Winter 2013 Research Awards

Publish Date: 03/10/2013

Congratulations to CS Faculty who were awarded research funding in the winter of 2012/2013 from the Air Force, the Army, DARPA, L-3 Stratus, ONR, NSF and The SI.

Dr. Wenjing Lou, and her colleague Tom Hou (Electrical & Computer Engineering) received an NSF CSR grant for their project "Towards Use Privacy in Outsourced Cloud Data Services."  Lou describes the project: "The emergence of cloud computing brings a paradigm shift to the way that data is stored, accessed and utilized. Especially, outsourcing data to the public cloud enjoys unlimited resources with great economic savings for both data owners and users. However, user privacy concerns have been a major hurdle for the widespread adoption of the public cloud technology. Encryption techniques can protect the confidentiality of users' data, however, supporting effective data utilization such as search operations over encrypted data become a key challenge. Existing techniques are either too computationally expensive, or lack enough flexibility to be adopted by cloud users in practice.

This project aims at protecting user privacy in the cloud. It develops the tools to provide privacy-assured, usable, and efficient data utilization services in outsourced cloud storage systems. Specifically, it tackles the above challenges by combining cryptography with information-retrieval techniques, and focuses on three aspects: (1) the design of novel keyword search schemes over encrypted data with rich functionalities, including ranked search and multi-keyword search; (2) the design of privacy-preserving search schemes over data that are represented using various structures, such as graphs; (3) new approaches for protecting user privacy in the mobile cloud setting. This research also includes a prototyping and experimentation plan.

Ensuring user privacy is fundamental to the success of public cloud deployment. This project also develops curricula and teaches and supervises students. Materials of this project will be made available online as tutorials, software packages, and publications of general interest."

Dr. Lou also received funding from The SI Organization for her project "A Framework for Implementing Trustworthy Self-Protecting Data."  Lou describes the project: "Cloud computing has become the new enterprise IT architecture. We are seeing a large number of companies moving into the cloud. The US government is also expecting an explosive growth on government spending on cloud computing. However, current NIST standards and FedRAMP approval processes do not provide the degree of trustworthiness on data required for many of the security-sensitive high impact systems. The service models being focused on include infrastructure-, software-, and platform-as-a-service, leaving out a key element - data-as-a-service.  This project targets at creating a framework for a data-as-a-service model, based on the current examples, that incorporates sufficient 'cradle-to-grave' non-discretionary confidentiality mechanisms to support an encryption-based secure data-as-a-service framework for High Impact systems."

Dr. Lou, and her colleagues Hanif Sherali (Industrial & Systems Engineering) and Tom Hou (Electrical & Computer Engineering) received an ONR grant for their project "Novel Solutions for Cognitive Radio Ad Hoc Networkds inTactical Communications." The project: In this project, we propose and explore a new spectrum-sharing method for DoD and Navy’s cognitive radio (CR) ad hoc networks. The proposed method is called cooperative sharing, which is specifically targeted to the application scenario where the DoD or Navy’s ad hoc network (in the role of a secondary network) wishes to access then radio spectrum in a friendly environment where the underlying spectrumis owned by allied (coalition) forces network. Under this method, a secondary network and the primary network share each other’s network resource (e.g., nodes) in a cooperative and friendly manner. Although packets from the primary network may still enjoy priority over packets from the secondary network, packets from either network will taken advantage of the nodes in the other network on their way to their destinations. The proposed cooperative sharing paradigm allows complete sharing of network resources between the primary and secondary networks in a cooperative manner. The priority of traffic from the primary network can be preserved while network connectivity and other network performance metric can be improved for both networks. This new paradigm allows many new possibilities for DoD ad hoc networks to access radio spectrum and significantly enhance Navy’s tactical communications capabilities."

Read more about their recent awards on the VT News website.

Dr. Adrian Sandu was awarded funding from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for his project "A Framework for Quantifying and Reducing Uncertainty in InfoSymbiotic Systems Arising in Atmospheric Environments."  According to Sandu, "This research develops a framework to quantify, control, and reduce uncertainty in the context of info-symbiotic (a.k.a. data driven dynamic) systems." 

Dr. Sandu was also awarded funding from the NSF for his project "A Fully Discrete Framework for the Adaptive Solution of Inverse Problems."  Sandu describes it as "The project develops a fully discrete methodology for solving inverse problems using time step and grid adaptivity. The research fills the gap between the state-of-the-art adaptive methods used in (forward) simulations and the computational tools currently available for the solution of inverse problems."

Dr. Yang Cao and his colleagues Dr. John Tyson (Biological Sciences), PI, and Dr. Mark Paul (Mechanical Engineering) were awarded funding by NSF DMS for the proposal entitled "Integrated Dynamics of Temporal and Spatial Controls in the Cell Division Cycle of Caulobacter crescents."  The project description: "The purpose of this project is to gain deeper insight into the molecular mechanisms controlling the growth, division and differentiation of bacteria by building mathematical models of gene expression and protein localization within the bacterial cell Caulobacter crescentus. Mathematical models are used to explore hypotheses about molecular regulatory mechanisms in living cells and computer simulations serve to test the hypotheses against known experimental facts in a comprehensive fashion and to predict the outcome of novel experimental studies. Two types of mathematical models will be considered. Deterministic models—based on systems of nonlinear partial differential equations—will be used to describe the average behavior of a population of bacterial cells. Stochastic models—based on the reaction and diffusion of individual molecules within a single cell—will be used to describe the precise spatial distribution and temporal dynamics of specific proteins within cells, as measured by modern microscopic studies of fluorescently labeled proteins. This project will provide new ideas, methods, algorithms and software for spatiotemporal modeling of gene expression and protein dynamics in living cells. It will also provide training for two graduate students—one in life sciences and one in computer sciences—in modern methods of computational cell biology, mathematical modeling and spatial stochastic simulations."

Dr. Wu Feng and Dr. Eli Tilevich received funding from the Air Force Research Lab via Harmonia for their proposal titled "Secure, Tactical On-Demand Computing."  They describe their project "This CHECS collaboration with Harmonia and the Air Force Research Laboratory seeks to create cloud-based computing solutions, with a particular emphasis on ad-hoc cloud environments, comprising emerging chip multiprocessors such as the graphics processing unit (GPU). A specific focus of the project is creating software engineering principles, approaches, and tools that can be applied to developing and fine-tuning software in such environments."

Dr. Denis Gracanin and his colleagues Dr. Michael Ellis (Mechanical Engineering), PI, and co-PIs Dr. Scott Case (Engineering Science & Mechanics), Dr. Robert Dunay (Architecture), Dr. Larry Fenske (Architecture), Dr. Jih-Sheng Lai (Electrical & Computer Engineering), Dr. Brian Lattimer (Mechanical Engineering), Dr. John J. Lesko (Engineering Science & Mechanics), and Dr. Joseph Wheeler (Architecture) were awarded funding from the Army for their interdisciplinary sustainable living project titled "Development of a Self‐sustaining Living Module (SLiM) for Small Expeditionary Forces - Phase 1."  Gracanin describes the project: "The project seeks to develop deployable Self‐sustaining Living Modules (SLiM) that meet the habitation needs and enhance the quality of life for expeditionary forces while limiting their logistics footprint. This effort engages faculty and students from architecture, industrial design, engineering and computer science, industry partners with experience in composites fabrication and distributed power management, and military personnel with experience in forward operating base environments. The team will explore conceptual designs for attaining the project objectives and will evaluate these designs through the development of drawings and small‐scale models of a SLiM complex; computer simulations of structural performance; and computer simulations of energy and water use."

Dr. Doug Bowman and his colleagues David Conner (TORC Robotics) and Dr. Oskar von Stryk (Technical University - Darmstadt) received funding from DARPA for their proposal "DARPA RC Team Vigir" in the robotics challenge.  Bowman describes the program: "Natural and man-made disasters have caused suffering for people around the world, in past ages, today, and surely tomorrow. The devastation of disasters such as Fukushima, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the Chilean Copiapó mine collapse all serve to highlight our fragility in the presence of unforeseen events. Often, subject matter experts are available with the knowledge to prevent further damage, yet are unable to get close enough to complete their mission – be it from nuclear contamination, intense pressure, structural instability, or many other threats to human safety.

Our best robotic tools are helping, but they are not yet robust enough to function in all environments and perform the basic tasks needed to mitigate a crisis situation. Even in degraded post-disaster situations, the environment is scaled to the human world, requiring navigation of human obstacles such as doors and stairs, manipulation of human objects such as vehicles and power tools, and recognition of common human objects such as levers and valves.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge program will help directly meet these needs by developing robotic technology for disaster response operations. This technology will improve the performance of robots that operate in the rough terrain and austere conditions characteristic of disasters, and use vehicles and tools commonly available in populated areas. This technology will also work in ways easily understood by subject matter experts untrained in the operation of robots, and be governed by intuitive controls that require little training.

Our team (ViGIR stands for "Virginia-Germany Interdisciplinary Robotics) is being funded for "Track B," in which we will compete in a "Virtual Challenge" that will take place in a simulated environment with a simulated robot. If we do well there, we will be provided with a physical humanoid robot to participate in the physical challenge.

The Virginia Tech team focuses on human-robot interaction and the design of an effective operator control station (user interface) to allow the human operator and the semi-autonomous robot to collaborate to complete the challenge tasks."

Dr. Chris North received funding from L-3 Stratus through the Hume Center for his project entitled "Visual Analytics for Cybersecurity."  North describes the project: "The multiplicity of computing and display devices currently available presents new opportunities for how visual analytics is performed in the world of cybersecurity. Most visual analytics systems that make use of multiple displays to support sensemaking do not address the particulars and new problems that arise from such a distributed model of analysis. One of the significant inherent challenges that comes with the use of multiple and varied types of displays for visual analytics is the seamless cooperation and coordination of the displays and devices into a unified system for sharing and subsequent integration of information and tasks. The ultimate goal is to take advantage of the numerous devices from small personal phones, tablets and laptops, to ever-present HDTVs, to large display walls and tabletops as a single display ecology. We propose to construct an ecology test-bed system for visual analytics and conduct studies to identify design principles and effects on analyst performance and behavior."

Dr. Cliff Shaffer and his colleagues Dr. Sadhana Puntambekar, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Dr. N. Hari Narayanan, Auburn University, received funding for "SAVI: Synamic Digital Text: An Innovation in STEM Education."  Shaffer describes the project: "This project is part of a joint effort between NSF and Finnish scientific funding agencies to support collaboration between US and Finnish researchers on new educational technologies. Using technology developed by Puntambekar and Narayanan on concept maps, and the OpenDSA infrastructure developed by Shaffer and collaborators at Aalto University, we will study the use of eTextbooks in various disciplines at both college and K12 levels with students in the US and Finland."