• Balamir Sahin

Interview with Derek Paley, Professor at University of Maryland


Balamir: Could you please tell us about yourself? Professor Paley: I am a professor of aerospace engineering and systems research at the University of Maryland and Director of the Maryland Robotics Center.

Balamir: Why did you want to become an aerospace engineer? Professor Paley: Aerospace engineering includes two of my favorites subjects: dynamics and controls.

Balamir: What do you think is the most important thing to consider while designing electrical systems for an aircraft?

Professor Paley: I have no experience in this area.

Balamir: You do some work on cooperative control of autonomous vehicles. How can this create better aircraft design?

Professor Paley: Cooperative control is a broad field that promises to support safe, efficient use of the US National Airspace for both manned and unmanned platforms. Generally, it involves coordinating the motion of multiple aircraft to avoid collisions and optimize trajectories. It has applications in national defense, homeland security, and environmental monitoring.

Balamir: What is a spatiotemporal process in a network?

Professor Paley: This term refers to the environmental-monitoring applications of cooperative control. A spatiotemporal process changes in space and time — like temperature in the ocean or humidity in the atmosphere.

Balamir: How can this be used in systems on aircraft?

Professor Paley: Measurements of spatiotemporal processes can be assimilated onboard aircraft to improve estimation and forecast of the environment, including weather. For example, unmanned aircraft can collect observations within hurricanes and tropical cyclones to improve the forecast of storm intensity, which has applications for emergency response decisions such as evacuation orders.

Balamir: What are some of the bioinspired behaviors that you think will improve aircraft design?

Professor Paley: Bioinspired engineering draws inspiration from natural systems like birds and fish to create to designs for engineered systems that surpass the capabilities of existing systems. For example, a bioinspired robotic bird uses flapping wings rather than a propeller to generate lift and thrust. Bioinspired designs tend to be more energy efficient than traditional engineered designs.

Balamir: What has been your toughest accomplishment so far in your career?

Professor Paley: We have a long record of research in the underwater domain using bioinspired engineered to produce capabilities for unmanned robotics systems capable of fish-like propulsion, sensing, and behavior. For example, we design an artificial lateral line (the hydrodynamic sensing organ in fish) to enable a fish-inspired underwater vehicle to orient upstream, swim in the wake of an obstacle, and navigate around oncoming vortices. Currently, we are building a school of robotic fish.

Balamir: What is a big milestone that you are looking forward to in your research?

Professor Paley: We are currently working with the US Army to investigate the applications of AI and autonomy to multi-agent systems. This research agreement involves dozens of faculty and Army researchers and promises to yield large, multi-disciplinary outcomes including cooperative groups of air and ground vehicles.

Balamir: To high schoolers like me and to younger generations that want to become aerospace engineers, what would be your advice to be successful in this career?

Professor Paley: It’s great to purse your passions and, to be successful in engineering, physics, math, and computer science are essential. Don’t underestimate the importance of writing or creativity, however. Often, the only limitation we face in engineering research is the limit of our own imagination.

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