Each week, we will be getting to know our faculty members a little bit better. This week, we will be getting to know Dr. Randy Beard.
Dr. Randy Beard teaches a number of classes, including Elements of Electrical Engineering, Junior Seminar, Design of Control Systems, Flight Dynamics & Control, and Special Topics in Signals and Systems. If you look closely at each, you will see that they all play into one passion: autonomous systems. Dr. Beard has been fascinated by robotics since before he can remember, and this curiosity developed into a pursuit of one elusive idea: giving intelligence to machines.
In order for a machine to think, to have intelligence, it must perceive, predict, plan, and act. From the outset, with perception, you run into deeply complex issues; how, for example, do you make a robot see simply from receiving long strings of numbers? The way that the robot sees then interconnects and intertwines with the way it predicts, plans, and acts, deepening the complexity of the issue. In his research, Dr. Beard pursues these questions and interconnections, as well as countless other issues in artificial intelligence. His most fun project while working on this goal was in 2003 here at BYU. During this project, he helped develop unmanned autonomous air vehicles for his first time—it was such exciting work that he couldn’t wait to get to work each day. The work accomplished in that project has acted as a springboard for all his work with autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence since.
Dreaming of long-term pursuits, he noted that if this could lead to the creation of one thing in his lifetime, he would want it to be personal-use self-flying cars. This idea isn’t just exciting, though; it’s potentially life-saving. Car accidents kill 40,000 people every year. If done correctly, autonomous flying cars could cut this number drastically, potentially saving thousands of lives every year.
When he’s not working on the elusive idea of giving machines intelligence—tinkering with hardware and software and grand questions of what intelligence is—he spends his time exploring the great outdoors, whether it's mountain biking, fishing, or camping. He even owns a cabin in Yellowstone, where his family once woke up to find a bear helping himself to leftovers in their trash bin.