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Autonomous Systems Certificate

The University of Dayton College of Arts and Sciences launched a graduate certificate program in autonomous systems to prepare industry professionals and master’s degree students to meet the growing demand for expertise in automated decision-making systems and artificial intelligence.

Autonomous systems such as self-driving cars, unmanned aerial vehicles and systems that can intelligently reconfigure themselves are self-governing machines that can perceive and act in physical or virtual environments with little or no human guidance.

Unlike automated robots, which are programmed to perform repetitive functions in a controlled environment, autonomous systems must act independently, and adapt and respond to situations that weren’t anticipated when they were built.

“Truly autonomous systems will have human-like cognition,” said Rusty Baldwin, distinguished research professor in the Department of Computer Science and research director of University’s Center for Cybersecurity and Data Intelligence. “That’s the real innovation, the ability to operate without guidance and the ability to learn.”

The 15 credit-hour certificate program addresses one of three research focus areas of the University’s strategic vision, which calls for leveraging strengths in sensing, controls, machine learning, virtual reality and artificial intelligence to develop and deliver an interdisciplinary autonomous systems master's program.

The certificate program offers theoretical and practical coursework in computer science, psychology and human factors to facilitate the advancement of autonomous system design. Students also will study how to extract knowledge from data and then represent that information so it can be processed by a machine to improve its learning abilities.

“Data science is a growing industry,” said Zhongmei Yao, associate professor of computer science and director of the certificate program. “It really needs people who understand how to analyze data, how to gather information and knowledge from the data, and how to apply that knowledge to design intelligent systems."

Yao said the certificate will make students and professionals more attractive to employers by demonstrating their strength in autonomous systems.

The certificate requires five relevant courses, including an advanced programming and data structures course.

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, mathematics, engineering or one of the natural sciences to be accepted into the program. Current students in the University’s computer science master’s degree program may apply for the certificate program with no additional admission requirements.

The program was developed after two months of consultation with University faculty, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Ohio industry partners.

“Ohio just took a huge hit in automobile manufacturing jobs with GM closing its Lordstown plant as the company shifts its focus toward emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles,” Baldwin said. “Where are they going to get the people with those kinds of skills? It will be from people who have a background in autonomous systems, and this certificate gives them a leg up. So, we are helping position Ohio to respond to needs in industries like automotive manufacturing.”

Autonomous systems also have potential to serve the common good. For example, an autonomous search-and-rescue robot could look for survivors after a disaster much like a trained first responder, without putting human lives at risk.

“For any task that is inherently difficult, dangerous or ill-defined, industries will be looking to see if autonomous systems can help,” Baldwin said.

The World Economic Forum’s 2018 “The Future of Jobs Report” projected increasing demand through 2022 for a range of established technology-based roles, including data analysts and scientists. It also found evidence of accelerating demand for a variety of new specialist roles related to the latest emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, information security analysts and human-machine interaction designers.

“The military is very interested in autonomous systems for a variety of reasons,” Baldwin said, “and manufacturing would like to move beyond robots and say, ‘Now, instead of just doing assembly, why don’t you do some design work, determine the best design for this and come back and teach us about it.’

“But, I think the immediate future is going to be about making robotic systems more intelligent, with the ability to make informed decisions when they come up on something unexpected. Right now, they basically stop and say, ‘Human, I need some help here.’”

For more information or to register, please visit the certificate program website.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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