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National Science Foundation


Voices From the Future: Paul Y. Oh

"CATALYZING A THIRD WAVE." Paul Y. Oh discussed research, design and development of robotics and unmanned systems in the first presentation of the "Voices From the Future" distinguished lecture series, Feb. 4, 2010.


Paul Y. Oh
Director, Autonomous Systems Lab, Drexel University

Paul Y. Oh is the associate department head at Drexel University's mechanical engineering department and director of the Drexel Autonomous Systems Lab. His focus is on fundamental research, design and development of robotics and unmanned systems. In 2008, Oh rotated to NSF to be the program director for robotics.

As a graduate student in 1999, Oh did pioneering work developing computer vision systems for robotics. He joined Drexel's faculty in 2000 and began combining his two passions--namely, aerodynamics and robots--and started developing vision systems for aircraft.

Shortly after, two events occurred that profoundly shaped his research directions: Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina. Observing the challenges of first responders, Oh's lab began developing robots for disaster response. For almost a decade, the lab has created robots that autonomously deliver cargo, extract casualties and conduct surveillance. Particularly noteworthy are his lab's bird-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that can autonomously fly in near-Earth environments. These aircraft fly in and around buildings, down caves and tunnels, and through forests, despite clutter, obstacles and degraded wireless communications and poor GPS signals. Such UAVs are important because they keep first responders out of harm's way with increased situational awareness. For this work, Oh was awarded faculty fellowships at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (2002) and the Naval Research Lab (2003), an NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program award (2004), and the SAE Ralph Teetor Award for Engineering Education Excellence (2005). Oh became a Boeing Welliver fellow in 2006.

In 2007, Oh began a new research thrust involving humanoids. Such robots are adult-sized bipeds that mimic the way people walk and move. This thrust addresses a nationally urgent and important need--American engineering students lack the necessary skills to work in global design teams. Multinational companies like Boeing demand engineers who can cross borders and cultures to design complex systems. Sponsored by NSF under its Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) program, Oh uses humanoids as a "hook" to engage students. U.S. students work closely with those at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) to create a new generation of cognitively aware humanoids that can interact with people and autonomously work in their environment.

Oh was born in Philadelphia, Pa., and grew up in Montreal, Canada. He received his engineering degrees at McGill (B.Eng., Honors 1989), Seoul National (M.Sc., 1992) and Columbia University (Ph.D., 1999).

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