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CSOIS: center for self-organizing intelligent systems
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summary and history 

Definition

The Center for Self-Organizing and Intelligent Systems (CSOIS) is a multi-disciplinary research group at Utah State University (USU) that focuses on the design, development, and implementation of intelligent, autonomous mechatronic systems, with a recent focus on ground vehicles and robotics. CSOIS research advances the state-of-the-art in the theory, development, and application of systems that need advanced automation, autonomous operation or behavior, and intelligent decision-making and learning to achieve their objectives.

CSOIS, though housed in USU's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), is a horizontally-integrated organization, with researchers in electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. It also has a vertically-integrated staff of faculty, postdoctoral researchers, full-time engineers, graduate students, and undergraduates. Staffing in CSOIS has varied between ten and forty people between 1998 and 2002, depending on funding. CSOIS has sponsored three spin-off companies.

Capabilities and Expertise

At CSOIS, we make real systems that work! CSOIS core capabilities and expertise include:
Control System Engineering
     - Advanced Control Theory and Algorithms
     - Intelligent Control (architectures and learning)
     - Actuators and Sensors
     - Hardware and Software Implementation
Intelligent Planning and Optimization
Multi-Agent Cooperation
Real-Time Programming and Computing
Electronics Design and Implementation
Mechanical Engineering Design and Implementation
System Integration

History

The Center for Self-Organizing and Intelligent Systems (CSOIS) was officially organized in 1992 with funding from the State of Utah's Center of Excellence Program. However, the roots of CSOIS were planted a few years earlier through a series of funded projects carried out by founding Director Bob Gunderson and his graduate students in the ECE department. From these early beginnings CSOIS grew to where it is today. In the sequel we detail the history of CSOIS:

1990 Initial activities/COEP proposals

Beginning in approximately 1990 Dr. Gunderson was able to secure a number of projects from local industry and other sources. These projects were connected by the common thread of "intelligent control," particularly in the areas of neural networks and Dr. Gunderson's expertise in optimal control and his scholarly contributions in the area of fuzzy clustering.

Spring-boarding off his success with funded projects in the area of intelligent control, Dr. Gunderson fielded several proposals to the State of Utah for funding under the Center of Excellence Program.

1992 COEP funding began

In 1992 Dr. Gunderson was successful in getting a Center of Excellence (COE) and CSOIS was officially "born." Using COE funding, CSOIS was able begin building an infrastructure of personnel and expertise and, as a result, was able to get more projects funded from a variety of sources.

One particular source of CSOIS activities soon after its formation was cooperation with the Utah Manufacturing Extension Program (UMEP). UMEP is a part of the NIST MEP, a program to assist manufacturers with technology. CSOIS staff carried out a number of UMEP projects over the next several years.

1994 VPI Spin-off

One graduate student project carried out in CSOIS dealt with tele-presence over the Internet. This student, George Powell, went on to form a company, Visionary Products, Inc. or VPI for short. VPI's partnered with the Lego Company and The Planetary Society to develop their first product, a robotic kit called Red Rover, Red Rover, targeted as an educational product for middle schools and using Powell's internet tele-presence ideas. VPI continues today as a successful engineering services firm.

1996 INEEL activities

Several CSOIS projects had involved robotics, including a project with JPL and the VPI product. In 1996 CSOIS received a grant from the Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory (INEEL) to develop a robotic system for autonomous inspections of hazardous waste facilities at remote locations. This began CSOIS's activities in the area of mobile robots. A key component of the robot development was the invention of the "Smart Wheel." Aside from some agricultural automation projects, all subsequent CSOIS robotic development centered on the ODV smart wheel concept.

The "Smart Wheel" concept is wheel mechanism that has independent drive and steering degrees of freedom. Further, the steering degree-of-freedom has the capability of infinite rotation. When multiple smart wheels are combined on a chassis, the result is a novel robotic platform that we call the USU Omni-Directional Vehicle (ODV). Because the speed and direction of each smart wheel can be independently controlled through dedicated processors for each wheel, the ODV has the ability to achieve complete control of the vehicle's orientation and motion in a plane - a "hovercraft on wheels."

In addition to developing several robots for INEEL based on the smart wheel concept, CSOIS also had several INEEL projects in the area of automated, or precision agriculture. These projects involved automating "off-the-shelf" all-terrain vehicles so they could be tasked autonomously, under computed-control.

1998 TACOM begins

In 1998 CSOIS began a major project with the US Army Tank-Automotive Command (TACOM). Beginning under the leadership of Bob Gunderson and continuing, after Dr. Gunderson's retirement in 1999, under new CSOIS Director Kevin Moore, the TACOM project resulted in the development of six robots in four and a half years, including ODIS, a physical security robot for performing under-vehicle inspections at security checkpoints.

As an outgrowth of the TACOM project, a second spin-off company, Kechamak Research and Development (KRD) was formed. KRD is a management company currently located in Homer, Alaska.

Almost concurrently with the TACOM project, in late 1998 CSOIS also began a series of projects developing autonomous tractors for the John Deere Company.

Over the next two years, CSOIS had as many as forty employees, working on as many as eight different projects at once.

1999 Last year of COEP funding

1999 marked the last year that CSOIS received funding from the Center of Excellence program, becoming a fully-graduated center.

During this year CSOIS also collaborated with VPI on a DOD SBIR project to explore a novel robot concept called the MANTIS. This project reunited the CSOIS team with Bob Gunderson, who directed the project at VPI.

2000 ASI Spin-off (JD ends)

After three different contracts and work on automating two different tractors, with a final focus on an autonomous orchard spraying application, the John Deere technology was ready for commercialization. A third spin-off company, Autonomous Solutions, Inc., was formed for this purpose. About ten CSOIS employees joined the company under the direction Mel Torrie, who had received his MS degree a few years earlier, working on one of the INEEL projects under Bob Gunderson's direction. Today ASI has over twenty employees and several million dollars/year in contracts from a variety of customers.

CSOIS Research Projects

Since 1992, CSOIS researchers have carried out approximately:
15 automation and control projects
15 robotics/autonomous vehicle projects

with funding from both private industry and government. CSOIS project experience has spaned a wide variety of application areas, as revealed by the following list of projects carried out between 1990 and 1998:
Intelligent Irrigation Systems (Campbell Scientific Inc.)
Exercise Machines (Icon Inc.)
Automated Wheelchairs (Marriner S. Eccles Foundation)
Red Rover Educational Product (Visionary Products Inc.)
NN Coin Recognition Device (Monetary Systems)
Secondary Water Meter (Design Analysis Associates)
Icing Sensor (Pending)
Internet Telepresence Control
Weather Modification Sensor
Potato Harvester Yield Monitor
Flat Panel Multi-Agent Interface Software (Driver Tech Inc.)
Computer-Controlled Autonomous Wheeled Platforms for Hazardous Environment Applications (INEEL/DOE)
Computer-Controlled Advanced Farm Systems (INEEL/DOE)

In addition to the vehicle automation development mentioned below, CSOIS efforts have been initiated in:
Foundry Control Project (Moore, funded by DOE)
Hopping Robot Project (Berkemeier, funded by JPL/NASA)
Packing Optimization Project (Flann, funded INEEL)
Automated Orchard Spraying Project (Moore/Flann, private funding)
Vehicle Safety Project (Moore/Flann, funded by TACOM)
Welding Control Project (Moore, funded internally)
MANTIS Shape-shifting robot (funded by VPI through a DARPA SBIR)
WATV robot (CSOIS internally funded)
Radar sensor project (private funding)
Large tractor automation project (private funding)
USUSAT (CSOIS internal funding of one student)

Vehicle Automation at CSOIS

In recent years CSOIS expertise has developed in the area of vehicle automation. Activities have included both innovative robotics vehicle designs as well as retrofit projects:
Rover Ballast Tail
Marshod Rover Telepresence Control
JPL Rocky Rover Fuzzy-Logic Navigation
Red Rover (Lego product - CSOIS design and spin-off)
Arc II Mini-Rover (CSOIS design)
Arc III (CSOIS design)
Triton Predator
Yamaha Grizzly
Tractor Automation Projects: 8200, 5510
Seed Projects: WATV (Chaos) Robot, MANTIS Robot
TARDEC T3 (CSOIS design)
TARDEC: T1, T2, T3, ODIS-I, ODIS-T, ODIS-S, T4