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Ohio Third Frontier awards grant to develop Ohio University 3-D visualization suite for aircraft

Apr 10, 2014

Ohio University has received $50,000 from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission to develop 3-D visualization software that will improve the development and design of new aircraft. The technology was created by current and former students in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology 's computer science program and is being commercialized through the university's Technology Transfer Office .

The Russ College of Engineering and Technology and the Vice President for Research and Creative Activity also contributed $25,000 each, for a total award of $100,000, to support licensing of the technology and product development.

The Ohio Third Frontier's Technology Validation and Start-up Fund aims to increase economic growth in Ohio through the commercialization of technologies developed at Ohio institutions of higher education and other non-profit research institutions.

"This project funded by the Ohio Third Frontier demonstrates how academic research units such as the Russ College of Engineering and Technology can partner effectively with the university's Technology Transfer Office and entrepreneurial ecosystem to move innovations from the laboratories to the marketplace, for the greater good of society," said Joseph Shields, Ohio University vice president for research and creative activity and dean of the Graduate College.

Developed by computer science Ph.D. candidate Chad Mourning and 2013 graduate Scott Nykl with Professor of Computer Science David Chelberg, the project's primary investigator, the software can be used during aircraft design and testing to give engineers a 3-D view of the plane's systems. This can increase the efficiency, safety and affordability of developing new systems.

The 3-D visualization, which combines existing databases with new data coming from sensors in the aircraft's Global Positioning System and other instrumentation, shows engineers in real time how systems that don't usually "talk" to each other are communicating—or not. The result is more efficient oversight of the systems, and ultimately, increased testing accuracy and shorter development time.

Chelberg said the project began as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant seven years ago, but greater adoption of the original software was stymied by its use of C++, a computer programming language that is widely used, but not among engineers.

"The grant seeks to make the software we developed available to researchers using MATLAB, a popular engineering tool," he said. "Over the past seven years, Chad and Scott continued research into this visualization platform during both their master's and doctoral programs, with other graduate students also contributing."

The software, which uses 1,000 times less bandwidth than today's standard for video streaming, already has been used for projects in conjunction with NASA, the FAA, Airservices Australia, MIT and Princeton, as well as Ohio University's Avionics Engineering Center.

According to the research team, additional applications abound.

"In a snow emergency, municipalities could live-track the location and state of snowplows—for example, a plow's blade status, a map of paths traveled, how much salt is available—to map paths and minimize fuel costs," Nykl said.

Other applications include methane leak detection at hydraulic fracturing sites; wildfire management using infrared sensor data to visualize fire paths; energy management in smart buildings to evaluate airflow between hot and cold spots; or even search vehicle visualization in the current case of the missing Malaysian jetliner.

"This can be used in any environment where sensors are present—anything that generates data for an operator to view in a 3-D environment, to oversee and operate it more efficiently," Mourning said.

Mourning and Nykl first began working with simulation software under an NSF GK-12 Research Project grant. In that project, they created the STEAMiE Visualization Engine, a simulation program that can demonstrate difficult-to-teach science concepts to students.

Building on that work, Mourning and Nykl created a cockpit visual aid to help pilots avoid wake vortices—invisible, horizontal tornadoes—caused by planes landing ahead of them. That invention took them to the 2012 National Collegiate Inventors Competition finals.

They since have started a company, Affine Technologies, to develop and commercialize the university's flight testing software. The company was one of five southeastern Ohio start-ups to receive $20,000 in seed funding and extensive business coaching through Ohio University's 2012 Innovation Engine Accelerator program. The company now is a client at the Innovation Center , Ohio University's high-tech regional business incubator.

In March, they received TechGROWTH Ohio 's 2013 Innovation Award for outstanding student innovation.

"This is where entrepreneurship and technology commercialization are exceptionally effective--when our students are the drivers," said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin.

Written by Corinne Colbert and Colleen Carow.

Media contacts: Andrea Gibson (740) 597-2166, gibsona@ohio.edu ; Colleen Carow, (740) 593-1488 ; carow@ohio.edu.