Wayne State’s Yanchao Liu receives two NSF grants including $500,000 CAREER award

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that, by the end of the year, more than 2.7 million commercial drones will be flying millions of trips per day in low-altitude airspace. Among the numerous applications for this burgeoning technology is delivery of consumer goods, which offers promising outcomes in reduction of urban road congestion and emissions, more optimal efficiency in transportation systems, and greater accessibility to consumers in rural areas or who have limited mobility.

Yanchao Liu, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at Wayne State University, has had several projects funded in this field. He recently received two grants from the National Science Foundation, including a five-year, $500,000 CAREER award — the most prestigious honor bestowed by the organization to rising researchers.

His project, “Integrative Resource Optimization Framework for Large-scale Drone Delivery Systems,” addresses safety and scalability obstacles facing retailers, restaurants and other businesses looking for market share of the drone delivery space.

“This award supports research toward a fundamental understanding of how diverse resources can be managed to enable efficient city-scale drone delivery services,” said Liu.

Yanchao Liu and students performing drone research.Liu will introduce a framework for modeling complex decision-making processes, taking a comprehensive approach to multifaceted challenges such as ground stations, battery management and airspace traffic coordination. Design and operational considerations include location of depots and rally points, fleet management and vehicle routing to account for power, traffic and weather constraints.

Since NSF CAREER awards place emphasis on the integration of research and education, Liu says his project “aims to generate new curricula, train new STEM talent and inspire entrepreneurs in a new field at the intersection of aviation, robotics and operations research. The education program will also create undergraduate research opportunities, particularly for under-represented minorities in STEM.”

A parallel project from Liu’s lab was backed by a $50,000 grant through NSF I-Corps, a program that nurtures innovation and helps scientific discoveries develop into new technologies, products, processes and services that benefit society. Liu is supported on that project by co-technical lead and Ph.D. student Zhenyu Zhou, entrepreneurial lead Adarash Mishra, and industrial mentor Eric Petersen.

Liu joined the Wayne State University College of Engineering faculty in 2017. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014, and worked in the private sector as a data scientist and analytics specialist. Liu’s research has been published in such journals as Transportation Science and Computers and Operations Research. His team is preparing to launch a startup company focusing on drone meal deliveries.

The grant number for Liu’s NSF CAREER award is 1944068.


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