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Solutions 2012: Information Systems

Superfast, Complex and Adaptive

As simple as making a phone call. As complex as air traffic control. Used by millions or just a few. In cars or out of this world. Hardware. Software. Apps. Tablets. Data. Systems. Networks. Whether the need is efficiency, communication, fighting disease, protecting data or preventing accidents, Vanderbilt expertise in information systems provides solutions.

In a world where information flashes across the globe in seconds and new technology transforms societies in days, what's needed are superfast, supercomplex and superadaptive systems and technology.

The Adaptive Vehicle make research project, a flagship initiative of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, has set out to do this with the help of prominent universities, institutes and corporations, including the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering.

The AVM portfolio of programs intends to transform the design and build process for complex defense systems—with the goal of compressing the development cycle fivefold and accelerating the innovation factor by several factors of ten.
Vanderbilt engineers at the Institute for Software Integrated Systems concentrate on design languages, automation, flow and model-based approaches as part of the AVM META program. The team must develop the processes and integrated model-based software technology tool suite that will allow them to build a complex vehicle such as an amphibious combat vehicle in one-fifth of the usual time.


Schematic of Adaptive Vehicle Make process, courtesy of DARPA

ISIS' Ted Bapty and Sandeep Neema spearhead development of the META design languages and tool suites for the DARPA project. They've been tasked with seamlessly integrating myriad computer software, hardware and physical components. "There's an incredible number of engineering domains or disciplines that have to be involved to make this
happen," says Bapty, research associate professor of electrical engineering. The technology base, however,
is common, says Neema, research associate professor of electrical engineering. "We should be able to apply these concepts to a variety of vehicles from a submarine to a flying Humvee." (The flying Humvee only exists in the imagination—for now.)

The goal: less complicated, time-intensive building of vehicles needed in different locations around the globe. The information systems and processes Bapty and Neema develop could be combined with a standardized set of components to quickly and efficiently create an infantry fighting vehicle in the desert as well as amphibious transport in a marsh. The same tools could eventually be used to revolutionize the development and manufacturing of consumer vehicles and other products.

Vanderbilt School of Engineering is also involved in the distributed collaborative design stage of AVM with the development and launch of vehicleForge, an open-source Web portal for sharing, collaborating and designing vehicles and other large, complex cyber-electro-mechanical systems. A team including Senior Research Scientist Larry P. Howard , Associate Professor of computer Engineering Akos Ledeczi , Research Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and computer Science Tihamer Levendovszky and Research Scientist Peter Volgyesi is concentrating on operations, maintenance and providing technical support. Their team is also creating unique credentialing and verification procedures to assure integrity of the open-source development participants. 

The AVM project and vehicleForge are funded by DARPA.

Vanderbilt School of Engineering faculty, researchers and students are at the forefront of information systems projects involving health care, cybersecurity and other areas affecting society. Here are a few highlights.


Aviation Data Mining and Predicting

embraerWhen it comes to airplanes, you want to know before something adverse happens. Gautam Biswas , professor of computer science and computer engineering, Xenofon Koutsoukos , associate professor of computer science and computer engineering, and doctoral student Daniel L.C. Mack employed data-mining algorithms to analyze years of flight data to uncover where irregularities occurred, find out why they happened and discover ways to detect problems earlier. Their ISIS work contributed to improvements in the design of the central maintenance computer for the Boeing 787 and Embraer aircraft—and led to an award from NASA for the entire team, which also included members of Honeywell Aerospace, Aerospace Advance Technology and NASA's Ames Research center. The group developed a vehicle-level reasoning system to detect precursors to potential problems on aircraft well in advance of adverse events. The information then allows for maintenance intervention and improves aviation safety.

The project was funded by the NASA Aviation Safety program.

Shown: Embraer aircraft, courtesy of Embraer


App for the Visually Impairedwebster and gorlewicz

Visually impaired high school students are testing a new Android app developed by graduate student Jenna Gorlewicz in the medical and Electromechanical Design Lab under the direction of Assistant Professor of mechanical Engineering Robert Webster . Gorlewicz has programmed the app to run on a touchscreen tablet and assist students in learning algebra, geometry, graphing and other subjects that are difficult to master without the aid of normal vision. The development makes use of haptic technology, which uses a person's sense of touch in remotely controlling machines, devices and virtual objects. Webster's MED Lab had been experimenting with how haptic interfaces might be used to control biomedical robots; Gorlewicz, who has an interest in education and loves math, envisioned the potential for math education. The work could have a major impact on how science, technology, engineering and math are taught to the visually impaired.

The project was supported by Gorlewicz' National Science Foundation graduate fellowship and Webster's NSF CAREER award (IIS-1054331).

Shown: Webster and Gorlewicz with the touchscreen tablet app


Computer-Modeling Fights Sepsis

According to the U.S. centers for Disease control and Prevention, 17 percent of hospital deaths in 2008 were caused by sepsissepsis or septicemia, a severe illness caused by a bacterial infection in the bloodstream. That statistic is one that Vanderbilt physicians and engineers are determined to fight. ISIS engineers at the School of Engineering joined clinicians and informatics experts at Vanderbilt University medical center to develop a new approach to computer-supported care and provide a real-time system for detecting and managing the treatment of septic patients. The project integrates an early detection system with a guideline-driven decision support and treatment management process. It alerts doctors when a patient may be developing sepsis, monitors the state of the patient, suggests treatment options according to best practices and follows up doctors' instructions. once the major technical challenge of applying computer-modeling tools that support the creation of evidence-based clinical guidelines was solved, the next step for ISIS Director Janos Sztipanovits , E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Engineering, and his ISIS team was integrating the system in the complex information system infrastructure of the medical center and supporting the clinical trial. Sepsis is just the beginning. The team has already started collaborating with clinicians and informatics experts on a treatment planning and management system for cancer.

NSF funding supported the multidisciplinary project.


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Photos, from top: Courtesy of DARPA; courtesy of Embraer; Daniel Dubois.