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NSF Computer Science Funding Addresses Robots, Big Data

Supercomputer (kosheahan/Flickr)National Science Foundation today unveiled $40 million in funding for this year’s Expeditions in Computing awards. The four sets of five-year grants, each set totaling $10 million, go one or more universities studying robotics, exploding volumes of data, and computer-assisted programming.

Two sets of awards deal with robotics. One team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University will investigate an accelerated process to design and fabricate 3-D robotics in a matter of hours, a process that can now take years. The project aims to  automate the process, from simple sketches to producing a working device. This research anticipates a future desktop technology that prints actual programmable hybrid electro-mechanical systems, leading to potential transformations in advanced manufacturing.

A second group of institutions focuses on socially assistive robots, led by Yale University and including MIT, University of Southern California, and Stanford University. This project aims to develop computational techniques that enable the design, implementation, and evaluation of robots, which encourage social, emotional, and cognitive growth in children. The researchers expect to study the use of robotics to provide individualized attention to children with social and cognitive deficits, whose numbers have quadrupled in the U.S. in the last decade. Another issue addressed is the need  to provide language instruction for children raised in homes where a language other than English is spoken, the fastest-growing segment of the school-age population.

A third project conducted at University of California at Berkeley, the only award to a single institution, will investigate tools to make better sense of the volume, diversity and complexity of data being generated by computers, sensors and scientific instruments. This investigation — called Making Sense at Scale with Algorithms, Machines and People — addresses what has become known as the big data problem. The researchers seek to create a new data analytics paradigm that can help to uncover the keys to solving huge societal problems, from improving productivity and efficiency and creating new economic opportunities, to unlocking discoveries in medicine, science and the humanities.

A separate project, led by University of Pennsylvania, focuses on a problem faced daily by computer scientists, namely the tedious, error-prone, purely manual task of developing computer software. The Expeditions in Computer Augmented Program Engineering or ExCAPE project includes collaborators at Cornell, MIT, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley, and Rice University. The researchers expect to bring together expertise in theoretical foundations, design methodology, and applications to conduct research focused on developing an environment where a programmer and an “automated program synthesis tool” collaborate to generate software that meets customer specifications.

NSF says the agency made its first Expeditions in Computing awards in 2008, with 14 projects now underway covering foundational research in computing hardware, software, and verification to research in sustainable energy, health information technology, robotics, and wireless computing.

Read more: NSF, Industry Consortium Fund Advanced Chip Research

Photo: kosheahan/Flickr

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