the production sector of the oil and gas industry.” The production sector accounts for 72% of the total methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry (EPA, 2017).

Dr. Kazempoor will be collaborating with Dr. Radhakrishnan and WAGO automation to create a cloud-connected remote monitoring tool. Since the parameters to reduce emissions constitute true evidence of the IRC’s healthy operation, the cloud-connected feature facilitates remote monitoring of the IRC for preventative and predictive maintenance as an additional benefit to operators.

Dr. Kazempoor will be working on the project in his Energy Sustainability Center here at OU. He said, “The oil and natural gas industry has a direct economic impact on the state of Oklahoma. It’s a great opportunity to help our state and nation by solving the oil and natural gas industry problems, in this case, emissions.” Dr. Kazempoor said an aspect of this project he really enjoys is that they’re using advanced techniques, such as artificial intelligence, to modernize and enhance the safety and efficiency of the Nation’s natural gas infrastructure.

Three graduate students, who will use parts of the project work in their doctoral dissertations/master’s theses, will assist the principal investigators. “They are helping us to modernize what we have now in the field to the current standards. For example, a modern car has many sophisticated technologies. IRCs have been utilized in the oil and gas industry for 130 years, so they ‘re trying to integrate new technology into those old engines to make them more efficient.”

One graduate student will work on the Computational Fluid Dynamics, another on sensors, and the third graduate student will work on monitoring tools. Two undergraduate students will assist graduate students. Additionally, a technician will be hired to work on the retrofit kit manufacture and installation in the field.

 

Dr. Song collaborates with OG&E to bring you smarter HVAC systems

The following article was released by OG&E in a recent newsletter. Are you smarter than your HVAC? In the near future, it may be a toss-up

If University of Oklahoma College of Engineering professor Li Song and OG&E Supervisor of Customer Support Jessica King have their way, your HVAC system soon will be smarter than you are – at least when it comes to energy management.

Song, an associate professor in the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, and her colleague Choon Yik Tang, with the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, have been working for the last five years to create a “smart” heating and cooling system that helps customers be more informed about their energy consumption and ultimately their energy bill.

Much of the success they’ve had so far is due to the partnership between OU and OG&E – and the relationship the two women have formed during the project.

Song’s original intention was to design for large, commercial buildings and reached out to Pat Saxton, Expert Account Manager for OG&E, who was working with Tinker Air Force Base. Song discovered the model for commercial buildings was “too cumbersome” to test outside of the lab and decided to use it for homeowners instead.

“Pat introduced me to Jessica, who gave me a perspective on what OG&E was doing with its SmartHours program and the company’s interest in helping make customers smarter energy consumers,” Song said.

Song is also working with Ecobee to put the smart HVAC technology in their thermostats. OG&E also is working with Ecobee to pilot their thermostats in 700 test homes, using the existing thermostat technology.

The new technology goes beyond the typical SmartTemp thermostats currently used in the SmartHours program in that it learns factors, such as humidity and air flow, within the home, customer energy consumption preferences and the performance of the HVAC system. It also takes into account outside factors such as temperature, wind speed, sunlight, weather forecasting and the cost of electricity during certain times of the day.

The technology also provides ahead-of-time forecasting so that customers know what their costs will be if they adjust their thermostat up or down.

Customers can control and monitor their thermostats using a smart phone app.

“We envision that customers in the future will receive personalized information about their home, their energy costs and their own energy consumption and will know it ahead of time or in real time,” King said. “In other words, they won’t be left in the dark about what their end bill will be.”

King assisted Song by writing letters in support of the project that were included in the application to get funding from the Department of Energy.

“After the success of SmartHours, we were asking ourselves ‘what’s next?’” King said. “And here was this great opportunity to support our local university and further our vision of being a trusted energy advisor for our customers.”

Song and her research team are now undertaking a two-year program to test the technology in an unoccupied home on the OU campus.

“We want complete control in these initial tests but will simulate the moisture, heat and other factors created by residents.”

In the third year, OG&E will recruit about 10 customers to participate as occupied test homes and, following this pilot, will expand the program to more homes.

Both women’s eyes light up when they talk about the technology and what it can do for OG&E customers.

“We envision expanding the technology to eventually all smart thermostats to give people more knowledge about how they use energy, what it costs and how small changes can impact their end bill,” Song said. “As well as helping predict the bill, the system will improve HVAC operations, detect AC problems earlier and possibly have an environmental impact as well.”

“The possibilities are endless,” King added. “We could work with home builders to create a true Positive Energy Home, and we’ve already formed a partnership with Ideal Homes to explore this possibility. Plus the data we get from the thermostats could help us target customers for energy efficiency programs, helping us provide energy assistance to those who need it most.”

Brooke Owens Fellowship Recipient Encourages Others to Apply

This summer, aerospace engineering student Kaley Hassell participated in the Brooke Owens Fellowship Program. Now, she is encouraging other students to apply.

Hassell decided to apply for the Brooke Owens Fellowship program when she saw that it offered opportunities to work with amazing aerospace companies. She said, “the program is absolutely amazing for undergraduate women in aerospace.” Applications for the fellowship are open, and they close on November 12th.

As a selected fellow, Kaley Hassel worked with the engineering department at Sierra Nevada Corporation on the Dream Chaser spacecraft. She also got the opportunity to work with astronauts and CEOs.

Part of the Brooke Owens Fellowship Summit was the grand challenge presentation held in Washington D.C. “All of us were divided into groups and solved a grand challenge-or humanity’s next biggest feat,” Hassell said. “We got to present and network with a lot of cool people! We were tasked with solving how we could create a collaborative lunar economy. It was a lot of fun.”

Part of the Fellowship is being assigned a professional mentor. “Mine was Mr. Tory Bruno, CEO of the United Launch Alliance,” Hassell said. “It was really awesome getting to know and learn from him. He even invited me to observe mission control on the recent AEHF5 launch on August 8th!”

Kaley Hassell’s Experiences

NASA Administrator Mr. Jim Bridenstine keynote spoke to the Brookies at one of the fellowship dinners. “It was really cool,” Hassell said. “I learned a lot about how policy goes into the aerospace world and even got to ask him a question face to face!”

Hassell said the Brookies are definitely a family. She got to make some great connections with women from around the world who are passionate about making a change in the world of aerospace.

They also got to have a fireside chat with NASA Chief of Staff Janet Karika.

They also got to meet Oklahoma Representative Kendra Horn, and have a fireside chat with her about different space issues as well as learn from her successes and experience.

Kaley Hassell and her friend Ivy (another Brookie) with the Dream Chaser spacecraft. “I worked in the Systems Engineering department, solving problems and integrating between different systems,” Hassell said.

Pictured is the Brookie Class of 2019 at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum. The Discovery space shuttle is in the background. “It was really cool to see it in person since I was basically working on a mini version of the Shuttle at SNC this summer!” Hassell said.

Development of Zero-Liquid Discharge Freeze System to Remove Dissolved Salt from Contaminated Water

Management of waste water is a challenging issue in many municipal and industrial sectors. The oil and gas industry produces a massive amount of waste water during production. The production of one barrel of oil results in approximately nine barrels of water that is contaminated with salt, heavy metals, and organic compounds. The development of methods for cost-efficient disposal and re-use of produced water without damage to the environment is a critical need for the oil and gas industry. Also, re-use of the water for agricultural purposes will be helpful because the agricultural sector is a primary consumer of increasingly scarce freshwater (accounting for 63% of U.S. surface water withdrawals, according to the U.S. Geological Survey).

Researchers Discuss Equipment with Assistants Castillo Alejandro and Aly Elhefny

In this project sponsored by the US Department of Energy, Drs. Shabgard, Cai and Parthasarathy are working on the development of a novel, zero-liquid discharge freeze system to remove dissolved salt from contaminated water. Freeze-desalination processes are well suited for these situations because pure ice crystals can be produced even in highly concentrated brine. However, current freeze-desalination technologies have some deficiencies that hinder their widespread use. A new method of eutectic freeze desalination will be used with a cooling approach that maximizes efficiency. Thus, the need for energy-intensive evaporation methods is avoided. The density differences between water, ice, and salty brine are used to separate the components. The system will operate under atmospheric pressure and be capable of treating highly concentrated/contaminated water. If successful, the treated water will be suitable for agricultural use, providing an abundant new water source. The goal is to develop a zero-liquid discharge (ZLD) freeze-desalination system capable of treating water with total dissolved solids (TDS) values up to 250,000 mg/l (milligrams per liter). For comparison, the TDS content of seawater is approximately 35,000 mg/l.

The proposed system offers a sustainable solution for the increasing water demand in industrial and oil and gas sectors by recycling the otherwise wasted water, without putting pressure on increasingly scarce fresh water resources also in demand by local communities for agricultural and municipal purposes. Also, the environmental concerns related to disposing of highly contaminated water are avoided by the use of the proposed ZLD desalination system.

Dr. Song Receives Multiple Awards for Current Research

Dr. Li Song, an associate professor at AME, received three awards for her current research projects. Two awards are from the Department of Energy, and the third award is from Battelle – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Song is the lead PI for the development and validation of a home comfort system for total performance deficiency/fault detection and optimal control project, which received a DOE fund of $993,149. The research team will develop and validate a smart thermostat-integrated low-cost home energy management system, including a data connection framework; a computationally efficient, self-learning home thermal model; automatic fault detection and analysis algorithms; and home energy management information and controls based on in-situ measured efficiencies of heating and cooling equipment, the air distribution system, and the building envelope.

The second DOE fund is $551,566 for the performance demonstration of an occupancy sensor-enabled integrated solution for commercial buildings project. The research team will validate the performance and savings of three HVAC control (fan, cooling coil valve, outside air) algorithms integrated with occupancy sensing data to optimize ventilation delivery.

A $50,000 award was given to Song from Battelle – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for her “Transactive-Control Based Connected Home Solution for Existing Residential Units and Communities” project.

This is a summary of Song’s research proposal sent to Battelle: To obtain the overall project aims, the development of machine learning techniques to calibrate the initial physical model that estimates and predicts energy use of a house and its response to control signals is extremely important. An effective home thermal model, that can predict the indoor air temperature dynamics under different weather, HVAC output and internal gains from appliances and occupants, is essential for the development.

BEEL initiated the development of a self-learning home thermal model two years ago. The BEEL home model, currently limited for a house with an A/C and gas-furnace heater, can automatically identify the model parameters with minimum data needed and precisely predict the space temperature and home HVAC energy uses for a house. To enhance the connectivity and compatibility of the platform proposed by PNNL, BEEL is committed to expand the home thermal model for a heat pump system and test enhanced home model using two houses located in Oklahoma through the partnership with OG&E. The challenge of modeling the heat pump is that the heating output from a heat pump is no longer constant as-is for a gas furnace heater. A correlation of the heating output of a heat pump and outdoor air temperature needs to be formulated and similarly, a correlation between cooling output of a heat pump and weather might be needed for cooling season as well.

Congratulations Dr. Song!

Additional News About Dr. Song’s Research:
Dr. Song’s Research is Promoted in the Press
Dr. Song Receives 2018 ASHRAE Technical Paper Award

 

Robust Adaptive Controls for Shipboard Landing of Multi-Rotor Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Alex Bryant and Lauren Ingmire in the lab.

A newly funded project in the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering makes use of close collaboration between researchers in different fields to improve a critical technology for national defense. Dr. Keith Walters and Dr. Andrea L’Afflitto (now a faculty member at Virginia Tech) are combining their respective expertise in aerodynamics and controls to address a difficult challenge for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

It is well known that UAVs are increasingly being used for both commercial and military applications. The United States Department of Defense (DoD) currently employs multi-rotor helicopters (quadcopters) for remote sensing missions, such as surveillance and search and rescue. In the future, they will support troops by performing tactical tasks, such as picking up and dropping off payloads and surveying cluttered environments. Of particular interest are vehicles that operate autonomously, that is without any direct control by human pilots. These vehicles use onboard computers and mathematical control algorithms to perform necessary aerial maneuvers, travel to desired locations, avoid obstacles, and perform whatever tasks are required of their mission. The development of new and improved control algorithms is, therefore, an active area of research with the potential for substantial impact on next-generation UAVs.

This project focuses on the development of improved control algorithms specifically designed for the landing of UAVs on U.S. Navy ships. Shipboard landing is a complex task for UAVs because 1) the deck is highly unsteady in rough seas; 2) adverse sea conditions are often accompanied by adverse weather and high winds; 3) the superstructure of a moving ship induces a wake in the air, which further perturbs the UAVs landing on its deck; 4) near hard surfaces, the ‘ground effect’ alters the thrust produced by the propellers; and 5) UAVs returning from a mission may be damaged. To land on the deck of a ship, a UAV’s control system regulates the thrust forces of each propeller so that the aircraft approaches the ship with some desired relative velocity and orientation, leading to (hopefully) a gentle touch down in the appropriate location.

The primary objective of this research is to design a robust adaptive control system for multi-rotor UAVs that allows precise landing on the deck of moving ships. The work builds on prior research by former AME faculty member Andrea L’Afflitto and will make use of a model reference adaptive control (MRAC) architecture. Such an approach guarantees robustness of the closed-loop feedback system to both uncertainties in system parameters and unknown state-dependent disturbances that affect the control inputs, such as wind gusts or the swinging of an attached cargo payload.

The control algorithm will also be improved by adopting more realistic functional relationships between propeller rotational speed (RPM) and the generated thrust. Currently, it is assumed that thrust is simply proportional to RPM squared under all conditions. While this is often nearly true when a UAV is hovering in calm air, it does not hold during complex aerial maneuvers, under the action of strong wind disturbances, or when the vehicle is close to a solid surface such as the deck of a ship. Keith Walters and his students will perform computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations of quadrotor propellers to more accurately determine the relationship between thrust and RPM under these conditions. The simulations will be used to develop an analytical function that will be included in the control algorithm developed by Dr. L’Afflitto.

The scientific advances made by this project will be disseminated in the technical literature and will provide opportunities for graduate students to participate in national or international conferences. The improvement to UAV performance during shipboard landing will be critical to increasing the value of these vehicles to U.S. Navy missions, and the technology can be translated to other branches of the armed forces to improve design and operation of their next-generation UAV systems. Eventually, the research may be adopted by the commercial sector to improve, for example, the use of UAVs for package delivery or remote sensing in adverse weather conditions.

Meet Dr. Kazempoor, an Assistant Professor new to the University of Oklahoma

Dr. Pejman Kazempoor started working at OU as an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the beginning of this semester. Dr. Kazempoor’s research interests include driving sustainable performance in the Oil and Gas industry; process modeling, simulation, and optimization; natural gas transmission and processing; energy storage, fuel cells, and batteries; advanced sensor technologies; data analytics and machine learning.

Dr. Kazempoor believes that OU is a well-respected and comprehensive global university that has incredible diversity on campus. He also said that OU stands out as a leader in many sciences, engineering, and medical fields. It has been providing students with a world-class education for over 100 years. He said OU is also the leading arts and cultural center in the state of Oklahoma.

He’s looking forward to developing innovative and multi-disciplinary research projects related to the oil and gas industry. He is broadly interested in sustainable energy for the O&G industry with the main objectives to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

Dr. Kazempoor is from the city of Isfahan located in central Iran. The city is renowned for its outstanding Islamic and Iranian architecture. The city was once one of the largest and most important cities in Central Asia. French poet Renier visited Isfahan for the first time; and called it “half of the World.”¹

Dr. Kazempoor enjoys fine arts especially Western and Native-American paintings and bronze sculptures. He was a marathon runner when he was younger, but now he enjoys more hiking, fishing, camping and spending time with his family and friends. Dr. Kazempoor also plays two traditional music instruments –Tar and Setar.

¹http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Isfahan_Half_of_the_World.htm