William Norris awarded over $4M in contracts by Army Corp of Engineers to develop autonomous construction systems

August 8, 2019

William Gillespie

 Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering (ISE) Professor William R. (Bob) Norris and colleagues have been contracted by the US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) to develop autonomous construction systems. The funding represents the largest autonomous system project given to Illinois to date.

The researchers have been awarded two $1.2M 3-year contracts with options for over $1.8M additional for each project. Professor Norris is the sole Principal Investigator (PI) for one project. ISE Department Head and Professor Rakesh Nagi is the PI for the second project, with ISE Professors R.S. Sreenivas and William Norris as co-PIs. These projects are contracts as opposed to grants, which ensures the graduate students who assist will be solving real-world engineering problems of national importance.

Autonomous military systems will operate in challenging and uncontrolled environments that include restricted terrain and limited or completely denied GPS and communications. These contracts specify the development and integration of low level machine control, machine tool implement control, as well as comprehensive and optimized mission planning capabilities for such unmanned military equipment. These systems will be utilized to support Combat Engineer missions such as obstacle reduction, combat route maintenance and repair, and horizontal construction for building contingency bases.

In addition, a $1.5 M plus-up for the defense budget, written by Professor Norris, and approved by CERL and the University, has been ratified by both the US House and Senate for inclusion in the defense budget. Once appropriated, this additional funding will be used to  develop an initiative creating a center on the Illinois campus integrating the needs of the DoD, academia, and industry, in developing and applying autonomous system technologies in construction. 

Professor William 'Bob' Norris
Professor William 'Bob' Norris
 As an educator and researcher, Professor Norris joins ISE bringing significant experience in industry, academia, and the military.  Norris's domains of expertise include autonomous systems in construction equipment, agriculture, security, first responder, and the home. In addition to automated construction projects, some of his team’s current work includes research in aerial applications, underwater systems, consumer mowing, and crop health assessment.  With this cluster of significant projects, Professor Norris hopes to make ISE and Illinois a national center of autonomous systems. 

Norris says, “As a result of ISE and our team’s expertise in autonomy, mechatronics, control systems and machine learning, we’re among the prominent technology leaders in the autonomous and unmanned systems field, developing new state-of-the-art technologies and applying them to real-world autonomous and unmanned systems on land (on-road and off-road), sea and air.

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