Eight core researchers who contributed to the Center for Objective Microelectronics and Biomimetic Advanced Technology (COMBAT) received the 2018 Ted Kennedy Family Faculty Team Excellence Award from the College of Engineering. These members include Dr. Jack East, Prof. Stephen Forrest, Dr. Leland Pierce (Deputy Director of COMBAT), Prof. Amir Mortazawi, Prof. Khalil Najafi, Prof. Kamal Sarabandi(Director of COMBAT), Prof. Dennis Sylvester, and Prof. Euisik Yoon, bringing together experts in radar and remote sensing, integrated circuits, imaging, navigation, power harvesting, communications, and nano-fabrication techniques.
Funded by the Army Research Lab’s Micro-Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) program and directed by Kamal Sarabandi, Rufus S. Teesdale Professor of Engineering, the goal of COMBAT was to develop innovative solutions and new capabilities for autonomous robots.
Over its 10 year history (2008-2018), the Center developed next-generation technologies for sensing, information processing, navigation, control, and communication, all focused on miniature-size ground and airborne robots. These autonomous flying robots needed to be able to navigate in poor conditions (ie, smoke, fog, darkness), navigate inside buildings, take photos and acquire and transmit other types of information, and do so on a small device that needed continuous power from a lightweight source.
COMBAT led to several groundbreaking projects, including:
- Development of the world’s smallest and most advanced radar that can be used on miniaturized airborne platforms to image objects behind walls, as well as provide for collision avoidance and mapping the interiors of buildings (Kamal Sarabandi)
- New designs and techniques for ultra low-power operation of digital and analog circuits for processing information collected from sensors and radars, and for communication (Dennis Sylvester)
- Development of the world’s best image sensor chip, capable of operating like insect eyes for guidance and motion control (Euisik Yoon)
- Development of the world’s most sensitive air velocity wind sensors utilizing hair-like structures suitable for small, mobile platforms (Khalil Najafi)
- Development of flexible skin-like biomimetic solar cells for power harvesting, providing a power supply for the autonomous robots (in the process, solving a 3 decade old problem in the ability to reuse flexible GaAs solar cells, and transfer of the technology to industry). In addition, this team developed a small, high performance, lightweight imaging system capable of night vision that could be mounted on the robots, and also for possible use in cell phones (Stephen Forrest)
- Development of new technologies for high-efficiency power switches and transceivers for efficient communication (Amir Mortazawi)
Supporting these efforts were Leland Pierce, who developed image processing computer codes and supported the entire team with project management, outreach, and collaboration across centers; and Jack East, who assisted in the radar antennae and associated components, and led a team of students who fabricated the antennas in the Lurie Nanofabrication Facility.
The COMBAT program brought in over $20M in funding (of which $15M came to Michigan), supported 18 faculty and 45 PhD students, and resulted in more than 80 published articles.
The technology developed over the course of project was transferred successfully to both industry and the Army Research Labs.