Professor Zak Kassas brings cyber-physical systems research to Ohio State
Following his work in industry and as a faculty member at University of California, Riverside and University of California, Irvine; Zak Kassas is returning to his alma mater as a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
For the past two years, Kassas has been an adjunct Ohio State faculty member, while serving as director of the U.S. Department of Transportation Center CARMEN (Center for Automated Vehicle Research with Multimodal AssurEd Navigation), focusing on navigation resiliency and security of highly automated transportation systems.
Kassas’ research is under the broad umbrella of cyber-physical systems (CPS), simply described as a system that contains both a cyber component and a physical component, endowed with some form of autonomy, much like a self-driving car. His recent focus has been on ensuring that these CPS could navigate autonomously in a safe fashion whenever global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), e.g., GPS, is unavailable or untrustworthy.
“The work that I do transcends a number of fields that I find interesting, and that I think I can make a contribution to, and I also get to see the fruits of my work. So, in my lifetime, I can see how this work is changing the world to a better place,” said Kassas.
Kassas runs the ASPIN Lab (Autonomous Systems, Perception, Intelligence, and Navigation), funded by a number of federal agencies, including the Office of Naval Research, Department of Transportation, National Science Foundation, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Sandia National Laboratories. ASPIN recently achieved a number of breakthroughs. ASPIN was the first to decipher SpaceX’s Starlink satellite reference downlink signals and showed meter-level positioning and navigation with these satellites, effectively turning Starlink into GPS-like satellites. In collaboration with the US Air Force, ASPIN also unveiled the tremendous potential of terrestrial cellular signals to navigate high-altitude aircraft for tens of miles without GNSS signals, to a meter-level accuracy. They also demonstrated their research findings in a GPS-jammed environment in the Mojave Desert, where they navigated a ground vehicle for several miles with high accuracy.
“The science that we are establishing is funded by a diverse portfolio of federal agencies and getting implemented by industry. We are working on problems that are of value to many, many stakeholders,” said Kassas.
Kassas was recently awarded a Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) award to build a large-scale lab that will harness millimeter wave signals, which are future signals that come from 5G and beyond and from satellites in space. He plans to harness these signals for autonomous navigation of drones, self-driving cars, and maritime vehicles.
“I feel that I can make an impact teaching students, these future researchers, and providing them with cutting edge knowledge,” said Kassas. “We find solutions to very timely problems, and we do everything from end to end. My students and I establish rigorous theory, design sophisticated algorithms, analyze the performance by high-fidelity numerical simulations, and finally we perform real-world experiments to test those theories and show what we can do.”
“Ohio State is a world class institution in all senses of the word,” said Kassas. They don’t just talk the talk, but they walk the walk too. There is fantastic research happening here.”
Kassas feels extremely fortunate to work at an institution that aligns with his research interests so well and also houses state of the art research facilities, namely the ElectroScience Laboratory (ESL), Center for Automotive Research (CAR), Aerospace Research Center (ARC), and Transportation Research Center (TRC).
“The people at Ohio State are very friendly, very collegial, very helpful and that makes for a wonderful experience,” said Kassas. “When you wake up in the morning and you are excited not only about your work, but also who you work with, I think it’s extremely important.”