The Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) awarded nearly $120,000 in seed grants to four research teams focused on projects that include introducing K-12 students to artificial intelligence as a key component of autonomous vehicle technology, using machine learning and optimization tools to maintain Illinois’ roads, creating a human resources tool for developmental disability services organizations, and developing short courses to support the Illinois livestock industry.
The funding is part of IIN’s Sustaining Illinois program, which is designed to increase collaborative research among the state’s public universities, focusing on the economy, health and social well-being, while addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Sustaining Illinois now includes 36 funded projects, and 13 of the 15 IIN hubs have been lead recipients of funding. This round of projects marks the milestone of all 15 hubs participating in at least one seed grant.
IIN is a group of 15 university-based hubs across the state working to boost Illinois’ economy through entrepreneurship, research and workforce development. The seed funding was provided by the University of Illinois System and Northern Illinois University (NIU).
“I continue to be impressed by the ingenuity, quality and focus areas of the proposals our Sustaining Illinois seed grant program receives,” U of I System Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation Jay Walsh said. “These funded projects reflect not only key areas of impact for our state but also strengths of our public universities.”
The proposals were required to include researchers from at least two IIN hubs and be completed within one year of receiving funding. Proposals were evaluated on their alignment with IIN principles, how well they address their stated areas of sustainability, the scope of their work and level of collaboration, as well as their potential for further work.
“These collaborative projects show the high level of impact IIN can have across Illinois,” said Gerald Blazey, chair of the IIN Council and Northern Illinois University vice president for Research and Innovation Partnerships. “IIN researchers from every hub continue R&D in areas critical to our state, nation and world.”
The four newly funded projects and researchers are:
Artificial Intelligence Foundations in Autonomous Vehicles for Career Explorers
Rebekka Darner, director of the Center for Mathematics, Science, and Technology, Illinois State University (ISU); Elahe Javadi, associate professor of information systems, ISU; Elham Khorasani Buxton, associate professor of computer science, University of Illinois Springfield (UIS).
Cost-effective Road Maintenance through Machine Learning and Optimization Methods
Abdelmounaam Rezgui, associate professor of information technology, ISU; Moussa Ayyash, professor of computing sciences and technology, Chicago State University (CSU).
Developing a Human Resources Tool for Intellectual and Developmental Disability Service Organizations
Jinsook Kim, professor of public health, NIU; Jennifer Gray, professor of public health, NIU; Caitlin Crabb, visiting research assistant professor of disability and human development, University of Illinois Chicago (UIC); Kelly Hsieh, research associate professor of disability and human development, UIC; Tamar Heller, distinguished professor and director of the University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities for the State of Illinois, UIC.
Educating Students, Farmers, and Professionals to Support the Livestock Industry of Illinois
Eduardo Gastal, professor of animal science, Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC); Igor Canisso, associate professor of veterinary clinical medicine, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.