ufuk topcu photo in office

Ufuk Topcu, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the Cockrell School of Engineering, will participate in the new U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research Center of Excellence for Assured Autonomy in Contested Environments. The Center will be the first to look at assured autonomy in an adversarial environment.

The grant will cover an initial two-year period of $2 million, with optional extensions up to a total of six years and $6 million.

“My group will focus on two tasks: provably safe adaptation and learning in adversarial environments; and protecting safety- and mission-critical information for autonomous systems,” said Topcu, who is also director of the Oden Institute's Autonomous Systems Group. “This center of excellence is one of the most visible research efforts at the Air Force and perhaps even for the DOD. It will give direct exposure to a wide range of challenges and concrete problems in autonomy.”

The University of Florida, Duke University, and the University of California Santa Cruz are the other university collaborators on the project with the Munitions, Sensors, and Space Vehicles Directorates within the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

The Center of Excellence will focus on the development of robotic systems that make the best possible decisions despite uncertainties that may occur as a result of denied or corrupted information caused by an adversarial environment.

The group will also be tasked to develop next-generation autonomous technologies with cyber resiliency and privacy engineered into the design outcomes that will have widespread impact on commercial and industrial robotic systems, including automated systems in our homes and transportation systems.

Additionally, with the rapid advancement of the internet of things as well as the ever-growing autonomous vehicle industry, privacy, security, guaranteed performance and safety have become major concerns in everyday lives. As such, any advances for assured autonomy in contested environments will have a significant impact in non-contested environments, particularly in the areas of privacy and independence.

The grant also supports a strong workforce development component to encourage university graduates to become future researchers and technologists in autonomy.