James T. Hing, a three-degree College of Engineering alumnus and an engineer with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, will receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), to be bestowed at a White House ceremony in Washington, DC this month.
The annual PECASE honors a cadre of outstanding scientists and engineers who show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge.
Hing was cited for his contributions to the development of perception, advanced control methods, and human machine interactions for autonomous systems operating aboard aircraft carriers. He was also commended for leadership in mentoring current and future generations of engineers.
“I was in disbelief at first,” said Hing when asked for his reaction. “I stared at my name on the White House press release for quite some time, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t a typo or mistake. I am truly honored and grateful for the recognition. I have mentioned to my colleagues that this award is as much a recognition of their work as it is mine.”
Hing graduated from CoE with a bachelor’s degree in ’03; a master’s degree in ’06; and a PhD in ’10 under the advisement of Dr. Paul Oh. All three degrees were obtained through the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics (MEM). Until recently, Hing also served as a Drexel University adjunct professor at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) in Lakehurst, NJ, teaching a sequence on advanced dynamics.
The PECASE award, which was announced earlier this month, covers nominees for the years 2015 through 2017; as such, it celebrates a position Hing occupied in 2015. Then, he was leading the Robotics and Intelligent Systems Engineering Lab, conducting research on robotics and autonomy. He focused on the areas of image processing, sensor fusion, and control of robotic systems in challenging, “real” Navy and Marine operational environments – environments with poor optics or with electromagnetic interference-rich conditions, for example.
Technologies from that research have the potential to reduce the sailor force levels required aboard ships, and to increase safety by taking them out of the equation on the more dangerous tasks. Hing has often heard the carrier environment described as a “chaotic ballet,” with aircraft launching and landing, continuously moving pieces in an area roughly the size of three football fields, and a deck that constantly pitches and rolls with the seas. Jet blast, noxious gases from fumes, close proximity to propellers, bright lights, all-weather conditions, and extreme temperatures add to the challenges.
“It is easy to understand why we are motivated to develop robotic systems that can operate on the carrier deck, rather than sailors,” said Hing.
One of the projects Hing initiated was focused on mobile manipulation, which would allow mobile robots to assist sailors move objects on deck. Technologies focused on robotic perception, navigation, grasping, lift-and-carry and placement, and other matters of control are involved.
“We have many projects that I think would be interesting to Drexel MEM students. I would strongly urge them to reach out to me for tours and also for potential co-op positions,” said Hing, noting that, today, he is the branch lead for NAWCAD’s Advanced Technology Projects. “There is so much more we are currently working on. With the right creative mindset, there aren’t any limitations to the intriguing areas we can dive into.”
Hing is a vocal advocate for MEM and for the college, and what they did for his career.
“I chose Drexel for my BS degree because I really liked the co-op program,” he said. “I stayed at Drexel for my MS and PhD because MEM offered the nationally respected expertise and guidance I was looking for in pursuit of a robotics-related graduate degree.
“MEM contributed to my success by supplying me with a strong engineering foundation and multidisciplinary exposure. I absolutely would not be where I am today without three professors from MEM: Dr. Mun Choi; Dr. Alan Lau; and Dr. Paul Oh.”
Hing lives in Marlton, NJ with his wife, Lauren Ciccarelli, also a Drexel alum (Biomedical Engineering, BS ’04 and MS ’09). Having played Division 1 golf at Drexel, Hing still enjoys the game. However, he acknowledged that his engineering prowess far outweighed his athletic abilities and that he did, after all, choose the better of the two careers.