NSF Awards $800,000 to Support Development of Edge AI Applications

Jia Di, department head and professor of computer science and computer engineering.
University Relations

Jia Di, department head and professor of computer science and computer engineering.

Jia Di, department head and professor of computer science and computer engineering at the University of Arkansas, received an $800,000 award to support development of Edge AI applications. The award is part of a larger $6 million award from the National Science Foundation to six collaborating universities and several private-sector partners in Alabama, Arkansas and North Dakota.

In their proposal to the NSF, the collaborating researchers noted that artificial intelligence, or AI, while highly effective in many real-world applications, requires access to the internet as well as computers that are large, complex and remote for making decisions and predictions. This can result in long delays and increased privacy and security concerns. 

An emerging area of AI development is Edge AI, which avoids these problems by locating and analyzing data locally, whether through a camera, smart phone or wearable device. The proposed work is designed to extend the boundaries of new Edge AI technology.

The more limited goal of the project is to build a smart, wearable device for diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels. The primary virtue of this approach would be the elimination of blood draws. Instead, the wearable device will monitor the wearer’s breath, collecting up-to-date data points on blood sugar levels. While the sensor won’t initially be as accurate as a blood draw, the AI algorithm used by the device will still be able to make timely recommendations, such as “seek medical attention.”

Di and his team are tasked with developing a new application-specific integrated circuit, or ASIC, that will be the main computational unit of the proposed wearable device. The ASIC will be capable of implementing different AI algorithms within a short period of time for reduced time-to-market, while maintaining a long battery life due to innovations in asynchronous circuit design and system integration.

“I am excited to be on this multi-university team to leverage our expertise in asynchronous ASIC design in helping the development of this device,” Di said. “Given the diabetic population in these states [Alabama, Arkansas and North Dakota] and in the nation, the research outcome of this project will have the potential to make substantial impacts on our society.”

Beyond the goal of creating a wearable device, the research is expected to accelerate the development of Edge AI and increase the competitiveness of the United States in AI. The award will also provide research training opportunities for advanced college students, in addition to training high-school teachers to educate their own students in the principles of Edge AI to ground them in essential concepts as early as possible.

The National Science Foundation award comes under the EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Program: Track-2 Focused EPSCoR Collaborations, which, according to their website, “supports interjurisdictional teams of EPSCoR investigators to perform research in emerging industries, with the goal of promoting economic growth in their jurisdictions.”

Professor Di is holder of the Rodger S. Kline Chair.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News


Jia Di, professor of computer science and computer engineering
College of Engineering
479-575-5728, jdi@uark.edu

Hardin Young, assistant director of research communications
University Relations
479-575-6850, hyoung@uark.edu


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