TU receives $3.75M to study AI, robotics, virtual reality

TU receives $3.75M to study AI, robotics, virtual reality

John Hale and Krypto

Advanced robotics, virtual reality and drones are some of the futuristic technologies that The University of Tulsa will investigate thanks to a $3.75 million award from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. Students and faculty will study how advances in machine intelligence, computing, networks and automation can create a safe and secure workspace – and a better living space – for people, said Professor John Hale, chair of TU’s Tandy School of Computer Science 

Different types of technology have come to the forefront of mass media and become the center of attention. In the intelligence field, companies are rushing to be more involved with artificial intelligence (AI). ChatGPT is a trending AI platform that people have been using to answer complex questions, help businesses with content creation and more. Virtual reality (VR) is another popular technology that uses headsets to interact with things in an online environment. Companies such as Meta and Microsoft place significant focus on their VR headsets, whether it’s for gaming, work or testing applications.  

Both AI and VR technology will be utilized in TU’s grant-funded program, Hale said, along with sensors that can measure various environmental properties including occupancy, temperature, humidity, light and gas levels. One of the school’s first investments with the grant was Krypto, a robotic dog. The device is made by Boston Dynamics, a robotics manufacturer globally known for its four-legged and humanoid robots. Some may recall that musician Jason Derulo used robotic dogs for his performance at the Super Bowl pregame show this year.  

TU’s Krypto utilizes AI technology to inspect its environment for potential obstacles and hazards, along with navigating different terrains. Hale said the department plans to build smart spaces and test sites where they can use the robot for experiments that will gather data for real-world applications in automation and cybersecurity. These dogs will perform the “dirty, dangerous and dull activities that humans don’t want to do.” The department recently added two more robotic dogs to speed up research and conduct a wider range of experiments. As the faculty and students become more familiar with the technology, they plan to control the dogs with VR headsets, allowing them to see what the robots see and command them remotely to perform tasks from cyberspace. 

So, in what specific environment and scenarios can these dogs be used? “You place them in one location, and then they can go on patrol or perform missions to gather data to turn into intelligence. Maybe we’re trying to figure out how many people are in a room. Or maybe we determine if a room is safe to occupy based upon the presence of certain gases. And you try to turn that intelligence into good decision-making,” Hale said. “We’ll conceive of some scenarios: some will be in the realm of emergency response; maybe there’s a fire or gas leak or tornado; or maybe it’s a security event where we’re going to evaluate the threat and determine the best response.”  

Undergraduate and graduate students in engineering, computer science and cyber studies programs will work with the technologies funded by the grant. Students from the computer simulation and gaming program will play a large role in linking the VR, sensors and robotic platforms in the smart spaces.   

“We are excited to continue working with the Army Engineer Research and Development Center on problems that are of national importance in cybersecurity, smart installations, and industrial control systems,” said Rose Gamble, TU vice president for research and economic development.