Two faculty members, Behcet Acikmese and Todd Humphreys, of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department at The University of Texas at Austin have been selected to receive Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards totaling $500,000 each from the National Science Foundation.

Launched in 1995, the awards are the most prestigious offered by the NSF’s CAREER Program, providing up to five years of funding to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of their organizations’ missions. This year, NSF celebrates 20 years of CAREER Awards, and Texas Engineering has had faculty recipients every year for the past 19 years.

Behcet AcikmeseBehcet Acikmese, an assistant professor, was awarded for his project “Real-time Convex Optimization for High-Performance Control of Autonomous Systems.” In this work, Acikmese will build innovative mathematical and computational methods of decision-making for control of next-generation high-performance autonomous systems. A variety of emerging technologies deploy autonomous systems, including self-driving vehicles, rescue robots, mobile sensors for environmental monitoring and power networks. Acikmese is working on making these systems safer and more reliable through developing software that could one day enable autonomous systems to have more human-like decision-making capabilities.

Todd HumphreysTodd Humphreys, an assistant professor, was awarded for his project, “Secure Perception for Autonomous Systems.” Humphreys’ project aims to identify and address vulnerabilities in emerging autonomous systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, self-driving cars and smart power grids. Humphreys is particularly interested in a new category of cyber-physical threat, the so-called field attack, which attempts to mislead an autonomous system by falsely manipulating the physical fields that the system's sensors were designed to measure. The project’s goal is to develop an analytical foundation for security in the presence of field attacks and to develop a suite of algorithms and tools to detect such attacks.

Acikmese joined the department in 2012. Before that, he worked at JPL on several NASA missions, including NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) G&C team, where he developed and delivered G&C algorithms used in the "fly-away phase" of the successful Curiosity rover landing in August 2012. Most recently, he has been involved with JPL collaborators on a new test flight (ADAPT) of the G&C algorithm G-FOLD (Guidance for Fuel Optimal Large DIvert), which he invented.

Humphreys joined the department in 2009. He is an expert in UAV security threats and has conducted the first live-signal spoofing attacks on both a civilian drone and an $80 million superyacht. His work on GPS location accuracy with a smartphone antenna was recently featured in the February issue of GPS World. On March 18, he testified before U.S. Congress on the threat of UAVs, and most recently, his op-ed piece on drone regulation has appeared in several publications.