Big Opportunity for Big Learning

Big Opportunity for Big Learning

Grant accelerates corporate partnerships in research

Researchers from the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering are launching the Center for Big Learning in conjunction with their participation in the National Science Foundation’s Industry and University Collaborative Research Center Program. The NSF grant of $3 million to four universities over the next five years is designed to encourage innovative research in artificial intelligence and deep learning, and significant partnerships between university researchers and industry nationwide.

The initial phase incorporates NSF partnerships with four universities: University of Missouri–Kansas City, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Florida and University of Oregon. Each university will recruit at least three industry partners that are interested in big learning solutions who will match NSF funding. The program could lead to a potential investment of $1.5 million in UMKC alone.

The UMKC team is led by Zhu Li (director), and Yugyung Lee (co-director) with active participations from faculty members including Sejun Song, Praveen Rao, Reza Derakhshani, Shui-Qing Ye from the School of Computing and Engineering. The center will be supported by SCE faculty ZhiQuiang Chen, Baek-Young Choi, Chi Lee, Shui Ye and Yongjie Zheng and Peter Koulen, faculty researcher from the School of Medicine. They will collaborate with researchers from the other sites.

While private companies seem to have more access to capital for this type of research, it is more cost-effective for them to form university partnerships.

“It’s very exciting,” Lee says. “These companies don’t know what the product is yet. They want to find out what’s possible. We have the opportunity to take on some risky projects and develop prototypes, and they can take the solutions.”

Because individual workers with comparable education and experience can be very expensive for companies, especially for cuttingedge research, supporting university research can be incredibly cost-effective, especially with the structure of this project at UMKC.

“We’ll be creating a workforce prepared with top-tier knowledge of this sector right here in Kansas City,” says School of Computing and Engineering Dean Kevin Truman. “Through this industry partnership, faculty have the opportunity to develop some of the most exciting new technology solutions that will be going to market immediately. This isn’t just researching to know the answer, this is researching to create actual processes that will impact real people in real time.”

Each of the research projects, which will be located in the new Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center expected to open in 2020, are focused on network management, deep learning, artificial intelligence, the web and the Internet of Things.

This technology will enable systems to analyze large data sets and develop new prediction models that allow for more sophisticated processing and voice and image recognition. In its current form, this is the technology that drives systems like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. As the technology develops, it will enhance sophisticated applications such as heart monitoring implants.

“Our mission is to accelerate the innovation and impact to the real work,” Li says. “UMKC has its own unique strengths in embedded systems deep learning in imaging, compression, communication and fully embedded systems.”

The team has attracted five industry partners this year with which to collaborate: RIC Semiconductor, CloudMinds, Electronic Telecommunications Research Institute, SquareOffs and Tencent Media Lab. These companies, as well as the participating schools and their partners, will have access to all of the research generated by the consortium.

This is a key selling point when attracting partners.

“All the universities did a fantastic job of getting commitment letters from potential industry members and coming up with compelling projects for the full proposal submitted last year,” Rao says. “As result, the NSF panelists were impressed by the team and, ultimately, the Center for Big Learning was funded.”

Derakhshani, who has experience in both academia and the private sector through his role in developing the technology that led to EyeVerify (now Zoloz), which was the largest technology transfer project in the university’s history, agrees.

“Industries coming to universities to solve their problems is a good model. This means that academics don’t create solutions that are looking for a problem,” he says. “In industry, you are always looking at your quarterly results. That’s what’s right about the partnership. Academia doesn’t have quarterly reports. We can focus on creating new and interesting knowledge. We fill the gap.”

Industry partners

To date, the UMKC site of the Center for Big Learning (CBL) has secured five research partners. The team will work with each company to develop artificial intelligence and big learning solutions for their specific challenges. The resulting technology will be shared with other CBL members.

RIC Semiconductor is a Dallas startup working on novel 77Ghz RF solutions for radar, imaging and communications. CloudMinds is developing mobile-internet cloud services, a platform to augment Cloud AI with human intelligence, secure private networks connecting robots and smart devices to Cloud AI and mobile devices as a robot control unit. CloudMinds is co-funded by the CEO of Softbank, the owner of Sprint. Electronic Telecommunications Research Institute is a Korean government-funded research center focused on core technologies in information, communications, electronics and broadcasting. SquareOffs is a micro debate platform designed to raise awareness, engagement and traffic for online publishers and brands. Tencent is a leading provider of internet value-added systems in China focused on social media platforms and digital content services.