Mechanical engineering student earns prestigious DoD SMART scholarship

Seth Tau's work in optimizing off-road vehicle dynamics in uncertain environments targets increased safety, efficiency for military vehicles

April 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Seth Tau, a doctoral student in the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded a Science Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for his impactful work in optimizing high-speed, off-road vehicle dynamics in ambiguous environments.

Used in vehicles like tanks and Humvees, Tau’s work in the Penn State Applied Research Laboratory with Sean Brennan, professor of mechanical engineering, aims to better understand geometric uncertainty, or unknown obstacles, when these vehicles are deployed to reduce fuel cost and increase safety.

“If there are uncertainties in a map, maybe from a drone flying over to get some images that have inaccuracies, they still need to know where the obstacles are,” Tau explained. “My work is in figuring out the relationship between how uncertain we are and how much does that increase the cost or distance to reach the [destination].”

Sponsored by the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC), his research has largely been focused on beefing up the existing NATO Reference Mobility Model (NRMM), an algorithm which has been used by the U.S. military and other NATO allies since the 1970s to inform critical path-planning decisions in maneuvers and missions.

Tau said, “Accounting for uncertainty and vehicle automation wasn’t a factor before because it didn’t exist in the 70s, but now there is a push to add more information like that.”

As the recipient of a SMART scholarship, Tau has the unique opportunity to pursue impactful research while contributing to the DoD’s mission to protect the nation as a civilian. The program was created to attract and enhance the DoD workforce with talented scientists, engineers, and researchers. With financial support over their education, SMART scholars are placed in civilian positions after graduation with an express focus on applying their work to protect national security.

“The military does extremely important work, it gives us freedom and safety,” Tau said. “Being able to serve as a civilian allows me to serve my country in a real, impactful way that gives me a sense of pride.”


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Erin Cassidy Hendrick

“Being able to serve as a civilian allows me to serve my country in a real, impactful way that gives me a sense of pride.”



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