Tech Transfer Spotlights

Soar Technology

The idea of machines endowed with human-like intelligence has been around for decades, but the concept is reaching new heights, literally, through the work of UM Professor of Engineering John Laird and his USC colleague Paul Rosenbloom. As students at Carnegie Mellon, the two engineers developed an early version of Soar, a computer language for modeling a full range of human mental processes. In the 1990s, the technology attracted sizable Department of Defense (DOD) research grants, many of which were channeled to the UM Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab, where Laird served as director.

It was this government funding that enabled Laird, Rosenbloom, and a team of UM and USC engineering researchers to develop TacAirSoar, an agent-based simulation system. According to Soar Technology CEO James Rosbe, "TacAirSoar 'agents' are synthetic pilots that fly aircraft in simulations at the same level of skill as an expert human pilot, making human-like decisions on maneuvers, and communicating and reacting to changing events--adaptively and intelligently."

Soar Technology was established in 1998 to support and expand DOD applications of intelligent autonomous agent technology beyond what was possible within the University. Because of the terms of its unique government research funding, Soar Technology did not require a formal license for the DOD market. Even so, Tech Transfer assisted in a variety of ways: coaching the founders before and after start-up, providing an MBA student intern to conduct market research, and facilitating license negotiations.

Now, however, the company is beginning to broaden its focus to address non-DOD markets and, in 2003, became an official UM start-up, having licensed TacAirSoar and two other technologies from the UM AI Lab (EPIC and GLEAN, developed by Professor David Kieras). Rosbe notes that, with the technology access afforded by the UM license, the company plans to diversify into intelligent agent applications in medical research, health care and logistics.

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