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Dalhousie signs research agreement with Boeing

Ask an engineering professor about their favourite sort of work, and many will respond that it's projects with industrial partners – those chances to tackle real-world problems and, through collaboration, produce work that makes a tangible, direct difference. Many in computer science would share the sentiment.

Thanks to a new investment from Boeing, faculty and students in those disciplines are being given a huge opportunity to engage in just that sort of research.

On Tuesday, Dalhousie announced a partnership with the international aerospace company for applied projects in advanced materials, mobile graphics and visual and text analytics – each addressing specific industrial needs that will have implications not just at Boeing, but beyond.

"This is a very exciting afternoon," said Dalhousie President Tom Traves, speaking at a celebration event at the Life Science Research Institute, adding that the agreement is an example of how Dalhousie can pair "world-class academic research with world-class industrial partners."

Making data easier to use

Evangelos Milios, computer science professor, is leading two of the projects. The first, mobile graphics, will help deliver complicated drawings, schematics and blueprints to aircraft manufacturing and maintenance technicians using smartphones, tablet computers and projection systems.

The other, visual and text analytics, is about finding new ways to display, mine and interpret the massive amount of data that Boeing collects about each aircraft for improving safety.

"Every maintenance action on Boeing aircraft is recorded and sent to Boeing – the same with any accident, injury, problem during take-off," he explained. "There is a massive amount of text on everything to do with the aircraft, but it's what we call 'noisy' text: it has jargon, includes ad-hoc acronyms, has poor grammar, and it may not make sense to people in other parts of the company.

"We want to work to make it clean and accessible so it can be used by aircraft designers and safety engineers to improve aircraft safety."

Advanced materials, new opportunities

Paul Bishop, with the Department of Process Engineering and Applied Science, heads up the project in advanced materials, which will use advanced computer modeling—"from the atom to the finished project," he explained—and other techniques to develop alloys and coatings to improve durability and strength of the materials used in aircraft parts: aluminum, titanium, steel.

Each of these projects with Boeing will involve a number of faculty researchers, but also will provide extensive opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to conduct applied research.

"It's a great environment for students," said Dr. Bishop. "They get to take part in an applied program with a direct industrial impact."

Collaborative strength

The funding for the projects, totaling in excess of $7 million, comes through Canada's Industrial & Regional Benefits program, which requires companies who win defense and security contracts with the Government of Canada to make investments in the Canadian economy.

On Boeing's part, it's an opportunity to collaborate and strengthen their research capacity, both in Canada and internationally.

"We believe this kind of collaboration can lead to more breakthroughs than Boeing and our partners can accomplish on our own," said Diane Axness, director of platform systems/subsystems technology with Boeing, who spoke of the value the research will have. "We're proud to have Atlantic Canada's leading research university on these research projects."

"We have a strong history of partnership," added Susan Colegrove, regional director of International Strategic Partnerships for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. "We're privileged and honoured to include Dalhousie on the list."

Other Dal faculty involved in these projects include:

Engineering: Stephen Corbin, Darrel Doman, Kevin Plucknett, Josef Zwanziger.

Computer Science: Raza Abidi, Dirk Arnold, Stephen Brooks, Quigang Gao, Kirstie Hawkey, Vlado Keselj, Derek Reilly, Srini Sampalli, Michael Shepherd, Carolyn Watters.

Press release issued by Dalhousie University on September 7, 2011


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