A team of engineers and computer scientists from the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, along with multi-disciplinary collaborators at other institutions, will work together over the next two years to prepare a proposal for one of the National Science Foundation’s National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes.

The NSF’s program, slated to award $200 million over six years, is designed to advance research in AI and develop transformational, AI-powered innovation by allowing researchers to focus on larger-scale, longer-term research in a variety of areas.

Bruno Sinopoli, the Das Family Distinguished Professor and chair of the Preston M. Green Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering, leads the two-year, $500,000 planning grant with co-investigators Yevgeniy Vorobeychik, associate professor of computer science & engineering at WashU; Lui Sha, the Donald B. Gillies Chair in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Huei Peng, the Roger L. McCarthy Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and the director of Mcity, an advanced mobility research center; and Dawn Song, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley.  

The planning grant allows the team to build cohesion, create ties with industry and create an infrastructure to submit a proposal for the multi-million-dollar Institute grant.

The team’s theme is TRustworthy Autonomous Systems Engineering (TRASE), which will focus on the design of autonomous systems that behave in a predictable and safe manner and are accountable to decision-makers, Vorobeychik said.

Specifically, the team will focus on autonomous systems, such as self-driving vehicles and delivery drones.

“We have to ensure that their behavior is trustworthy and that they don’t do anything unexpected that could potentially be damaging, both to people and to infrastructure,” Sinopoli said, referring to several accidents that have happened with self-driving cars in the past few years. “The lack of trustworthiness could come from different places, ranging from malicious attacks to errors in the AI-enabled inferences. In addition, a key property we wish to enforce is explainability, so that you are confident in the answers the system gives.”

The effort includes nearly 15 additional collaborators with plans to add several more. McKelvey Engineering collaborators include Sanjoy Baruah, professor of computer science& engineering; Ayan Chakrabarti, assistant professor of computer science & engineering; Chris Gill, professor of computer science & engineering; Marion Neumann, senior lecturer of computer science & engineering; Shantanu Chakrabartty, the Clifford W. Murphy Professor; Will Yeoh, associate professor of computer science & engineering; Ning Zhang, assistant professor of computer science & engineering; and Xuan “Silvia” Zhang, assistant professor of electrical & systems engineering.


The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 140 full-time faculty, 1,387 undergraduate students, 1,448 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

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