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SU professors receive Air Force grant to research complex data sets

Courtesy of Steve Sartori

Professors in Syracuse University's College of Engineering and Computer Science received a $295,000 grant from the Air Force to research complex data sets.

Three professors from Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science have received a grant from the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research to process large, complex data sets.

Associate Professor Jian Tang, Professor Biao Chen and Distinguished Professor Pramod Varshney together received a $295,000 grant from the Air Force. The grant will allow them to purchase graphics processing units, commonly known as GPUs.

“Of course we were excited and very happy because it’s a recognition of our capabilities and the line of research work that we are doing,” Varshney said. “And we are also excited to advance the state of technology and the state of knowledge.”

This equipment-focused grant builds off a smaller, research-based grant awarded to a team of professors about a year ago, also from the Air Force. The new grant will provide researchers with the equipment necessary to manipulate massive data sets, Varshney said.

He added that the graphics processing units are more complex and efficient in comparison to data software such as Microsoft Excel. The units are often used to process visuals intended for output on devices including cell phones, personal computers and video game consoles.

“Data fusion is coming from multiple sensors in a system, and we find out information from them,” said Tang, the principal investigator for the equipment grant. “It’s like a camera taking multiple angles of a car, and then you can fuse the data and get a big picture of what the car looks like.”

Tang said this is the first research of its kind. He said the group has already decided how it will allocate the money: With the $295,000, they plan to purchase nine GPUs, he said, and each will be equipped with the most advanced GPU built for machine learning.

The systems can shuffle through enormous data sets and find anomalies or errors, Varshney said. Although the research is intended to support the United States’ armed forces, the same work can be applied to civilian and commercial applications. It can be used in health care, for example, to detect changes and protect patients, Varshney said. The technology can also be used to prevent drone collisions.

The three professors involved with the equipment grant have been doing similar work for many years, including Varshney, who has been working in the field for 41 years. He is also a former president of the International Society of Information Fusion.

Chen has been at the university for 17 years, while Tang brings a different perspective to the group because he comes from a computer systems background and not an information fusion background. The research portion will also involve Associate Professor Yingbin Liang and staff at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Air Force will build an application on top of the staff’s computational platform. The professors will test, evaluate and report on their findings, resulting in the first distributed GPU-accelerated platform of its nature.

“We can come up with solutions now that we have so much experience in solving problems,” Varshney said. “That helps us in making scientific contributions. This enables us to have doctoral students to support. We are able to supervise and mentor the next generation of researchers.”

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