How Autonomous Swarms will Explore Space

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Dr. Nhut Tan Ho is currently Founding Director of the NASA Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM and a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), where he has taken on multifaceted leadership roles with the purpose of making meaningful and deep impact on students and society.

As a change agent, Dr. Ho’s leadership purpose is to build institutional research capacity to engage underserved/underrepresented students in STEAHM, and to provide know-how to higher education systems in the developing world to transform curricula and culture, and produce graduates that meet international accreditation standards.  A case in point is his leadership in securing $3.8-million in grants from NASA, the Department of Defense, industry, and the CSU system, to establish the Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM (ARCS) at CSUN.  ARCS, is a multidisciplinary university center of excellence, combining the knowledge, experience, and talents of faculty and students from across CSUN colleges and units, including Science (physical, social, and behavioral) (S), Technology (Technology and engineering), Entrepreneurship (E and business), Arts (Arts, media, and communications), Humanities (H) and Mathematics (M).  ARCS’ vision is to be an international leader in education, research and commercialization regarding increasingly autonomous (IA) systems.  In order to achieve its vision, ARCS will use a Convergence Research model to build a multidisciplinary STEAHM workforce prepared to have major and lasting societal impacts. ARCS faculty and staff will establish a culture of excellence that will enable student success. ARCS will substantially increase CSUN institutional research capacity by supporting scholarship across campus and fostering partnerships with federal agencies, industry, non-governmental organizations, other universities and colleges, and local businesses. And, through dissemination and commercialization of innovations, ARCS will contribute significantly to basic research and use-inspired problems in current and emerging globally relevant areas.

Another case in point is his leadership in reforming higher education in Vietnam.   Between 2008 and 2014, he served as CDIO Chief Advisor to the Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh (VNU-HCM).  In this role and as a Fulbright Scholar, he led efforts in introducing the innovative curriculum reform model Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate (CDIO) in Vietnam, translating the CDIO book into Vietnamese, helping Vietnamese universities implement the model, and helping the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training develop strategic plans for its widespread implementation throughout Vietnam.  To date, over 50 programs at the VNV-HCM, and many other Vietnam’s universities have implemented CDIO to reform their curricula and have achieved high marks with international accreditation agencies, such as ABET and AUN-QA.  For these contributions, Dr. Ho was awarded the VNU-HCM Outstanding Contribution Award in 2012.  Since 2018, through the US Fulbright Specialist program, he has been serving as Senior Advisor to the President for Institutional Reform for Vinh University, a 38,000+ student university in Northern Central Vietnam.  In this role, he’s leading the strategic development and overseeing the implementation of strategic realignment and initiatives aiming to enable Vinh become a leader in teacher training education in Vietnam by reforming the entire university’s curricula using the CDIO approach.  Vinh University awarded Dr. Ho the Outstanding Contributions Award in 2018.

As a teacher, his leadership purpose is to transform the learning environment in ways that not only improve the engagement and retention of all students in STEM fields, with a special emphasis on minority and underserved students, but also help them achieve their full potentials.  At the Department level, he secured funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Army, and led the design and construction of a Student Design Center, which provides a modern and supportive learning community for hundreds of students each day.  He also led the reforming of the Department’s Design-STEM courses to allow underprepared students to take introductory and computer-aided design courses in freshman and sophomore years without math and physics prerequisites. At the College level, Dr. Ho served as the Founding Director of the Schaffer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, developed and implemented a funds raising campaign, built a network of internal and external stakeholders, and developed curriculum for institutionalization of entrepreneurship activities.  He is also a champion in engaging underserved and under-represented engineering and social science undergraduate students in research and in publications.  Many of his students, undergraduates who conduct research under his guidance, have been accepted into the best graduate programs and obtained top professional jobs.  For these accomplishments, Dr. Ho was recognized with the San Fernando Valley Engineers’ Council 2018 Distinguished Engineering Educator Award and 2007 Outstanding Achievement Merit Award.

As a researcher, his leadership purpose is to form and lead multi-disciplinary teams and conduct cutting edge research and use the scientific discovery as a means to make practical and substantial impact on people’s lives.  Two exemplars of this impact are: 1) an Air Force-sponsored field study that assessed trust and operational use of the F-16 Automated Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) among operational F-16 pilots, engineers, and Air Force leaders. The study identified a critical safety issue that directly led to a fleet-wide aircraft system modification.  Dr. Ho has published over 16 papers on this study, and he and his team were recognized with the 2018 Collier Trophy Award and the Journal of Ergonomics in Design The Most Outstanding Article in 2016; and 2) an FAA-sponsored research project that developed and implemented aircraft noise abatement procedures that reduce 50% of the noise intensity on the residential communities underneath the aircraft flight path.  For this work, he was awarded the FAA/NASA/Transport Canada-Sponsored Center of Excellence PARTNER – Joseph A. Hartman Award.  He also has pioneered Human Machine Teaming systems for NASA and other DoD organizations to conduct research on building effective partnership between human operators and automation for large, complex systems.  Currently the Air Force Office of Scientific Research is sponsoring his research to conduct simulation and field experiments to investigate how robotic learning affects trust in human-machine teaming between firefighters and robotic teammates consisting of an AI-based robot-leader and unmanned autonomous aerial and ground vehicles.


 9/19-Present. Director. NASA Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM (Science, Technology + engineering, Entrepreneurship, Arts, Humanities, and Mathematics)

12/18-Present.  Senior Advisor to the President for Institutional Reform, Vinh University in Vietnam.

7/18-8/18. Fulbright Specialist. U.S. Department of State.

8/13-Present. Professor. CSUN Department of Mechanical Engineering.

4/12-Present. Journal Editorial Board Member: Quality Assurance in Engineering & Education.

9/10-9/14.  CDIO Chief Advisor.  Vietnam National University – Ho Chi Minh City.

8/09-8/13. Associate Professor. CSUN Department of Mechanical Engineering.

2/ 05-8/09. Assistant Professor. CSUN Department of Mechanical Engineering.

9/06-9/08. Founding Director. CSUN Schaeffer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

2/08-6/08. Fulbright Scholar.  J. William Fulbright Scholarship Program.

9/05-Present.  Director. System Engineering Research Laboratory.

6/05-9/05. Research Fellow. NASA Ames, Human Systems Integration Division.

9/ 02-12/02. Teaching Assistant. MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering.

9/99-12/04. Research Assistant. MIT International Center for Air Transportation.

6/01-9/01. Research Engineer. NASA Ames Research Center, ATM Research Branch.

6/99-9/99. Engineer. General Electric Aircraft Engines, Lynn, Massachusetts.

8/98-5/99. Research Assistant. MIT Adaptive Control Laboratory.

7/96-6/98. Graduate Research Fellow. Draper Laboratory, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Honors and Awards

  • Honorary Doctorate Degree, Vinh University, 9/2019
  • Fulbright Specialist, Project entitled, “CDIO-Approach to Teaching and Curriculum Development,” Vinh City, Vietnam, 8/2018.
  • Distinguished Contribution Award, Vinh University, 8/2018
  • San Fernando Valley Engineers’ Council Distinguished Engineering Educator Award, 2/2018.
  • Best Ergonomics in Design Article Award: The Most Outstanding Article in 2016 entitled, “Trust-Based Analysis of an Air Force Collision Avoidance System,” Ergonomics in Design, Vol. 24, Issue 1, 2016.
  • Best Session Award and Best Track Award for the research paper entitled, “Effects of Transparency on Pilot Trust and Agreement in the Autonomous Constrained Flight Planner,” Presented at the 35th Digital Avionics Systems Conference, Sacramento, CA, September 25 – 29, 2016.
  • Best Session Award and Best Track Award for the research paper entitled, “Design and Evaluation of NextGen Separation Assurance Concepts,” presented at the Digital Avionics Systems Conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Williamsburg, Virginia, Oct. 19, 2012.
  • Outstanding Contribution Award, Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City, 8/2012
  • Fulbright Scholar, Project entitled, “Benchmarking Vietnam’s IT/Engineering Curricula,” Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2/2008-6/2008.
  • San Fernando Valley Engineers’ Council Outstanding Achievement Merit Award, 2/2007.
  • FAA/NASA/Transport Canada-Sponsored Center of Excellence PARTNER – Joseph A. Hartman Award (First-Place), 8/2005
  • NASA Fellowship (administered by ASEE), 6/2005
  • Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Fellowship 1996-1998
  • Eyre Associates Award for top graduate in USC Mechanical Engineering Class, April 1996

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