Thursday, January 19, 2023

Venanzio Cichella, a University of Iowa assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has been awarded the Amazon Research Award (ARA) for his project studying concurrent allocation and planning for large-scale multi-robot systems. 

The ARA is given to faculty and researchers around the world who have made outstanding contributions in one of several fields including machine learning, security, robotics, quantum computing, sustainability, and more. The awards align with Amazon’s focus on “customer-obsessed science.” 

Cichella, also an assistant faculty research engineer at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, has been focusing on the development of computational methods that will allow robots to concurrently solve problems of allocation (assigning robots to a goal location) and motion planning (generate trajectories for every robot). These two functions are traditionally kept separate and performed sequentially.   

“By solving allocation and planning at the same time, the robots will be able to fully exploit their potential to interact with the environment and accomplish their objectives in optimal ways,” Cichella said.  

Cichella provided an example: “In a warehouse, they first figure out what are the best locations to serve based on their own current position and their characteristics. Then, they compute trajectories that gets them there safely and efficiently.” 

The processes are kept separate because it is easier, Cichella said.  

Cichella’s honor was recognized in the February 2023 edition of IEEE Control Systems, a top publication in the field.  

The award comes with an $80,000 unrestricted gift from Amazon plus $12,000 of Amazon Web Service (AWS) promotional credits.  

Tianbao Yang, a UI associate professor of computer science, is a collaborator on the research, bringing machine learning expertise.