UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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One Year After 9/11, Jacobs School Faculty Pursue Technologies for the War on Terrorism

Sensors and cameras mounted on the Coronado Bridge transmit images and data to the UCSD campus.

Homeland security has become a new driving force in campus research, and the Jacobs School is playingan important role in UCSD’s collective effort. On Aug.22, the School and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology [Cal-(IT)²] held a joint Homeland Security Workshop. Attendees identified core strengths among faculty and researchers, and set up several teams to integrate their research activities. Then on Sept. 4, 13 UCSD researchers briefed the media on their current projects with security implications—from airport security and blast protection, to wireless sensors and new technologies to detect biological agents.

Interim Dean Frieder Seible is the principal investigator on two high-profile projects. Together with Structural Engineering Professor Gil Hegemier, he is conducting ongoing tests of carbon fiber-based materials that can be overlayed on pillars or walls to mitigate structural damage from an explosion. Separately, Seible led a multi-disciplinary effort that deployed an ad hoc network of dual-use cameras and sensors on Coronado Bridge (pictured above). Surveillance, traffic, seismic and structural data were streamed in realtime to a makeshift control center at UCSD via the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN). Collaborators on the bridge project include HPWREN Director Hans-Werner Braun, Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Frank Vernon, and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Mohan Trivedi. Both projects are ongoing, and Seible is talking with agencies including Caltrans, SPAWAR and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency about funding to accelerate development of the enabling technologies.

Seible’s structural engineering colleague, John Kosmatka, is working on extremely lightweight and strong composites. He is applying that technology to the design of small, agile unmanned aircraft that would patrol areas where it is difficult to deploy the current generation of larger reconnaissance drones.

In a separate project, Trivedi was one of the first researchers in the country to win funding from the new Defense Department counter-terrorism working group. The $170,000 one-year grant will allow Trivedi to develop software to detect and recognize faces in a crowd automatically and in real time. Computer vision is also at the core of two other homeland-security projects recently begun in Trivedi’s Computer Vision and Robotics Research lab. He is deploying distributed interactive video arrays along a four-mile stretch of coastline north of Point Loma. The “intelligent” network of cameras will monitor activity on land and on the water to detect possible threats and pass the alert along to the appropriate authority. Trivedi is also developing a “digital tele-viewer” to allow multiple users to receive streaming customized video on their handheld computers from remote crisis sites. The project is funded by the Center for Commercialization of Advanced Technologies (CCAT), a collaboration of the Jacobs School and other San Diego institutions formed to distribute DoD funds for “crisis consequence” research.

CCAT also recently awarded two other grants to Jacobs School researchers. Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Professor Sergei Krasheninnikov got the green light to prototype a commercial plasma source for lasers used in anti-missile defense and destruction of nuclear waste stockpiles. And MAE researcher Nate Delson is developing low-cost legged robots for use in search and rescue operations, inspection of biological hazards, and military surveillance. ECE professor and Cal-(IT)² Division Director Ramesh Rao is leading an effort to design an advanced disaster communications infrastructure to ensure rapid and unimpaired response in a crisis. And Bioengineering Professor Sangeeta Bhatia is working with researchers in the chemistry department on socalled “smart dust”—microscopic chips that can be coded to detect chemical or biological hazards while floating in the air or water. For more information about these and other research projects visit http://homelandsecurity.ucsd.edu.