Skip to: Main Content Search Navigation Secondary Navigation

Celebrating 75 years of vision: Wouter Pelgrum reflects

Pete Shooner and Colleen Carow | May 4, 2010

Celebrating 75 years of vision: Wouter Pelgrum reflects

Pete Shooner and Colleen Carow | May 4, 2010

This is the sixth in a series of Russ College faculty profiles, in celebration of the Russ College's 75th anniversary (1935-2010).

Although Wouter Pelgrum is fairly new to the Russ College, he knows this is where he belongs.

“I enjoy being among motivated, enthusiastic people, and what better place to find that than at a university?” says Pelgrum, who moved from the Netherlands to Athens to teach at Ohio University.

Pelgrum joined the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in early 2009. He says that while all Russ College students are exceptional, the diversity and level of excitement he sees in his graduate students is especially impressive.

“A common denominator of our graduate students is their interest and motivation for research and engineering, and it is my pleasure to guide them on that path,” he says.

Pelgrum’s colleagues say his enthusiasm for research and teaching is contagious.

 “He spends many hours guiding his students to give them the foundation to excel in their careers,” says Frank van Graas, Russ Professor of electrical engineering. “He’s always looking for new and meaningful ways to explain complicated concepts to his students. He rarely settles for good enough.”

Derek Fulk, a junior electrical engineering major, met Pelgrum when learning to monitor electrical draw and voltages for a research mission aboard the Avionics Engineering Center’s DC-3 aircraft. 

“Dr. Pelgrum sat me down, and in one sitting, taught me some basics of aircraft electrical systems. He had such great enthusiasm and knowledge toward the subject that at that point, I was hoping to have the opportunity to have him as a professor in the future,” Fulk said. Pelgrum is now advising Fulk as they develop the electrical system of an autonomous snowplow robot.

Senior computer engineering major Seth Nickolas is being led by Pelgrum on a senior design project to create an in-ear monitor that synchronizes its sound with the main speakers, to avoid delay.

He says Pelgrum thinks about the project from nearly every angle. “He also requires more than necessary For example, he initiated the idea for meeting minutes at our group meetings. This will be really helpful in the future,” Nickolas explains.

Pelgrum’s own research work is in the area of electronic navigation systems, focusing on aircraft. While GPS systems in cars are now commonplace -- and are fairly accurate most of the time -- Pelgrum works to develop systems for when “fairly accurate” isn’t good enough.

According to Pelgrum, disturbances in the earth’s ionosphere, often caused by solar flares, can affect all kinds of electronic systems, including GPS. He recently helped establish HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, in Alaska to study this phenomenon.

“The HAARP facility can locally heat up the ionosphere, causing artificial scintillations,” he says. “And with our setup, we can measure in detail how that affects the GPS signals.”

As far as those GPS systems in cars, many drivers have found themselves bouncing down dirt roads because the navigation system pointed that way. Traditional GPS, Pelgrum explains, only knows that a road is a road and not what condition that road might be in. 

 To solve this, Pelgrum worked with NAVTEQ, the manufacturer of electronic maps found in Garmin devices.

“We helped NAVTEQ to get a next-generation “truth” system that not only accurately provides position, but also the road grade,” he says. “This technology is used in the generation of maps for ADAS, Advanced Driver Assistance System, which is the next generation vehicle navigation and control.”

His research opportunities weren’t the only thing that brought Pelgrum to Athens, though. 

“What really drew me to Athens was my colleagues, especially Frank Van Graas and Maarten Uijt de Haag. They are very well recognized in their fields, excellent colleagues and mentors, and great friends,” Pelgrum says. 

Now that he has settled in, Pelgrum says his first priority is to establish a solid research area that can receive funding, produce publications and attract students.

In addition, Pelgrum hopes to one day commercialize some of his ideas and projects.

“It would be amazingly fun to take a good idea, find some people crazy enough to be locked up in a room with for a year or two and just make it happen,” he says.