Kennesaw State professor awarded NSF grant to explore brain-inspired computer vision

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 3, 2022

Kennesaw State University faculty member Yan Fang will examine the human brain’s capabilities as he and his students research ways to make drones and robots better at tracking fast-moving objects without exhausting their limited battery power.

Fang, an assistant professor in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, earned a prestigious grant for early-career researchers from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which will fund his research through 2024.

Yan Fang

The NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) award is highly competitive and provides resources to help new faculty members launch their research careers in computer science and engineering. Fang came to Kennesaw State in the fall of 2021 after earning a doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh and working as a postdoctoral researcher at Georgia Tech. 

“I am pleased that Dr. Fang’s work has been recognized with this NSF award,” Turaj Ashuri, SPCEET’s interim assistant dean of research, said. “This grant award demonstrates our commitments and efforts to give cutting-edge research opportunities to our students, which is a component of the University’s strategic growth framework.”

Fang will work with a Ph.D. student and a few undergraduate students on this project. They will use the nearly $174,000 in funding to research novel structures of computing systems, design course modules, and initiate K-12 education outreach for local minority high school students. 

“Dr. Fang’s research in neuromorphic processing of visual data mimics how the brain handles information from the eyes,” chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Benjamin Klein said. “This is a very exciting application of artificial intelligence that will help computers interpret what they see. We are delighted that NSF recognizes the importance of this work.”

Small, battery-powered computing systems face a challenge handling complex visual data.

“We are trying to solve issues with visual tracking,” Fang said. “On small devices, like cell phones, wearable devices, and drones, the battery power and the computing abilities are limited and not very powerful. If your target is moving quickly, it is also difficult to recognize and track it.” 

Fang explained the process of visual tracking by comparing a new dynamic vision camera that captures fast-moving objects to a frog’s vision, which recognizes flies as food when they are moving but does not associate them with food when they are motionless. 

Fang and his students will get inspiration from the human brain, which can quickly compute and process images to address the challenges that next-generation computer systems face.  

“This research is important because devices like cell phones and drones, are widely used in our daily life,” Fang said. “Research that improves the computing capability and energy efficiency of these devices will make them more intelligent and powerful.”

Visual processing tasks like detection, tracking, and navigation are essential to unmanned aerial vehicles, robots, surveillance, and defense systems. 

“I feel honored to be a recipient of this award,” Fang said. “I’m excited to begin this research with more resources and undergraduate students who continuously impress me with their knowledge and ideas.” 

– Abbey O’Brien Barrows
Photos by David Caselli

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