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Alabama A&M AI lab gets boost from Army

HUNTSVILLE — The College of Engineering, Technology and Physical Sciences at Alabama A&M University has received another financial boost of confidence in its two-year-old Laboratory for Deep Learning from the Army Research Office.

Dr. Kaveh Heidary and Dr. R. Barry Johnson set up the Laboratory for Deep Learning in 2020 to enhance the engineering college’s capabilities in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The equipment made possible by an additional ARO award of $384,605 will enable students and researchers to keep cranking out new insights.

A prior ARO award of more than $100,000 was used to purchase a hyperspectral camera that covered the visible spectrum and was the initial equipment in the LDL. Keeping up to par entailed building up pseudo-visual perception capabilities and readying a lab to delve super-deep into the intricacies of how humans gain and use knowledge from imagery.

A year later, ARO awarded the duo’s lab $206,782 to purchase a much-needed high-performance data processing and computing platform and a special hyperspectral camera capable of taking pictures in 165 color bands at the same time.

“This one-of-a-kind laboratory will enable faculty to develop new education and research programs in imaging, autonomy, data science, and deep learning,” said Dr. Heidary.

The clincher, though, is the lab’s increasing ability to attract and educate students in programs of “strategic importance to our nation’s economic and technological advantage and military preparedness.”

Equipment is being purchased to provide the capability for faculty and students to design and fabricate Field Programmable Gate Array devices that enable the development of custom logic for rapid prototyping.

FPGAs are perfectly suited for today’s rapidly growing applications, such as custom computing, artificial intelligence, system security, 5G, factory automation, and robotics.  This year, the lab received its second ARO award, and Dr. Raziq Yaqub joined the team.

Now, those needed visual perception capabilities, which AI and machine learning often sorely depend on, have been brought to fruition.

A suite of high-performance, high-definition cameras covering the ultraviolet to the long-wave infrared have been purchased, along with gimbals and an industrial-grade drone to transport them.

Heidary and his team realized early on that AI and machine learning research was postured for growing importance in such areas as health care, automobile manufacturing, agriculture, spacecraft systems, border control, and national security. Having quality imagery from the UV to the LWIR often is necessary to implement AI and ML in products and systems.

Creating such imagery is a goal of the Laboratory for Deep Learning, and the investment of more than $700,000 by the Army Research Office has, in part, made the LDL a reality.

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