One of the school’s drones, above, and VSU’s Dr. Ju Wang in the field, below

For 8 years now Virginia State University (VSU) students have been exploring drones and how they can be used with artificial intelligence and machine learning. “We have worked with over 10 types of drones,” said Dr. Ju Wang, Associate Professor of Engineering and Science at VSU, “in applications across different fields. But lately we have been especially interested in exploring drone technology and driverless technology, and we have started a project we call a Logistics Convoy Concept.”

The Logistics Convoy combines drones with land unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVS), both military vehicles and civilian 18-wheelers, using AI and machine learning to aid in wayfinding — navigation, avoiding obstructions, and target finding. Though Logistics Convoy focuses on land-based wayfinding, it also has application in tracking technology, as demonstrated at the recent Navy-sponsored AI Tracks at Sea Challenge, where the VSU team took home fourth place.

“We know that UAVs are coming and the technology is there, but it needs to be refined and tested, again and again,” said Wang. “A self-driving truck is big and heavy so the potential for damage in case of an accident is great. The drone can provide advance sensing information, especially in difficult terrain, in military applications. Highway driving is a bit easier but even there, in situations like heavy precipitation, you need help.”

Wang is in the process of putting together a research and development team. In the past, VSU has worked with partners such as Google and Raytheon on AI and with the military, and Wang is looking forward to forming a partnership for this project. The Logistics Convoy team is in the beginning stages, Wang said, “but we are on the verge of producing something of significance.”

“We have been very impressed with the work of Dr. Wang and his students,” said CCALS Executive Director Mark Manasco. “We look forward to following the progress of this very timely project.”

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