Category: Michigan Tech News

What Lies Ahead: Cooperative, Data-Driven Automated Driving

Associate Professor Kuilin Zhang, Civil and Environmental Engineering and affiliated associate professor, Computer Science, was featured in a recent article on Michigan Tech News. The article appears below. Link to the original article here.


By Kelley Christensen, September 28, 2020.

Networked data-driven vehicles can adapt to road hazards at longer range, increasing safety and preventing slowdowns.

Vehicle manufacturers offer smart features such as lane and braking assist to aid drivers in hazardous situations when human reflexes may not be fast enough. But most options only provide immediate benefits to a single vehicle. What if entire groups of vehicles could respond? What if instead of responding solely to the vehicle immediately in front of us, our cars reacted proactively to events happening hundreds of meters ahead?

What if, like a murmuration of starlings, our cars and trucks moved cooperatively on the road in response to each vehicle’s environmental sensors, reacting as a group to lessen traffic jams and protect the humans inside?

This question forms the basis of Kuilin Zhang’s National Science Foundation CAREER Award research. Zhang, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Technological University, has published “A distributionally robust stochastic optimization-based model predictive control with distributionally robust chance constraints for cooperative adaptive cruise control under uncertain traffic conditions” in the journal Transportation Research Part B: Methodological.

The paper is coauthored with Shuaidong Zhao ’19, now a senior quantitative analyst at National Grid, where he continues to conduct research on the interdependency between smart grid and electric vehicle transportation systems.

Vehicle Platoons Operate in Sync

Creating vehicle systems adept at avoiding traffic accidents is an exercise in proving Newton’s First Law: An object in motion remains so unless acted on by an external force. Without much warning of what’s ahead, car accidents are more likely because drivers don’t have enough time to react. So what stops the car? A collision with another car or obstacle — causing injuries, damage and in the worst case, fatalities.

But cars communicating vehicle-to-vehicle can calculate possible obstacles in the road at increasing distances — and their synchronous reactions can prevent traffic jams and car accidents.

“On the freeway, one bad decision propagates other bad decisions. If we can consider what’s happening 300 meters in front of us, it can really improve road safety. It reduces congestion and accidents.”Kuilin Zhang

Zhang’s research asks how vehicles connect to other vehicles, how those vehicles make decisions together based on data from the driving environment and how to integrate disparate observations into a network.

Zhang and Zhao created a data-driven, optimization-based control model for a “platoon” of automated vehicles driving cooperatively under uncertain traffic conditions. Their model, based on the concept of forecasting the forecasts of others, uses streaming data from the modeled vehicles to predict the driving states (accelerating, decelerating or stopped) of preceding platoon vehicles. The predictions are integrated into real-time, machine-learning controllers that provide onboard sensed data. For these automated vehicles, data from controllers across the platoon become resources for cooperative decision-making. 

CAREER Award 

Kuilin Zhang won an NSF CAREER Award in 2019 for research on connected, autonomous vehicles and predictive modeling

Proving-Grounds Ready

The next phase of Zhang’s CAREER Award-supported research is to test the model’s simulations using actual connected, autonomous vehicles. Among the locations well-suited to this kind of testing is Michigan Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center, a proving ground for autonomous vehicles, with expertise in unpredictable environments.

Ground truthing the model will enable data-driven, predictive controllers to consider all kinds of hazards vehicles might encounter while driving and create a safer, more certain future for everyone sharing the road.

Tomorrow Needs Mobility

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

About the Researcher: Kuilin Zhang

  • Data-driven optimization and control models for connected and automated vehicles (CAVs)
  • Big traffic data analytics using machine learning
  • Mobile and crowd sensing of dynamic traffic systems
  • Dynamic network equilibrium and optimization
  • Modeling and simulation of large-scale complex systems
  • Freight logistics and supply chain systems
  • Impact of plug-in electric vehicles to smart grid and transportation network systems
  • Interdependency and resiliency of large-scale networked infrastructure systems
  • Vehicular Ad-hoc Networks (VANETs)
  • Smart Cities
  • Cyber-Physical Systems

MTU’s Adrienne Minerick Elected to Lead Engineering Educators

by Allison Mills, University Marketing and Communications

Adrienne Minerick, dean of the College of Computing, is president-elect of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). She will serve as president-elect from June 2020 to June 2021, a year that will surely be shaped by COVID-19 response efforts and their impacts on education, engineering industries and student lives. She will serve as president from June 2021 to June 2022, and as past-president the following year.

“ASEE is the place where engineering and engineering technology educators plan for the futures our students will encounter,” Minerick said. “I am able, willing and ready to help seed conversations that enable engineering professionals to leverage the rapid growth in computing and cybertechnologies to ensure our students engineer a bright future.”

Diversity in engineering education is key, she added. “Study after study, many by ASEE authors, has shown that increasing diversity of teams decreases engineering failures. We are in an exciting time when traditional engineering and educational practices are being re-examined from additional — and different — perspectives.”

Drawing on her research experience in microfluidics, her leadership in the College of Computing and championship of the ADVANCE program, Minerick plans to shift the governance mindset to encourage engineering access and mobility of ideas.

“I am thrilled that Adrienne will be following me as president-elect and then president of ASEE. Two women from Michigan Tech for two years in a leadership role at ASEE is fantastic,” said Sheryl Sorby, ASEE’s next president and professor in the Engineering Education Innovation Center at Ohio State University, who formerly taught in Michigan Tech’s Engineering Fundamentals program. “Adrienne shows steady, solid leadership and is insightful and visionary. She is someone who gets things done!”

Read the full story on mtu.edu/news and learn more about Michigan Tech’s contributions to ASEE.


The Gift of Computing

Through the years and across generations, Huskies help their neighbors navigate the digital universe. In the season of giving, drop in on two volunteer programs that benefit both givers and receivers.

On any given Saturday during the academic year, you’ll find Michigan Technological University students serving as coaches and teachers in the community and on campus in a couple of programs that have been around since 2011. Building Adult Skills in Computing, or BASIC, helps older people with computer-related questions. Copper Country Coders introduces younger people to computer science and programming.

BASIC: Where No One is Left to Their Own Devices

BASIC walk-ins are welcome from 10-11 a.m. Saturdays at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton. Sessions used to be earlier in the day before the library opened to the public, said Kelly Steelman, a Michigan Tech associate professor of human factors and psychology who, along with Charles Wallace, an associate professor of computer science, serves as a BASIC tutor and researcher. But as it turns out, technological newcomers as well as Huskies like to sleep in. The time adjustment is one of several tweaks that have taken place as the program — and the devices we use in our daily lives — evolve. For example, nobody’s gathered ’round the library’s desktop computer stations. On this particular Saturday, as rays of treasured winter sunlight glint on the ice-glazed Keweenaw Waterway and stained-glass art, participants are cozily tucked into the shoreside Michigan Room with laptops, phones and tablets at the ready.

“Easy for you to remember, but hard for them to guess.” That’s how Parker Young sums up the perfect password for Naomi and Eliot Haycock, who brought in a tablet and laptop. He explains to the lively couple that encrypted password management programs make it easier to keep track of all the passwords safely. “As long as you remember the one password, you have all the others,” he said. They also discuss PayPal — Naomi’s intrigued, Eliot’s skeptical. Both are interested in what kind of writing programs are already available on their newly acquired laptop. Young shows them options, from Google Docs to the preinstalled writing software.

“Good. We can do a Christmas letter,” Naomi said.

They move on to installing updates and discuss the necessity to perform them regularly (“There goes another one!” Parker exclaimed). Next, the trio walks through how to connect to Wi-Fi at home for the first time with the new device.

An older couple and a younger man with a Michigan Tech Huskies shirt on smile at the camera in a library.
Naomi and Eliot Haycock, BASIC Saturday regulars, work through their computing to-do list with Parker Young.
“They do a great job. We’ve come here quite a few times,” Naomi said. “People tell us, ‘if you had to pay for this, you’d be paying a lot.’”

“Give this guy a good grade. He’s good,” Eliot tells Charles Wallace, who is on the other side of the wide wooden library table helping a gentleman who’s never used a computer. First-timers are rare these days. Whenever a new user powers up, it’s exciting; both tutor and learner are smiling as he Googles for the first time, locating his church on the map and visiting its website.

Wallace encourages the beginner to keep exploring, then explains to the Haycocks that students aren’t graded for being part of BASIC. They’re here only because they want to be.

“We’re giving the gift of bringing people to the digital table,” said BASIC volunteer Abby Kuehne, a double major in psychology and communication, culture and media with research experience in human-computer interaction.

Today she’s working with a soft-spoken man looking for pointers on getting started with a tablet. “Because this is a mobile setting, the tablet is going to be set up differently,” she explained.

The work Kuehne does here aligns with her career goals; which include enhancing technology accessibility and effective communication across cultures. More than that, it’s establishing a lifelong pattern of service.

“It becomes a good habit,” said Kuehne. “I believe in karma, in giving back.”

For scientific and technical communication major Paige Short, showing up on Saturday mornings has also become second nature. Short, whose endeavors include work to communicate science on a global level, sees the relationship between students and the people who come for help as mutually beneficial. “It builds community,” she said. “It connects us to the local community, and helps them be a part of the digital community.” Never more so than on this Saturday, when Short is assisting with budget workflow strategy for a local community garden.

two women show people how to use laptaps on a wooden table with windows in the background as a man looks on.
Portage Lake District Library has been hosting BASIC Saturdays since the program’s inception. You’ll often find Huskies Abby Kuehne, left, and Paige Short, right, bringing fellow community members to the digital table.

The session wraps up shortly after 11; the group meets for a quick debrief. There’s just enough time for Young to do some work on his truck before he heads over to the Michigan Tech College of Computing, where Copper Country Coders meets every Saturday afternoon of the academic year. Wallace will be there, too — this program also benefits from his co-leadership, in this case with Leo Ureel, computer science senior lecturer and coordinator of the Michigan Tech College of Computing Learning Center.

Get Help. Meet Huskies.

Walk-ins are welcome to the Saturday BASIC sessions. Follow the Portage Lake District Library Facebook page for updates.
You don’t have to bring a computer. The library has Chromebooks available.

The call goes out for Copper Country Coders enrollment in early September. Learn more on the Copper Country Coders Facebook page.

Want to help support these and other computer literary programs? Find out more.

Programmed Snowflakes and the Python Boiz

Compared to the quiet of the library, the atmosphere is a tad more rambunctious in the first-floor labs of Kanwal Rekhi Hall, where the youngest of the Copper Country Coders teams is raring to go. In sessions that run from 1-3 p.m., Michigan Tech students work with young people from area schools who share a goal not dissimilar from those of their older counterparts: they’re learning how to make computers do what they’re told. They’re learning to speak the language of programming.

“Can we play games before the other people come?” asks one youngster, bouncing up and down on a computer desk chair.

Instructor Keith Atkinson smiles, patiently explaining that they’ll all be creating a holiday snowfall game once everyone has gathered. He doesn’t mind the rowdier element or the challenge of keeping active young people engaged. “I’m pretty high energy myself and I like thinking on my feet,” said the computer science major, who started with the Coders in 2015. He also clearly enjoys serving his community — for his directed study class this semester, Atkinson created an inventory system for Michigan Tech’s Husky Food Access Network pantry.

Atkinson is co-leading one of the middle-school teams with fellow computer science major Galen Resh Chimner, who was enrolled in the program as a youngster. “It was fun to come and learn and get challenged,” he said.

Today’s project is a holiday snowfall game. Students learn to program a snowflake — to draw it and make it move. Every click of the computer mouse adds a new snowflake.

Programming is the Universal Language

a young man in a black and gold husky sweatshirt leans toward a computer screen
Trevor Good, like many of the Huskies in Copper Country Coders, is in it for the fun of both learning and teaching.
Across the hall, Parker Young is at it again — this time teaming up with computer science major Trevor Good to introduce ninth-grade and middle-school students to the popular, easy-to-use programming language that inspired their tongue-in-cheek team name: the Python Boiz. Young has been doing both BASIC and Coders for three years; it’s Good’s second year and second time co-leading with Young.

“Last year, we did Minecraft,” said Good. “We picked Python because it’s the number-one programming language in the world; it’s used for AI, machine learning, automation … logically it makes a lot of sense. I wanted to learn it myself.”

Young was also new to Python. “Teaching others helps me learn,” said Young, who is also a coach in the College of Computing Learning Center.

The College of Computing is piloting a course to teach Python to non-computing majors across campus. For today, though, the focus is on the half-dozen younger students situated at monitors in the lab.

“What’s up man? Oooh, you’re so close!” Young moves between computer stations, checking out the ongoing project. “Let’s go, you guys! I wanna see some cool tic tac toes.”

“I love coming here every Saturday and I love teaching,” said Young.

The vibe is sedate in comparison over at the Electrical Energy Resources Center (EERC), a short walk from Rekhi Hall, where high school-aged students are working with two graduate students, Marissa Walther and Shaun Flynn. Walther has been with Copper Country Coders for five years, Flynn four.

two Michigan Tech students watch students on computer monitors in a lab, one of the students, a girl, is looking intently at the screen
Marissa Walther, left, and Shaun Flynn’s group works on hardware coding.
Walther, who earned a bachelor’s in computer science in 2019, is studying for her master’s.

Flynn, who earned a BS in computer engineering, is working toward his master’s. In 2018, their lesson plans focused on teaching young coders Java development and how to create games using JavaFX morphed into the book The World of Java Programming.

The two instructor-mentors said that the goal this year is to introduce students to hardware and the work that goes into building it.

“They can choose what it can do. They can do a lot of hardware prototyping,” said Flynn.

“I like teaching students. It’s fun to watch them develop,” he said, as the pair watches students work intently at their lab monitors. “They chose to spend two hours with us, programming. I came to Michigan Tech not knowing any of this.”

altera computer board closeup with wires
“Think of it as giant programmable hardware” — that’s how Shaun Flynn describes the Altera Board.
Time and again Huskies involved in the programs mention the joy of both teaching and learning.

It’s Not You, It’s the Technology

Place the responsibility where it belongs. On the technology. Both Copper County Coders and BASIC give participants the confidence to deploy digital tools to do desired and necessary tasks. That benefits both the students teaching and the students who are learning from them.

Copper Country Coders organizes young people from local schools into teams of six to eight, depending on enrollment fluctuations and the level of difficulty of each team. Two Huskies co-lead each group — each group compiles its own lesson plans, learning objectives and means to measure outcomes. Sessions are adjusted as the academic year moves along to keep pace with student progress. If more time is needed, the group stays with a project longer. If something doesn’t go over well, it’s documented for future Coders planning their own programs.

Last year the group presented its first Computer Science Expo.

At the Saturday BASIC sessions, coaches often work with people who are familiar with some tasks, but are continually challenged by the pace of technology — if you’re retired, for example, you aren’t required to adapt to the latest program or process being used in your workplace. Things like running out of space on a smart phone or other roadblocks with apps and social media present have the potential to present discouraging or demoralizing roadblocks. BASIC eliminates the blame game.

“Our approach is meeting people where they are,” Steelman said.

“Tutoring is more about empathy and compassion. We’re paying attention and mirroring the words. What are the things that freak people out about computers? How can we alleviate those concerns?”  –Kelly Steelman, BASIC tutor and researcher

“It’s not that they’re not a good computer user,” Steelman noted. “We put those worries on the computer.”

BASIC offers one tutor training session every semester, the interdisciplinary program is open to students from all majors. Beyond résumé building, “it feels good, making differences in lives,” said Steelman. The regionally and nationally recognized service-learning opportunity aspires to expand; beyond Michigan Tech outreach Wallace has shared the concept with other libraries and organizations who could bring BASIC to their communities.

Eliot and Naomi Haycock are on their own until the student coaches return January 18. Given the skills they’ve acquired, and the knowledge that help will be available again in the new year, they don’t appear to be particularly worried.

“We miss them when they’re not here,” Naomi said.

“But they deserve a vacation,” Eliot said.

two young men in black and gold stripes play horns in front of black-gowned graduates in a wood gym

Talk about bandwidth: BASIC volunteer, Copper Country Coder and Learning Center Coach Parker Young also plays in Huskies Pep Band; this is the group serenading 2019 grads at Midyear Commencement on December 14.

Talk about bandwidth: BASIC volunteer, Copper Country Coder and Learning Center Coach Parker Young also plays in Huskies Pep Band; this is the group serenading 2019 grads at Midyear Commencement on December 14.

Naomi and Eliot Haycock, BASIC Saturday regulars, work through their computing to-do list with Parker Young.

Portage Lake District Library has been hosting BASIC Saturdays since the program’s inception. You’ll often find Huskies Abby Kuehne, left, and Paige Short, right, bringing fellow community members to the digital table.

Trevor Good, like many of the Huskies in Copper Country Coders, is in it for the fun of both learning and teaching.

Marissa Walther, left, and Shaun Flynn’s group works on hardware coding.

“Think of it as giant programmable hardware” — that’s how Shaun Flynn describes the Altera Board.

About the Researchers

Charles Wallace
wallace@mtu.edu
906-487-3431

Areas of Expertise

  • Software Requirements
  • Human-Centered Computing
  • Communication in Software Development
  • Formal Methods
  • Software Engineering Education
  • Agile Development Methods
  • Cyberlearning
  • Researcher Profile

Kelly Steelman
steelman@mtu.edu
906-487-2792

Research Interests

  • Basic and applied attention
  • Models of attention
  • Human performance in aviation
  • Display design
  • Tech adoption
  • Technology training

Leo Ureel
ureel@mtu.edu
906-487-1816

Areas of Expertise

  • Software Engineering
  • Computer Science Education
  • Intelligent Tutoring Systems

Papers Published

Soner Onder
Soner Onder

Associate Prof. Soner Onder and his graduate students published a paper titled “LaZy Superscalar” in the 42nd International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA). ISCA is recognized as the premier conference in computer architecture with 10-20 percent acceptance rates. CS PhD student Gorkem Asilioglu (first author) will present the paper on June 15 in Portland, OR.

Associate Prof. Onder and his graduate students also published a paper titled “Mower: A New Design for Non-blocking Misprediction Recovery” in ACM/SIGARCH International Conference on Supercomputing (ICS). ICS is the premier international forum for the presentation of research results in high-performance computing systems held since 1987. PhD student Zhaoxiang Jin (first author) will present the paper on June 8 in Newport Beach, CA.


Copper Country Middle & High School Students: Sign Up for Free Computer Programming Lessons

The Department of Computer Science is offering local students free, hands-on instruction in the basics of computer programming and computer science.

Starting Sept. 13, Copper Country Programmers meets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays during the academic year at the Van Pelt and Opie Library. Computer Science faculty and students will teach the fundamentals of programming, starting with simple languages like HTML and BASIC and progressing to the well known and widely used Java language.

Beginning students use their new programming skills to create their own games and computer art. They also get exposure to physical applications of programming, such as mobile computing, microcontrollers and 3D printing.

Advanced students can get involved in competitive programming, including the American Computer Science League and Michigan Tech’s famous BonzAI Brawl competition.

CC Programmers continues through late April. Organizers also plan to schedule an additional after-school meeting during the week.

PhD student John Earnest, Lecturer Leo Ureel and Associate Professor Charles Wallace lead the CC Programmers effort. “We also appreciate the work of our volunteer assistants, and we encourage more individuals from the Michigan Tech community to get involved,” said Wallace.

To register or for more information, contact Wallace at wallace@mtu.edu, 487-3431.

From Tech Today


Computer Science Student Pursues Peace Corps Master’s

Science and technology are transforming the way we live, and Tim Ward is working to make sure this transformation reaches everyone. Tim is the first student to pursue the Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) in Computer Science at Michigan Tech, working in the remote Pacific nation of Vanuatu. Students in the program take courses on campus during the first year of the program, then they spend two years in the Peace Corps applying their knowledge within their Peace Corps community. You can read more about Tim and his work at his blog.


Computer Science in Michigan Tech News

Students, Employers, Schools Match Skills, Opportunities using New Career Networking Program
March 21, 2016
Three Michigan Universities Receive Pacesetters Awards to Attract More Women to Computer Science
January 28, 2016
Schneiders Establish Professorship, Fellowships in Computer Science
October 28, 2015
High School Students Host Computer Programming Workshop for Middle School Girls
October 16, 2015
Chuck Wallace Shares How to Break Digital Barriers at White House Conference
July 17, 2015
Shokuhfar, Ott receive Diversity Awards
June 15, 2015
Michigan Tech’s Peace Corps Students Weather Horrendous Storms
March 24, 2015
Michigan Tech Adds New Peace Corps Master’s International Programs in Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, GIS
November 20, 2014
Programmers Score Russian Success: Finished as Top Michigan School
July 21, 2014
Michigan Tech Couple Sees the USA on a Tandem Bike
July 11, 2014
Linda Ott Receives Michigan Tech’s Inaugural Diversity Award
June 17, 2014