CMU partners with Boeing to start new data analytics lab

The Boeing Company, the world’s largest aerospace company, has partnered with Carnegie Mellon to establish the Boeing/Carnegie Mellon Aerospace Data Analytics Lab, a new academic research partnership that will take advantage of Carnegie Mellon’s involvement in data analytics. Over the next three years, Boeing will provide $7.5 million for the lab, which will involve both Carnegie Mellon’s Language Technologies Institute and the machine learning department.

Jaime Carbonell, an Allen Newell University Professor in Carnegie Mellon’s computer science department and the director of the Language Technologies Institute, will lead the new research team. John Vu, a professor in the Language Technologies Institute and the computational biology department and a former Boeing chief software engineer, will also be involved in developing and overseeing the project.

In an interview with The Tartan, Vu explained that the Boeing/Carnegie Mellon Aerospace Data Analytics Lab has been a long time in the making. Although Boeing and Carnegie Mellon just signed the partnership a few weeks ago, foundations for the lab started several years ago. The lab has already discerned more than six initial projects, and hopes to involve at least 20 faculty members and graduate student researchers.

Few people know that aeronautics is one of the most data-intensive businesses around. Airplanes contain embedded computers and thousands of sensors that are constantly collecting data, and taking large amounts of measurements is an integral part of making flight possible. These data are collected and analyzed to gain useful insights to improve airplane efficiency and safety. Boeing, with 8,000 to 10,000 sensors on each of its aircrafts, has begun to take the massive amount of data collected during each flight and use it to improve fuel efficiency, increase the speed at which parts are delivered, and find better flight paths to reduce airline delays.

The Boeing/Carnegie Mellon Aerospace Data Analytics lab is a continuation of this effort to make sense of the large amount of aerospace data. The goal of the partnership is to discover ways to take advantage of the large amount of data generated in the design, construction, and operation of aircrafts by applying Carnegie Mellon’s expertise in language technology and machine learning in order to optimize various aspects of Boeing’s operations.

Ted Colbert, Boeing’s chief information officer, talked about the high-level goals of the lab in a university press release. “We’re aiming to push the technology envelope,” Colbert said. “We have the best and the brightest faculty at a leading institution focused on how we can innovate and solve business challenges for today and into the future.”

Nancy Bailey, vice president of Boeing IT Business Partners, also commented on the new partnership. “We couldn’t be more excited to engage with and leverage the research power and incredible knowledge of a premier academic institution,” Bailey said.

One of the main challenges the lab will address is how to apply machine learning in order to develop new maintenance schedules for planes based on flight history and component performance instead of following historical maintenance schedules. By doing this, the lab hopes to make airplanes safer for passengers and reduce time lost on the tarmac due to last-minute mechanical failures. The lab will also work on implementing evidence-based predictions to enable preventive inspections or replacements before a failure in order to lower the cost of coping with unscheduled failures and to increase safety.

“The mass of data generated daily by the aerospace industry overwhelms human understanding,” Carbonell said in a university press release, “but recent advances in language technologies and machine learning give us every reason to expect that we can gain useful insights from that data. The new algorithms and methods should create a stronger aerospace industry and be applicable to many other important endeavors.”

According to Vu, the collaboration between Boeing, a major industry player, and Carnegie Mellon will provide new opportunities for faculty to solve real problems with real data, and will benefit Carnegie Mellon students by giving them an opportunity to learn practical skills so they will be ready to work with minimal training when they graduate.

“Researchers from Carnegie Mellon and Boeing have enjoyed a collaborative relationship for more than 30 years, and we’re proud of the fact that hundreds of our graduates are working at Boeing,” said President Subra Suresh in a university press release. “This new agreement will extend this relationship even further, leveraging the distinctive intellectual strengths of [Carnegie Mellon University] to benefit everyone who steps onto an airplane.”