Funded projects

Federally Funded Projects

U.S. Army STTR Phase II: Autonomous Broad Spectrum Environmental Sentinels

Investigators: University PI: K. K. Leang; Industry Team: C. Miller (PI), B. Rogers (co-PI), R. Whitten (co-PI), J. Adams (co-PI), and L. Deal (co-PI).

Sponsor: U.S. Dept. of Defense, Army STTR Program

Project Duration: 7/8/2016 – 7/7/2018

Goal: The goal of the proposed program is the development of a hover-capable, flying robot with integrated chemical sensing, inter-unit communication, and the potential for basic swarming. Utilizing the real-time data collected and analyzed by these sensors, the unit will be capable of swarming with other units during surveillance of a given area to, for example, localize and profile a contaminant source.

PIRE:Advanced Artificial Muscles for International and Globally Competitive Research and Education in Soft Robotics

Investigators: K.J. Kim (PI, UNLV); co-PIs: P. Oh (UNLV), K. K. Leang (UU), M. Profiri (NYU) and C. Bae (RPI)

Project duration: Oct. 1, 2015 – Sept. 31, 2020

Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Goal and Objectives: This international project addresses a technologically important issues in soft robotics. Soft robotics is an important emerging field in robotics, mechatronics, and automation. Soft robotic components and systems offer new features and advances over conventional robotic devices. This project focuses on the creation of advanced multifunctional artificial muscles (AM) based on new polymer-metal composites which can be used in soft robotic applications. Artificial muscles can be transformative for millions of people with disabilities. The development of AM will benefit biomimetic soft robotics, medical diagnostics and tools, and invasive surgical systems. The potential market for reliable, cost-effective and easily scalable Ionic Polymer-Metal Composites (IPMCs)-based AM technology is substantial. The international partners are from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Graduate School of Ocean Systems Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Hybrid Actuator Group, Inorganic Functional Material Research Institute at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan. The international team has strong expertise in manufacture engineering and has the necessary computational and experimental resources.

GOALI/Collaborative Research: Precision Control of Nanopositioners

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI); co-PIs: S. Park (MVI) and G. Clayton (VU)

Project duration: Sept. 1, 2015 – Aug. 31, 2018

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, Sensors, CMMI Dynamics, & Control Program

Goal and Objectives:  This project focuses on new design and control paradigms for dual-stage nanopositioners that consider both spatial and temporal constraints. Emerging dual-stage nanopositioners have the unique ability to achieve both long-range and high-speed operation. However, typical control strategies rely on frequency-based information to split the control effort between the two actuators, which results in some precision positioning trajectories being unachievable. Therefore, dual-stage nanopositioners cannot achieve high positioning resolution when range and frequency are not inversely correlated. To advance the state-of-the-art, a control-centered design approach will be taken to establish the guidelines and requirements for creating high-performance dual-stage nanopositioners. To enhance the understanding and control system design process, detailed input-output models that capture the dynamics of the system (nonlinear and dynamic effects) and sensor characteristics will be obtained. An innovative control algorithm which systematically considers both spatial and temporal information will be developed to effectively allocate the control input.  The research outcomes will lead to improvement in the performance of nanotechnologies, such as video-rate scanning probe microscopy, desktop nano-rapid prototyping and nanomanufacturing systems, precision advanced additive manufacturing systems, and micro rapid inspection and repair systems. The research collaboration and the educational activities will expose graduate and undergraduate engineering students, K-12 students, and the wider community to cutting-edge research and findings in control, nanotechnology, and high-impact industry applications.

SBIR Phase I: Video-rate atomic force microscope for functional gas and liquid environments

Investigators: University PI: K. K. Leang; Industry Team: S. Park (PI), Molecular Vista, Inc.

Project duration: Feb. 17, 2015 – Dec 14, 2015

Sponsor: U.S. Department of Energy

Goal and Objectives:  This project focuses on developing a video-rate atomic force microscope for functional gas and liquid environments.

PFI:BIC: Enhanced Situational Awareness Using Unmanned Autonomous Systems for Disaster Remediation

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI); co-PIs: G. Bebis, G. Kent, C. Murrray and W. Yim

Project duration: Aug. 1, 2014 – July 31, 2017

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships, Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) Program

Goal and Objectives: The goal of this project is to enhance the situational awareness capabilities of law enforcement agencies and first responders by employing unmanned autonomous systems (UAS) with high-resolution sensing and imaging capabilities for disaster remediation.  The project’s objectives include: (1) develop and integrate UAS platforms, sensors, imaging and communication systems, and control and path planning algorithms to create a UAS-based smart service system for first response, (2) model the state of human and infrastructure during a disaster, identify the scene, and create access paths to safety, (3) test prototypes and pursue commercialization opportunities, and (4) educate the public and train first responders on the technology.

Collaborative Research: High-speed AFM Imaging of Dynamics on Biopolymers Through Non-raster Scanning

Investigators: Kam K. Leang (co-PI) in collaboration with Drs. Sean Andersson and Kevin Moore (Boston University, Lead)

Project duration: Aug. 15, 2014 – Aug. 14, 2017

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, Division of Biological Infrastructure, Instrumentation and Instrument Development (IDBR) Program

Goal and Objectives: The goal of this collaborative proposal is to create a new AFM tool that offers frame rates on the order of 100 frames/sec with scan range up to 10 μm for a particular class of biologically relevant samples, namely biopolymers and other “string-like” samples. Dynamics of interest in this class include the motion of molecular motors on their biopolymers, the dynamics of tropomyosin and of troponin on actin, binding and unbinding of regulatory proteins on DNA, and many more. The approach taken is to combine the nonraster approach with novel high-speed nanopositioning stages and advanced controllers to achieve an order of magnitude or better improvement in frame rate over existing commercial AFMs.

Advanced Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Sensors for Aerospace Robotic Applications

Investigators: C. Fritsen (Program PI), K.J. Kim (Science PI), K.K. Leang (co-PI), W. Yim (co-PI), D.-C. Lee (co-PI), and A.-M. Vollstedt (co-PI).

Sponsor: NASA EPSCoR Program

Project duration: Sept. 1, 2013 – June. 30, 2014 (Co-PI change due to resignation from UNR)

Goal:  This is an integrated and state-wide collaborative project between the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), the University
of Nevada, Reno (UNR), and the Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC). The main goal of this project is to advance the development and understanding of electroactive polymer sensors and actuators for applications in autonomous and emerging NASA related aerospace robotic and structural systems. Specifically, the research focuses on material processing, materials chemistry, modeling and control, and systems-level integration for electroactive polymer materials. An education plan is also proposed to integrate innovative teaching material on electroactive polymers for training the future workforce across the three campuses.

U.S. Army STTR Phase I: Autonomous Broad Spectrum Environmental Sentinels

Investigators: University PI: K. K. Leang; Industry Team: B. Rogers (PI), R. Whitten (co-PI), J. Adams (co-PI), and L. Deal (co-PI).

Sponsor: U.S. Dept. of Defense, Army STTR Program

Project Duration: Jan. 9, 2014 – June 30, 2014

Goal: The goal of the proposed program is the development of a hover-capable, flying robot with integrated chemical sensing, inter-unit communication, and the potential for self-powering. The final platform will detect environmental threats in vapor form using interchangeable, onboard sensors. Utilizing the real-time data collected and analyzed by these sensors, the unit will be capable of swarming with other units during surveillance of a given area to, for example, localize and profile a contaminant source.

Artificial Muscle (AM) Cilia Array for Underwater Systems

Investigators: K.J. Kim (PI) and K.K. Leang (co-PI).

Sponsor: Office of Naval Research (ONR), Bio-Inspired Autonomous Systems Program

Project duration: 2012 – 2015

Goal:  The goal of this project is to exploit the unique properties of a new enabling “Artificial Muscle [AM]” to develop and deliver a working cilia-based array for possible use in naval applications.  An AM is a multifunctional, smart polymer whose electromechanical properties can be controlled, resulting in reproducible actuation and sensing capabilities.  Like biological muscles, the AM technology exhibits large motion, good force, fast response, good efficiency, long cycle life, and silent operation.  By developing an array of AM-based cilia, a rigorous investigation and study can be conducted to determine the feasibility, effectiveness, and application of such a technology in naval systems.  To this end, we propose to develop, test, and evaluate a cilia-based AM array which mimics the motion of biological cilium.

NSF GK-12 E-Fellowhship Program: Toward Energy Aware STEM Leaders for the 21st Century

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI); co-PIs: K.J. Kim, E. Wang, J. LaCombe, M. Robinson.

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, DGE GK-12 Program

Project duration: 2011- 2015

Goal: The program partners E-Fellows with middle and high school teachers across four schools in the Washoe County School District (WCSD) to bring their STEM energy-related research into K-12 classrooms via inquiry- and project-based activities.

Research topics include energy harvesting using smart materials, nanomaterials for photovoltaics, hydrogen energy and storage, biomass and biofuels, geothermal, wind energy, and efficient power grid systems.

Local Nevada energy industry collaborators include NV Energy and Ormat Nevada.

NSF MRI: Acquisition of High Performance Nano-Mechanical Tester for Micro/ Nanomechanical Characterization

Investigators: Y. Jiang (PI); co-PIs: K.J. Kim, K. K. Leang, R. Gibson.

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, CMMI NanoManufacturing Program

Project duration: Aug. 15, 2011 – Aug. 14, 2013

Goal: A critical mass of researchers with interdisciplinary research interests at UNR has acquired a new and critical instrument through the NSF, the Hysitron TI-950 Triboindentor nano-mechanical testing system. Northern Nevada including UNR does not have a nano-mechanical tester, thus the lack of such an instrument (or quick access to a nearby instrument) imposes significant challenges to researchers at UNR and local industry partners in advancing materials research and development. The newly acquired instrument will immediately support 8 research projects at UNR and initiate transformative research and industry collaborations. In addition to supporting a large number of research projects, the instrument will support undergraduate and graduate courses and train science and engineering students in state-of-the-art materials characterization techniques.

NUE: Integration of Nanotech into ME curriculum via Energy Efficient Systems & Dynamic Structures

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI); co-PI: J. Suhr, J. Cannon.

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, NUE Program

Project duration: 2009 – 2012

Goal: Study the use of nanocomposites for energy efficient systems and dynamic structures such as snow skis. Develop engineering curriculum that focuses on the fundamentals of nanocomposites.

A twistable artificial muscle (AM) fin

Investigators: K.J. Kim (PI) and K.K. Leang (co-PI).

Sponsor: Office of Naval Research (ONR), Bio-Inspired Autonomous Systems Program

Project duration: 2009 – 2012

Goal: The ultimate goal of this project is to capitalize on the unique properties of a new enabling “Artificial Muscle [AM]” to develop and deliver a compact and energy-efficient technology for enhanced maneuvering of small biorobotic unmanned surface/underwater vehicles. An AM is a multifunctional, smart polymer whose electronic properties can be controlled and reproducibly changed in response to the environment. Like biological muscles, the AM technology has the capacity to perform diversified functions because of its unique properties such as large motion, good force, fast response, good efficiency, and long cycle life. It has been shown that fish and naval mammals routinely use unsteady hydrodynamics for enhanced maneuvering.

Novel Multifunctional SPM Probe w/ Modular Quick- Change Tips for Fully Automated Probe- Based Nano- manufacturing

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI) and C.R. Taylor (co-PI).

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, CMMI NanoManufacturing Program

Project duration: 2007 – 2012

Goal: The goal of this research is to address the critical issues of throughput, repeatability, scalability, and limited functionality of probe-based nanofabrication by designing, fabricating, and testing a novel active cantilever probe with an automated ability to interchange probe tips (tools). To do so, we propose the exploration of using active cantilever probes with an automated ability to interchange probe tips, for example, from sharp pyramidal tips with various sizes and materials to chemically functionalized tips for biological printing to nanowire tips for high resolution metrology to dynamic tips that can be used for machining, nanomanipulation, or material modification; without the need for an operator to physically remove/replace the cantilever as in traditional SPM.

Integration of Modeling & Control of Smart Actuators for Nano/Bio Technology into ME Curriculum

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI), co-PIs: S. Devasia, Q. Zou, G. Pannozzo.

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, DUE CCLI Program

Project duration: 2007- 2009.

Goal: The goal of this project is to prepare the engineering workforce with knowledge, understanding, and skills for nano/bio-related fields. Specifically, the project’s goal will be achieved by integrating a module on smart actuators into the mechanical engineering (ME) undergraduate curriculum. The module will be developed to address the important aspects of modeling, control, and design of smart actuator-based systems through a collection of specially designed lectures (theory) and laboratory experiments.

Harvesting Thermal Energy Using Enhanced Ferroelectric Materials

Investigators: K. M. Mossi (PI) and K. K. Leang (co-PI).

Sponsor: Air Force STTR Phase I Project

Project duration: Nov. 1, 2007 – Aug. 31, 2008

Space Frame Design for ME Senior Design Projects, Nevada NASA Space Grant Consortium

Investigators: J. Suhr (PI) and K.K. Leang (co-PI).

Sponsor: NV NASA Space Grant Consortium

Project duration: Aug. 1, 2008 – Dec. 31, 2008

Development Funding Request – Development of a New Mechatronics Course (ME 422/622) at UNR

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI) and E. Wang (co-PI).

Sponsor: NV NASA Space Grant Consortium

Project duration: Aug. 24, 2009 – Mar. 1, 2010

Nevada Space Grant Consortium: EPSCoR 2009 Proposal Development

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI).

Sponsor: NV NASA Space Grant Consortium

Project duration: 3/1/09 – 6/1/09.

Internally  Funded Projects 

Nevada Unmanned Autonomous Systems (UAS) and Advanced Manufacturing (AM) Research Infrastructure

Investigators: George Bebis (PI) and Kam K. Leang (co-PI)

Sponsor:   UNR VPRI Office, Acquisition of Instructional and Research Equipment (AIRE) Program, Project duration: 3/14 – 6/14.

Seed funding: Development of a test platform for research on advanced modeling and control of micro unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)

Investigators: K. K. Leang (PI).

Sponsor:  UNR College of Engineering, Project duration: 1/13 – 6/13.

Development of an Autonomous Micro Flying Robot for Disaster Search and Rescue Operations

Investigators: K. K. Leang (PI).

Sponsor:  UNR Undergraduate Research Award, Project duration: 5/12 – 11/13.

Undergradute student researcher: Ketan Mittal

Design of an Autonomous Underwater Robot Propelled by Ionic Polymer Metal Composite (IPMC) Actuators

Investigators: K. K. Leang (PI).

Sponsor:  UNR Undergraduate Research Award, Project duration: 5/09 – 11/09.

Undergradute student researcher: Alex Wirtz

HSURP: Optimizing the Design and Fabrication of Ionic Polymer Metal Composite (IPMC) Actuators to Propel an Autonomous Underwater Robot

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI).

Sponsor:  VCU Honors College, Project duration: 6/4/07 – 7/13/07.

Undergraduate Instructional Modernization for Energy: Safety and Sustainability of Nuclear Waste and Transportation & Energy Harvesting

Investigators: K. K. Leang (PI) and M. Greiner (co-PI).

Sponsor: UNR Student Technology Fee Award, Project duration: 5/09 – 6/10.

Industry  Supported Projects, Collaborations, and Consulting 

Design/control of nanopositioning systems

Investigators: K.K. Leang and A.J. Fleming

Sponsor: PiezoDrive, Project duration: on-going.

Objective:  Support include high-performance piezoelectric voltage and current amplifiers for nanopositioning research.  For more information about PiezoDrive products, visit their website at www.piezodrive.com.

Characterization of Composite Piezo- electric Actuators Using Charge- Feedback Control

Investigators: K.K. Leang (PI), co-PIs: K.M. Mossi (co-PI) and J. E. Speich

Sponsor: Trek Inc., NY, Project duration: 10/2005 – 06/2006.

Design of a high-performance scanner for AFM

Company:  Molecular Vista, Inc., Project duration: 2012-present

Scope of Work: Designed piezo-driven, flexure-based high-speed scanner for commercial AFM system.