Stacy Patterson, a computer scientist whose research creates new utility by linking the sensors that pepper modern consumer goods, like automobiles, has joined Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in Computer Science. Patterson, an expert in dynamic networks, distributed algorithms, and cooperative control, was most recently a postdoctoral fellow at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology.

“Stacy Patterson’s work is at the forefront of computational sciences,” said Laurie Leshin, dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer. “She is leveraging the vast amounts of information produced by the sensors found in so many things that we own to create networks that increase human safety and make it possible for us to respond to emerging patterns in traffic, air quality, weather, and many other dynamic scenarios. We are so grateful to the Henry Luce Foundation for enabling us to bring Dr. Patterson to Rensselaer, and we welcome her to the Institute.”

The Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professorship in Computer Science is supported by a five-year, $499,000 grant awarded to Rensselaer from the Henry Luce Foundation. The grant establishes a professorship with a research and teaching focus on mobile and distributed computing, one of the most important emerging areas for research and education in the field. Patterson’s research will also support the School of Science interdisciplinary science theme in network and data science, security, and visualization.

Patterson’s current research is aimed at enhancing the utility of sensors embedded in automobiles, by creating a real-time network that allows automobiles to pool their individual information into a larger shared picture of driving conditions in the area.

“There are lots of sensors in an automobile that measure things like temperature, humidity, tire pressure, road conditions—cars automatically gather this information. The idea is this: Can we combine the information from all the cars on the road to improve the driving experience?” said Patterson. “We want to fuse this information, and have the cars talk to each other, to make detailed maps that can be an aid to driving.”

Maps of information like weather, traffic, and road conditions might be shared among nearby cars to improve performance, to provide bulletins, or to inform route planning software. However, in order for maps or bulletins to be relevant, they must be processed and shared quickly and economically. Patterson said achieving that vision will take a paradigm shift from the current convention of aiming data toward the cloud for processing, to aiming data cloud closer to the ground in so-called “fog computing.”

“Instead of sending information to the cloud, we want to process it in the network, to have the cars talk to one another and exchange the information as they pass one another,” said Patterson. “Cars traveling in a given area become a big computer network that generates the information maps while they are driving.”

Patterson said that this presents enormous challenges to computer programmers.

“When you have a network or distributed system, a great deal of information is generated by each participant. How can you answer a global, big-picture question, using this local information and using communication from computer-to-computer rather than using a centralized off-site computer to collect information and determine the answer?” said Patterson. “This is an example of a larger paradigm shift that I’m interested in.”

Big Data, broad data, high performance computing, data analytics, and Web science are creating a significant transformation globally in the way we make connections, make discoveries, make decisions, make products, and ultimately make progress.  Patterson's research is part of Rensselaer’s university-wide effort to maximize the capabilities of these tools and technologies for the purpose of expediting scientific discovery and innovation, developing the next generation of these digital enablers, and preparing our students to succeed and lead in this new data-driven world.

Patterson received dual bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and computer science from Rutgers University, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The Clare Boothe Luce grant is the fourth Rensselaer has received from the Clare Boothe Luce Program, and is an initiative that supports the Institute in advancing women in computer science and other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.