UC Undergrads Awarded NASA/OSGC Scholarship

By: Desiré Bennett

Seven undergraduates from the School of Aerospace Systems won NASA/OSGC awards. This activity is even more significant, particularly for the ACCEND students, as their OSGC work relates to their co-op experience and ties to the MS thesis.  “The research done with the OSGC funds makes these students utilize their co-op assignments more effectively, in the context of a research experience, and then ties it into their Master’s Thesis,” said associate professor of aerospace engineering, Kelly Cohen, PhD. “This is a major feature of the UC undergraduate program.”

In an effort to encourage advanced education in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM), the Ohio Space Grant Consortium (OSGC) recognized and made cash awards to Sophia Mitchell, Amanda McGee, Tyler Vick, Alex Walker, Owen Macmann, Nick Schwartz and Daniel Harriman for their research projects.  Cash awards ranged from $4,000.00 for senior projects to $1,500.00 for those submitted by juniors.


Professor Cohen with students and a UAV

“Students get an opportunity to conduct research which augments their overall undergraduate education in areas such as Intelligent Systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Flight Dynamics, and Propulsion Systems,” said associate professor of aerospace engineering, Kelly Cohen, PhD, who is the university’s OSGC Campus Representative. “Many of these students will go on and continue their studies towards a Masters and PhD degree.”

Tyler Vick’s research project is his MS thesis topic as he participates in the CEAS ACCEND program, which allows students to concurrently earn their masters and bachelor degrees. Vick’s research project, “Flight Control and Estimation for Hypersonic Vehicles,” is focused on the guidance and control of hypersonic vehicles. “The first step of this research is to gain a greater understanding of the challenges faced when designing a guidance and control system and then in sensing and estimating the state of these vehicles,” Vick said.

He goes on to explain that the second step of this project may follow one of two paths:  “The first possible path is to build an estimator that can effectively approximate the state of the system from real-time measurements while rejecting the effects of any system uncertainties and noise. The second potential path is to develop a controller capable of guiding the vehicle along its desired trajectory that is robust enough to overcome uncertainties in the system.”

Vick’s research project will further develop his theoretical and practical knowledge of flight control system development and has the potential to make a contribution to the field of hypersonic flight control. 

PROFIT (Precision Route Optimization using Fuzzy Intelligence), Sophia Mitchell’s research project, is in the area of intelligent robotics, with a focus on fuzzy logic. Fuzzy logic is used in programming robots to reason as humans do.

“In normal binary logic, things are either one or zero; ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and as humans, we can easily recognize that this is not how nature really is,” explains Mitchell. “As there are numbers between one and zero and sometimes the answer is ‘maybe’.”

Mitchell’s research project deals with something she calls the traveling salesman problem. “In short, the problem consists of many targets that must each be visited in the shortest distance and/or time possible. In a small version of the problem (five to 10 targets) this solution can be fairly simple, however as the number of targets grows, a computer algorithm generally will find a more efficient solution than a human,” she explains. “However, as additional obstacles are made, that one would find in a real world application (physical obstacles, moving targets, etc.), it becomes very complicated and time consuming for a traditional algorithm to compute a solution.”  This is where Mitchell believes fuzzy logic comes in.

Sophia Mitchell

Sophia Mitchell with NASA planetary rovers.

Mitchell’s project is to create a fuzzy algorithm that, through the use of heuristics, is efficient and robust in optimizing a solution with these additional obstacles. “If all goes well, I plan on extending it to a multiple travelling salesman problem. This result would have many applications in areas such as disaster aid, surveillance, and space exploration.”

Mitchell thinks that fuzzy logic has an incredible potential for changing intelligent robotics as we know it, rendering autonomous systems more useful in disaster situations, medical applications, space exploration or even in everyday life. “Already, there exists fuzzy logic in devices such as rice cookers and digital cameras,” she said. “But I believe this logic can do so much more.”

Mitchell is thrilled that, through the NASA/OSGC scholarship, she has been granted the opportunity to continue performing research in this very interesting area. “I hope to publish these results and, as an ACCEND student, I realize this research opportunity is a great means for development toward my Master’s thesis,” Mitchell said. “I find fuzzy logic an interesting challenge, and hope to work in this field as a career.”

Like Mitchell, Alex Walker’s research project also employs fuzzy logic but it differs in that the goal is to develop a robust fuzzy spacecraft attitude control algorithm. “I will develop a controller for a CubeSat whose main mission is to perform an experiment requiring part of the spacecraft to be kept at cryogenic temperatures,” Walker explains. “In order to keep the thermal environment necessary for the mission, the CubeSat, a type of miniaturized satellite, will be required to point its solar panels toward the sun and keep the cold part of its structure pointing away from heat sources such as the sun,” he continues, “I will utilize optimal control techniques to solve the minimum time reorientation and tracking problems for a spacecraft with only magnetic actuation.”

Amanda McGee

Amanda McGee

Walker says that the solution to this problem is complicated by the fact that magnetic actuation depends on the spacecraft’s local magnetic field, which changes strength and direction with latitude, longitude, altitude, and time. “From my experience with solving the minimum time optimal problem, I will use fuzzy logic techniques in an attempt to make the optimal solution more robust to uncertainties in the rigid body dynamics of the spacecraft.”

Walker’s research project is also his MS thesis topic as he participates in the CEAS ACCEND program.

Amanda McGee’s research project “Fuzzy PID Control System for a Pitch Attitude Hold System in a Fighter Jet,” examines the effectiveness of a fuzzy PID control system based pitch attitude hold system for an F-4 fighter jet.

This same problem was addressed by Dr. David E. Bossert and Dr. Cohen in their 2002 paper, PID and Fuzzy Logic Pitch Attitude Hold Systems for a Fighter Jet but, as McGee explains, her approach slightly differs. “Their approach was comparing a PID controller to a conventional fuzzy logic controller, while the approach proposed here is using a hybrid fuzzy PID control approach, which I will be developing uniquely.”

The results from McGee’s method will then be compared to the results published in Dr. Bossert’s and Dr. Cohen’s paper. “The goal is for the fuzzy PID control system to converge rapidly to zero steady-state error without compromising stability and performance for a wide range of flight conditions.”

Dr. Cohen believes that UC’s Aerospace Engineering undergraduate program is very unique state-wide, compared to other academic institutions in Ohio, in that most of the institutions have mechanical and aerospace engineering combined within one program. “As a result, our undergraduate students get a better overview of aerospace specific applications which in turn translates into an interesting set of projects.”

Each of the students is slated to attend and present the findings of their research and educational activity at the Annual Student Research Symposium, held every April at the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. This year’s symposium will be held Friday, April 5, 2013.

“The requirement to present their research work at a state-wide symposium helps develop them further with their communication skills and self-confidence,” Cohen said.  “Additionally, the dollar amount of the award provides an additional meaningful dimension.”

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