Ohio State’s NSF-backed AI research centers will help build the future of AI

Columbus Business First

Ohio State University is leading $40 million worth of AI research that could touch on multiple aspects of business and everyday life. (TAYLOR WEESE | OHIO FROM ABOVE)

COLUMBUS (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — Ohio State University is leading $40 million in federally backed artificial intelligence research, increasing its contributions to the tech workforce while aiming to develop new generations of digital infrastructure.

The National Science Foundation awarded OSU’s College of Engineering two $20 million, five-year grants out of 11 to establish specialty AI institutes, adding to seven last year. The new centers will focus on making AI more “plug and play” accessible and developing the complex networks so AI can work across connected vehicles or coordinated industrial robots.

“The internet has become a utility – that’s what we would like these new technologies to become,” said Ness Shroff, professor of networking and communications and director of the institute that will focus on “edge” computing – applying AI to wireless and connected devices outside the core internet.

“We expect some of these innovations will basically be adopted in the standards of 5G, 6G, etc.,” Shroff said. “The U.S. has been a pioneer (in technology), but we are in a battle to make sure we continue to remain the leaders.”

Georgia Tech and University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana also lead two centers apiece. All 18 involve multiple partner universities and industry collaborators.

As lead, Ohio State will control $10 million apiece for each center, adding faculty, research assistants and stipends for graduate and undergraduate researchers. The other half is distributed among collaborating institutions.

“Workforce development is a big component. … This is a big pipeline,” said Dhabaleswar Panda, OSU computer science professor and director of the other center, called Icicle, which plans to democratize AI by developing natural-language modules that non-technical users can deploy.

For example, the center plans to develop a “smart food shed” for Mid-Ohio Food Collective, automating the logistics behind moving pantry items efficiently to the areas of greatest need.

“We want to make these (applications) very seamless,” Panda said.

The first research-heavy years will stick within academia and large corporate partners such as IBM, the professors said, but in later years the applications could have utility for the growing number of AI-powered technology startups in Central Ohio.

OSU might someday benefit from commercializing discoveries from the initiative, Panda said. Or the research could create open-source technology for use by multiple industries, Shroff said.

“There are the technologies being built so their systems are operational even if they don’t see it,” he said. “It might lead to new businesses, a new way of doing things.”

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