If Indiana is like an IndyCar — racing against other states to transform big ideas into thriving businesses, attract new investment and accelerate growth in transformational industries such as artificial intelligence and automation — its flagship public university might be seen as a highly trained pit crew, engaging its vast educational resources and experience to put the Hoosier state in the leader’s circle.
Late last month, Indiana University helped fuel the success of the Indy Autonomous Challenge, the world’s first autonomous race car competition, held at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IU was among the sponsors of the inaugural event, which featured teams made up of students from 21 universities and from nine different countries competing to win a $1 million grand prize.
Numerous prominent Hoosier government and business officials were on hand for the IAC, including Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, U.S. Sen. Todd Young and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. They were joined by more than 400 high school students from across the state, who heard Holcomb officially kick off the competition with the call ‘Ladies and gentlemen … start your software and crank your engines!”
The event brought together global thought leaders and experts from business, education and government to discuss new technologies designed to advance the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and deployment of advanced driver-assistance systems. These enhancements are expected to lead to increased safety and performance in motorsports as well as all modes of commercial transportation. The event also underscored the importance of enhancing education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math as central to Indiana’s strategy to build the next generation of innovators and technologists.
IU was the main sponsor of a pre-race meeting of 45 STEM instructors from across Indiana brought together by Innovate WithIN. A program developed by the STARTedUP Foundation, Innovate WithIN is the most elite high school pitch competition in the country, giving high schoolers from every region of the Hoosier state a chance to pitch their entrepreneurial idea for a chance at $25,000 and the opportunity to collaborate with world-class innovators. At the meeting, Natalie Edwards, director of undergraduate recruitment at IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, addressed the teachers, sharing with them learning opportunities from IU that the instructors could take back to their respective classrooms.
The scene of self-driving cars cruising around the Speedway brought to mind the world-class research that is coming out of the Transportation and Autonomous Systems Institute at IUPUI, which is also the only college campus to offer a bachelor’s degree in motorsports engineering.
Founded in 2006, at a time when many people still viewed driverless cars as an idea out of a sci-fi movie, TASI continues to provide valuable insights into the development, performance, regulation, safety and societal impacts of autonomous vehicles and intelligent transportation systems through its partnerships and collaborations with universities, businesses, government agencies and other organizations. Just last year, Toyota and IUPUI issued the first license to commercialize standardized safety testing systems for the development and validation of automotive automatic emergency braking systems. The testing technology was developed and patented through a partnership between TASI and the Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center.
The event was also held just a few months after the celebrated launch of a free autonomous shuttle service that is serving the IUPUI and downtown Indianapolis communities in a pilot phase through Nov. 19.
Finally, the event underscored how much IU has been revving up its educational programming and engagement efforts in the areas of AI and machine learning.
In June, IU dedicated the $35 million Luddy Center for Artificial Intelligence, a 58,000-square-foot facility that will serve as the hub for multidisciplinary research at the university in advanced AI and machine-learning applications. The center, which has begun welcoming IU faculty and staff this fall, will house programs in, among other areas, robotics, complex networks, health and social media. It will draw upon the strength of researchers at the Luddy School, as well as collaborators from IU’s extensive range of health and life science schools, departments and programs.
The Vehicle Autonomy and Intelligence Lab, established in 2018, is affiliated with the Luddy School’s recently launched Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering. VAIL focuses on developing methodologies that enhance the autonomy and intelligence of robotic systems such as unmanned ground, aerial and aquatic vehicles.
This past spring, IU and Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, were awarded $1.7 million to collaborate on artificial intelligence programming for rural middle school students. NSWC Crane is teaming up with the Luddy School and the School of Education at IU Bloomington to pilot the program, titled AI Goes Rural: Middle School Artificial Intelligence Education. The program, which will focus on how AI is involved in students’ lives and the ethics surrounding AI. As such, it reflects the mission of the Department of Defense’s STEM Strategic Plan, which calls for increasing participation of underserved groups in STEM activities and education programs.
In July, IU announced that the same two schools were joining two new AI research institutes that are funded with $40 million in National Science Foundation grants and are working on AI-based technologies that are helping to improve people’s lives.
In August, the NSF awarded IU a new grant to help the university train the next generation of AI and cybersecurity professionals. The award supplements a previous $2.25 million NSF grant last year that established IU as a participating institution in CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service. The national program trains information technology professionals and security managers to meet rapidly growing cybersecurity needs of federal, state, local and tribal governments. The first group of IU’s Scholarship for Service scholars began their studies at the Luddy School this fall.
And AI research at IU was prominently featured during the recently held Indiana AI Week. The event brought together researchers from IU and other higher education institutions, government agencies and industry to share ideas and discoveries around such issues as workforce development, national AI priorities, ethics, machine learning, implementation strategies and monitoring AI algorithms in healthcare.
Of course, far too much is happening — and happening rapidly — in the the world of AI and automation for IU to take a victory lap. But it’s fair to say the university is on the right track in helping the Hoosier state navigate and seize future economic opportunities in these two dynamic areas.