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New UIUC center to develop autonomous construction systems, ecosystem


Newswise — The University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering will be the site of a new research and development center dedicated to autonomous construction technologies, with funding from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

With a fleet of self-driving vehicles, the center will focus on some of the most pressing questions related to autonomous construction technologies, including ones related to control systems, expert systems, artificial intelligence, gap crossing and demolition; system architecture; and manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing. Numerous vehicle types will be tested and developed, including traditional wheeled vehicles, skid-steers and tracked vehicles.

The mission of the new Center for Autonomous Construction in Manufacturing at Scale (CACMS) will focus on translational research — turning emerging technologies and basic research efforts into real-world solutions that will be of value to the US Army and the State of Illinois. CACMS will serve as a partnership resource for the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center (USACE ERDC), enabling targeted interdisciplinary research using congressionally directed funding through Senator Dick Durbin’s office.

“This new center will provide leadership in translational research related to autonomous construction systems; support the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems, programs and expertise; provide a community hub for emerging technologies; and help strengthen Illinois’ reputation as a technologically advanced and high-tech hub within the US,” says Professor William R. Norris, the center’s founding director.

Efforts to establish CACMS were supported at UIUC by the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering (ISE), Grainger Engineering, a Strategic Research Initiative grant and the Discovery Partners Institute. The center will align its work with new research directions; provide training, conferences and workshops; and promote partnerships among academia, industry and government.

Norris is a distinguished UIUC alumnus (B.S. ’96, M.S. ’97 and Ph.D. ’01) and has many years of relevant engineering experience with John Deere and other companies, as well as an MBA from Duke University. The new center is a spin-off of his well-known UIUC Autonomous and Unmanned Vehicle Systems Lab (AUVSL), which has received over $5.5M in external funding since 2018. Key projects completed by AUVSL have included ones on expert systems in construction, autonomous construction systems, a robot-augmented mobility wheelchair device and an architecture for autonomous additive manufacturing with concrete.

CACMS is designed to be self-funded after its third year. Initially, it will be funded with $2.45M from ERDC, with the potential for an additional $1.8M later in 2023 and $3.75M in 2024. The first round of research projects will be supervised by a team of subject matter experts from the Grainger College of Engineering and Texas A&M University.

The center will be a pipeline for real-world solutions to challenging technical problems within the academic, business and government domains, and will contribute to maintaining US technical expertise in robotics and autonomous systems. CACMS is expected to establish UIUC and the State of Illinois as a go-to hub of innovation and translation in the autonomous construction area. The center comes on the heels of UIUC and ERDC’s signing of a new Educational Partnership Agreement (EPA) and a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). The EPA between UIUC and ERDC will encourage and enhance study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

fields, such as materials science and engineering, computer and data science, digital twinning, physics, robotics, supply chain logistics, and sustainability and resilience. The CRADA will enable closer collaboration in research efforts of interest to the military.

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