Jonah Siekmann and Yesh GodseA research paper on robotics authored by computer science researchers at Oregon State University was recently named one of the top four out of more than 2,000 accepted submissions at a prestigious conference.

Students Jonah Siekmann and Yesh Godse presented their research findings at the 2021 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. In their paper, “Sim-to-Real Learning of All Common Bipedal Gaits via Periodic Reward Composition,” they report on their work using simulations to teach two-legged robots how to run, skip, and hop.

The paper is co-authored with Alan Fern, professor and associate head of research in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Jonathan Hurst, professor of mechanical engineering and robotics.

Traditionally, researchers have tried to train bipedal robots to move by first creating a “reference trajectory,” which tells the robot at each moment where its joints and velocities should be. This approach, however, doesn’t work particularly well since it is difficult to figure out the reference trajectories, and it doesn’t take into account the uneven surfaces the robot needs to deal with.

Instead, the researchers’ new approach trains the robot in simulation, and rewards the robot when it is accomplishing the goal, and gives negative rewards when it is not.

“We use an approach that simply specifies constraints on the foot forces and velocities which allows us to specify the different types of gaits and smoothly move between them,” Fern said. “This worked much better than we ever expected.”

Siekmann, a master’s degree student in robotics who earned an honors bachelor’s degree in computer science from Oregon State in 2020, provided some additional insights.

“We were trying to train a neural network to learn various bipedal behaviors from scratch without any kind of motion capture or reference to what those behaviors looked like,” Siekmann explained. “To do this, we used deep reinforcement learning that allows a neural network to maximize a reward function.”

Added Godse, “It turned out that there was a simple mathematical framework for describing the full spectrum of all bipedal gaits and their corresponding reward/cost functions.”

Godse graduated in just three years with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Oregon State in spring 2021 and began working on robotics research as a freshman.

Both Siekmann and Godse are now working as controls engineers at Agility Robotics, the company co-founded by Hurst that develops the robots used in Oregon State’s Dynamic Robotics Lab.

Victor AgostinelliVictor Agostinelli, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University, has been selected for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory – Oregon State University Distinguished Graduate Research Program.

The goal of the program is to “strengthen and grow research collaborations and develop a select cohort of doctoral students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.” Only 20 students whose research aligns with the U.S. Department of Energy’s mission are chosen for the program each year.

Agostinelli, who is advised by Lizhong Chen, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering, works on research to optimize and automate the placement of machine learning accelerators on integrated circuits. Agostinelli’s research specifically focuses on optimizing the selection of dataflows.

“The multi-year funding allows Victor to pursue his passion in exploring the application of machine learning in computer architecture,” said Chen. “I look forward to the collaborative research that will strengthen the relationship between OSU and PNNL.”

Through the program, Agostinelli will be appointed to an assistantship at Oregon State University for two years and will then continue his research on a fellowship at PNNL for the next two years. There, he will work with a PNNL mentor while continuing to be advised by Chen.

Agostinelli, a native of Portland, Ore., earned a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University, where he participated in research on robotic swarms in Professor Julie A. Adams’ Human-Machine Teaming Lab.

“Truly, the chance to collaborate with researchers at PNNL is priceless,” Agostinelli said. “I am incredibly excited to explore the bleeding edge of accelerator design and design optimization and automation.”

Eduardo Cotilla-SanchezEduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, received the LatinX Champion of Champions award at a conference that celebrates and promotes the accomplishments of Black LGBTQ people in STEM fields.

The Black Queer Town Hall in STEM, organized in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Iowa, aims to foster community and make STEM more equitable. As the LatinX Champion of Champions awardee, Cotilla-Sanchez was invited to give a talk about his research to improve energy access in remote communities.

Cotilla-Sanchez’s research includes developing ways to use microgrids that can keep electricity running during emergencies such as storms or earthquakes. Currently, a focus of energy infrastructure investments is improving power systems resilience in urban areas, and rural communities are likely the last to have power restored. By building smaller microgrid systems in rural areas, those communities would not be reliant on the main energy grid during emergencies.

“This is essentially an environmental justice problem,” Cotilla-Sanchez said. “Everyone needs to have access to clean energy resources.” Toward this goal, he is also working on integrating marine energy into power grids as an alternative energy source for rural communities.

Because Cotilla-Sanchez works to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion in his research, he was excited to engage with other researchers at the Black Queer Town Hall doing the same. “It was intriguing to see how people are solving research problems while working toward equity for all in STEM,” he said.

In April 2016, Oregon State University engineering doctoral students Dylan Jones and Seth McCammon deploy a Seabotix remotely operated vehicle to perform an autonomous underwater survey at the North Energy Test Site off the coast of Newport, OR.
In April 2016, Oregon State University engineering doctoral students Dylan Jones and Seth McCammon deploy a Seabotix remotely operated vehicle to perform an autonomous underwater survey at the North Energy Test Site off the coast of Newport, OR.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office recently announced support of up to $22 million for 10 marine energy research projects, including three represented by researchers from Oregon State University’s College of Engineering. (The award amounts for each project are under negotiation.) 

“For industry to move toward commercialization, we need to utilize all of our available resources,” said  Daniel R. Simmons, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, in a Dec. 22 article on the DOE website. “With this funding opportunity, we addressed several critical gaps in the marine energy industry to advance early-stage R&D and build testing infrastructure, as well as foster collaboration among non-federal research entities.”

One of the proposed projects, led by Oregon State, will consider the co-design of marine energy converters for autonomous underwater vehicle docking and recharging. Two partner institutions, the University of Washington and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, will play supporting roles. 

“No one has been able to design a system to reliably dock an autonomous underwater vehicle with a marine energy converter in energetic ocean conditions,” said Geoff Hollinger, associate professor of mechanical engineering and robotics and Oregon State’s principal investigator for the energy converter project. “We would be the first to do that. It would open up a huge new market for inspection, monitoring, and repairs in marine energy systems without relying on expensive ship support.”

Testing will be conducted in the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Lab at Oregon State.

In a second project, researchers will test models for integrating marine energy into microgrids. Oregon State will support the work, which will be led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Microgrids are local energy grids that can be connected to the main energy grid or operated independently.

“Over the past few years, there’s been agreement on what are good models for wind generation and other renewable energy sources, but models for marine hydrokinetic converters need further validation and benchmarking,” said Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and Oregon State’s principal investigator for the microgrid project. “I’m most excited about bringing together the marine microgrid environment and the expertise of on-shore power engineers to leverage their historical knowledge of how to run power systems efficiently and safely, while advancing new forms of clean energy that the ocean provides.”

For the third project involving the College of Engineering, researchers will pursue the development of modeling methods that facilitate the design of wave energy converters. The venture will be led by the University of Washington and supported by Oregon State and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Members of the Energy Systems Group inspect microgrid electrical equipment in at the Wallace Energy Systems & Renewables facility at Oregon State, February 2019. From left: College of Engineering graduate Marissa Kwon; Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez; Yue Cao, assistant professor of electrical & computer engineering; Ted Brekken; and doctoral student Ali Haider.

Wave energy converters transform the kinetic and potential energy of ocean waves into mechanical or electrical energy.

“Our objective is to develop models for wave energy converters that bring electrical, hydrodynamic, and mechanical domains under one framework and that lead to improved simulation speed, flexibility, and design,” said Ted Brekken, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State and one of the researchers representing the team focused on the model’s electrical components.

Bryson Robertson, associate professor of coastal and ocean engineering at Oregon State and principal investigator for the wave energy modeling project, offered a broader context about the potential impact of all three endeavors: “The work will help to fill fundamental gaps in our knowledge of marine energy sources and to overcome barriers to the development of emerging technologies,” he said. “Ultimately we hope it leads to reduced costs and improved performance of renewable marine energy.” The projects will also offer cross-disciplinary research experiences for College of Engineering students.

— By Steve Frandzel

In a momentous win, 15 Oregon State University undergraduate students took the top spots in Oregon in the prestigious International Collegiate Programming Contest’s Pacific Northwest regional competition.

Shaurya Gaur, a computer science student and president of the OSU student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, helped organize the group’s participation in the contest.

“I competed last year and I loved working with others to solve these fun problems. Ever since, I’ve enjoyed competitive programming, and I wanted to keep doing it with my friends,” he said.

Computer science major Teresita Guzman Nader joined the competition hoping to build skills that might be valuable in a future career, and was pleased with the outcome.

“I improved my skills to work in a team of engineers, and I think this experience will help me to be a better team player in my future work environment,” she said.

While students enjoyed having the opportunity to compete, they wanted to hone their programming skills as well. “I set a goal to learn and practice new algorithms last year and there was no better way to achieve it than with the ACM club at the competition,” said computer science student and club vice president Matt Morgan.

RESULTS

ICPC Oregon Division 1

  • First place: Beavs’; DROP TABLE Teams; (Shaurya Gaur, Matt Morgan, Miklos Bowling)
  • Second place: Hacky Stack (Allen Benjamin, Arshia Soleimanimoorchehkhorti, Zachary Taylor)

ICPC Oregon Division 2

  • First place: Time Limit Exceeded (Wei Yu Tang, Jia Wei Cheng, Blake Cecil)
  • Second place: chmod 555 (Derek Williams, Teresita Guzman Nader, Milan Donhowe)
  • Third place: rm -f * (Sadie Thomas, Myles Scholz, Phillip Bindeman)
Photo of Yue Cao

Yue Cao, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering, will play a significant role in a new $1.5M U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E award on LOCOMOTIVES – Lowering CO2: Models to Optimize Train Infrastructure, Vehicles, and Energy Storage. Cao will help develop electric propulsion and grid/charging infrastructure models. The project will deliver an open-source tool for futuristic (20-30 years) railroad planning that involves electrified locomotives operating from multi-physics energy storage. This is a collaborative effort with North Carolina State University.

Photo of Robin GargJust one of 23 students selected from across the world, Robin Garg, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University, was recently selected to receive a prestigious 2020-21 Predoctoral Achievement Award from the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society. This award is based on academic record, promise, and quality of publications.

Garg’s work in the High-Speed Integrated Circuits Lab at Oregon State focuses on building advanced integrated circuits for millimeter-wave wireless communication links. His research on scalable and reconfigurable multiple-input multiple-output arrays speeds up wireless communications by enabling multiple streams of data between users. As more 5G networks are deployed and devices that take advantage of this technology become ubiquitous, this research provides solutions to handle the resulting massive surge in demand for data.

Garg received his B.Tech. degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and then worked in industry before returning to school to work on cutting-edge research. “I am passionate about solving the challenging problems that make an impact,” Garg explained. “Recently, we designed a new millimeter-wave full-duplex IC that will allow more users to access 5G networks, as well as reduce the cost of deploying the technology.”

Garg’s advisor, Arun Natarajan, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering, finds Garg’s work impressive. “Robin has developed innovative techniques that make it easier to increase wireless link data rates that coexist with other radios operating at the same frequency while lowering power consumption,” Natarajan said.

The Solid-State Circuits Society is not the only one noticing Garg’s work. In 2020, he was recognized with the Outstanding Student Designer Award from Analog Devices. He also brought home the student paper award (2nd place) at the IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuits Symposium in 2020. “It is encouraging to see the wider community recognize Robin’s research, and I look forward to his future contributions in this area,” Natarajan said.

photo of Mike JohnnieRecently named director of engineering for the Moog Aircraft Group, Mike Johnnie (’82 B.S., Electrical Engineering) has been flying high in the aerospace industry since he graduated from Oregon State University.

The Moog Aircraft Group primarily develops and supports flight control systems which are integrated into a wide range of commercial and military aircraft.

This involves building the systems that control the actuation of the aircraft — the machinery or systems that control how an aircraft flies. If you have flown in an airplane, you’ve probably observed that there are parts of the wing that move during takeoff and landing; the actuators are the hydraulics or electrical machinery that move these parts. Moog builds the electronics and software that control these actuators as well as the actuators themselves.

At Moog, Johnnie has a busy schedule managing a staff of 500, but still finds time to help his alma mater. He serves as a member of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science’s industrial advisory board and is especially interested in increasing experiential learning opportunities for students.

“It’s vitally important that students get an idea of what their job as an engineer is going to look like,” Johnnie said. “Every chance we have to give students the opportunity to learn what it is that their boss will need from them and what the skillsets that they’re learning at Oregon State are going to be used for will make it much better for all involved.”

He notes that new engineers are going to be expected to stand on their own to a certain degree and to be self-motivated. Internships or other experiences will help give graduates the confidence and skills they need to meet these expectations.

Johnnie and his wife, Carol, who live in Southern California, have also been helping the OSU Alumni Association by hosting OSU new student sendoffs. The sendoffs allow new students from the area to get together before they leave home, and to meet others who are headed to Oregon State.

Johnnie can empathize. “I know when I moved to Corvallis, having come from Portland, I only knew a couple of people at Oregon State,” he said.

But once on campus, Johnnie thrived. “What I remember most is spending time working on homework and hanging out with my friends, experiencing life at Oregon State,” he said.

Johnnie’s life-changing decision to pursue a degree in engineering has truly helped him reach new heights. “I look back and reflect on how I ended up where I am today, and the vast majority of it comes from the education I received at Oregon State,” he said.

Kai Zeng, a computer science graduate student in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, brought home first place in the Lucid Programming Competition. Zeng competed among 260 participants from across the western United States in the hackathon. The outer space-themed challenge required contestants to solve 12 mathematic and algorithm problems such as Six Degrees of Neil Armstrong and Antimatter Annihilation.

Although he hadn’t done any algorithmic problem solving for a while, Zeng decided to enter the contest just to brush up on those skills. “I think algorithm skills should be exercised regularly,” he said. “I plan to participate in more programming competitions in the future to continue to improve my thinking and coding abilities.”

Zeng is a master’s degree student with a research focus on distributed systems and machine learning, advised by Associate Professor Lizhong Chen.

“Zeng’s excellent programming skills have helped his research significantly,” said Chen.

Photo of Jacob Cook.

Jacob Cook is the definition of an overachiever. This spring he had the rare distinction of graduating with not one but two honors bachelor’s degrees from the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, in bioengineering and electrical and computer engineering, as well as a minor in computer science.

“Successful completion of a dual degree requires unparalleled dedication and discipline to meet requirements for both programs,” said Matthew Johnston, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Cook’s achievements were recognized with the Burgess/Tektronix Award, given each year by the College of Engineering to a senior who has demonstrated exceptional participation in activities beyond academic performance. 

In addition to excelling in two challenging academic programs, Cook also completed a MECOP internship, participated in research for two different labs, served as both an undergraduate learning assistant and a resident assistant, and was an active community member.

“Jacob’s dedication and productive contributions to multiple hands-on research programs is remarkable, and it speaks to his future potential for contributions to the industry,” Johnston said.

Although he put in a huge amount of work on his own, Cook says he was lucky to have had tremendous support from his family. 

“Both my parents are computer engineers who taught me great perseverance and an intense work ethic,” he said. “They raised me to do my best and encouraged me to go to college. Likewise, my grandfather was a businessman who taught me the importance of leadership and interpersonal skills for success. I cannot imagine where I would be without my family, and I wouldn’t have received this award without their help.”

The Burgess/Tektronix Award was initiated in 1990 to honor Fred Burgess, past dean of the College of Engineering. Cook received a plaque and a check for $500 and will be recognized at the fall College of Engineering Celebrate Excellence event in the fall.