Exclusive: More Details About USC's New Lab and Corporate Research Partnerships

Richard Breen

Monday, October 1st, 2018

he University of South Carolina continues to rack up corporate research partnerships and is now showing what some of that research looks like.

The school announced Thursday expansions of agreements with IBM, Samsung, Siemens and Yaskawa. USC also conducted tours of its Digital Transformation Lab, which contains everything from an Apache helicopter to a neonatal incubator.

“This is a remarkable confluence of education, free enterprise, innovation and imagination,” said Gov. Henry McMaster, who spoke at the announcement. “We need to be a world leader – and we’re on track to do that.”

Yaskawa is working with USC in the areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. It has provided the school with an estimated $1 million worth of robotics so far, according to Bill Kirkland, executive director of the USC Office of Economic Engagement.

IBM is partnering with USC on an industrial Internet of Things lab.

“It will bring unprecedented hands-on learning to campus,” said Skip Snyder, an IBM vice president and partner in Global Watson IoT.

Hands-on learning is one of the reasons the school seeks out connections with industry, according to Dr. Hossein Haj-Hariri, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing. While conducting research and completing projects, students are also receiving training.

“They work on industry-standard equipment. They work with industry-standard software,” Haj-Hariri said. The result is a more employable graduate.

And engineers are in demand, according to Bill O’Neill, vice president of digital enterprise initiatives with Siemens.

“It’s not just the technology, it’s the people behind the technology,” he said.

USC students showed off a wide range of projects in the Digital Transformation Lab and the Center for Predictive Maintenance next door. The school is working with Siemens and the military on a project that combines video game technology with artificial intelligence to determine maintenance intervals for an Apache helicopter.

The School of Nursing is collaborating with the lab to develop a system for monitoring temperatures of newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit. Temperature readings throughout the body can be an indicator of underlying conditions.

There are also projects involving machine learning and robots, with a variety of applications. Dr. Kareem Youssef, IBM’s global general manager of IoT, said diverse perspectives help drive collaboration.

“You can only advance the art of the possible when we learn together,” he said.

In addition to corporate donations of equipment and software, workers from the collaborating businesses have set up shop at campus facilities such as the M. Bert Storey Engineering and Innovation Center.

“There are now over 30 private sector jobs there,” Kirkland said. He estimated the average salary of those positions was $70,000 per year.

The school benefits in other ways.

“Not only do we get paid for the research, we own the intellectual property,” Haj-Hariri said.

That property is also more valuable since it has been vetted by USC’s partners.

“At a university, we can come up with beautiful technical solutions where there’s no market or need for it,” Haj-Hariri said. “That is not a problem here. The need is staring you in the face.”