Monday, June 13, 2011

Brown alumnus Glenn Donovan ScM'09 Wins Arthur S. Flemming Award

Brown engineering alumnus Glenn Donovan ScM '09 won a prestigious award for creating a cutting-edge navigation system for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs)

BRISTOL, R.I.—Three torpedo-like vessels lay in sections on wheeled carts inside a security-tight warehouse in Newport, tagged with the words “Property of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center — if found please return,” in case the vessels get lost during underwater trials. But, if the navigation system developed by NUWC engineer Glenn T. Donovan of Bristol continues to perform as it has, these vessels will become property of the U.S. Navy.

In engineering circles, Mr. Donovan has developed a technology so cutting-edge he received the 2010 Arthur S. Flemming Award for Applied Science, Engineering and Mathematics, presented for excellence in the federal service by the Arthur S. Flemming Awards Commission and George Washington University.

For NUWC, which has been developing military weapons and systems for 140 years, Mr. Donovan is the first employee to receive the award. It’s an achievement he accepts with honor and humility, placing the importance of his work on how it will help the soldiers who use it.

“I was caught off-guard,” Mr. Donovan said of the award. “I didn’t expect it.”

Mr. Donovan holds a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a master’s in engineering from Brown University. During his graduate studies, he worked in robotics, using technology similar to autonomous systems used in military applications.

He began working in the Autonomous and Defensive System Department at NUWC, on autonomous underwater vehicles (unmanned AUVs) used by the military to collect data or complete other missions. First, he worked in systems maintenance for NUWC’s Manta program, an earlier version of the Navy’s unmanned vehicle efforts, terminated due to its size and difficulty to transport. Then he began work in 2002 on efforts to make AUVs more autonomous and undetectable. His new navigational tool would replace the reliance on a global positioning system (GPS).

“Once the vehicle is underwater, the signal can’t reach the satellite,” said Mr. Donovan. In order to communicate, it has to surface, making it susceptible to discovery and interception. “The big challenge is to be unseen.” The problem he faced, he said was, “How could it find its way without surfacing?”

In order to accomplish this, the AUVs need two things: an adequate power supply to keep them moving, and the ability to keep them on course over greater distances.

Using mathematics and map-matching, Mr. Donovan assembled a new system. With maps of the sea floor, he converted the terrain into mathematical data points and programmed it into an on-board computer. Sensors that measure the speed of the AUV, along with its elevation and direction, provide additional data to calculate bearings as it moves through the water. Comparing algorithmic equations against data collected from sensors, the technology developed by Mr. Donovan pinpoints the AUV through its last-known location and where it thinks it is based on sensory data. If the system’s algorithms and sensor calculations cannot agree on the vehicle’s coordinates and location, it is designed to shut itself down. The AUV will rise to the surface and activate the GPS backup to validate its location, before plunging back under and resuming its mission.

“New information is collected and calculated every 5 or 10 seconds,” said Mr. Donovan, depending on the speed of the AUV.

The navigation system developed by Mr. Donovan, called Inertial Navigation System Position Error Correction (INSPEC), will allow AUVs to stay underwater for longer periods without getting lost. He’s spent the last eight years developing the system. AUVs equipped with his INSPEC design have completed test missions, some lasting 24 hours, and everything is looking good. “We haven’t lost any so far,” he said.

“The real goal of the AUVs is they can go into areas where submarines can’t,” he said.

At 12 feet long, the AUVs tested with the INSPEC system can easily slip into shallow waters, where manned vehicles can’t go or might be easily detected because of their size. While the AUV being used in the testing is about twice the length of a man, the INSPEC navigation system is small enough to fit into the slot of a toaster and can be used on AUVs of varying sizes, simply by adjusting some calculations. The INSPEC system can be used on a variety of unmanned vehicles that have all sorts of purposes, Mr. Donovan said.

“AUVs are huge right now,” according to John H. Woodhouse Jr., a NUWC communications specialist, referring to the popularity of the unmanned concept. “Anything we do is going to have a huge interest.” Recognizing the potential impact the INSPEC system will have on AUVs, Mr. Woodhouse said the navigation tool may also have commercial and academic interest.

Mr. Donovan sees his civilian efforts as a bridge to the enlisted men and women who will benefit from his work.

“I view what I do as working for them,” he said. While INSPEC is still considered a prototype, the testing success has promise that “it is something that they can actually use,” he said.

As he continues work on the prototype design, his objective is to expand an AUV’s capability to navigate for days or weeks — work that military officials are watching closely.

Mr. Donovan received his award, along with other 2010 recipients recognized for their service in a variety of disciplines, at a ceremony on June 6 in Washington, D.C.

- by Eric Dickervitz/East Bay Newspapers

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Erik Taylor PhD’13 Receives Fulbright Fellowship to India

Erik Taylor PhD ’13, a biomedical engineering graduate student at Brown University, has been selected for a Fulbright Fellowship. He will conduct research on anti-infection strategies in Mumbai, India, for six to nine months with Dr. Rinti Banerjee from IIT-Bombay through the Indo-U.S. Center for Biomaterials for Healthcare, co-directed by professors Bikram Basu and Thomas Webster.

The title of his project is, “Lipid Nanoparticles for the Treatment of Hospital Acquired Infections”. Medical devices are the standard of care in the United States, and internationally, to improve healthcare. Yet, as the use these devices increases, so does the chance of device related infections (DRI). It is the purpose of this study to apply knowledge of nanotechnology towards a novel therapy for DRI.

On a previous internship to IIT-Bombay, Taylor found in collaboration with Dr. Banerjee that a biocompatible lipid nanoparticle was promising method to treat resistant infections.  Additionally, commercial resources were realized with Piramal Life Sciences, a Mumbai based biotechnology company, and Dr. Arun Balakrishnan. It will be the goal of this fellowship to further develop these efforts towards treatment of infections.

The Fulbright Program, the U.S. Government’s flagship international exchange program, is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program has provided approximately 294,000 participants —chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research.

The Fulbright Program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide, and approximately 7,500 grants are awarded annually.

The Program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.           

The term "Fulbright Program" encompasses a variety of exchange programs.  For further information, please visit

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lei Yang wins Award from Chinese Government

Lei Yang, a Brown University engineering graduate student from China was honored by his government on Friday, May 27. Yang received the Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-Financed Students Abroad at a ceremony at the Chinese consulate in New York. Yang is one of 506 Chinese graduate students in 29 nations to win the award, which includes $5,000 and a certificate from the China Scholarship Council. Yang graduated this weekend with a doctorate in materials engineering. He studied under School of Engineering faculty members Brian Sheldon and Thomas Webster. 

While at Brown, he has been part of 13 peer-reviewed papers, published several book chapters, given more than 24 conference presentations and has won the most prestigious awards in the biomaterials’ field, according to Webster. “Such credentials are truly outstanding and should be entirely attributed to him and the values he learned as a student in China,” said Webster, who was invited to speak at the ceremony.