National Science Foundation Awards Dr. Hahmann $175,000 Research Grant to Advance Spatial Artificial Intelligence

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Dr. Torsten Hahmann from the School of Computing and Information Science a $175,000 research grant for the project “Empowering Multi-Conceptual Spatial Reasoning with a Repository of Qualitative and Quantitative Spatial Ontologies”.

“Just over the hill” or “downstream” are phrases that are commonly used by people to communicate location to each other. We take these basic instructions for granted in day-to-day life. But how can these instructions be used for computing? This question has profound implications for computing and artificial intelligence, and has inspired Dr. Torsten Hahmann to search for answers.

The two-year long project develops techniques for computers to flexibly and reliably deal with a wide range of informal spatial descriptions such as “east of the road” or “at the south shore of the lake”. Dr. Hahmann’s will investigate computational mechanisms that connect such descriptions to more traditional coordinate-based spatial information used in satellite mapping or GPS devices.

His research will also develop methods that enable computers to figure out what implicit assumptions are made in such informal spatial descriptions. For example, a simple piece of information such as “X is contained in the lake” may take on very different spatial meanings in different contexts. If X is a bay, it means that it consists of a portion of the lake’s water, whereas if X is an island, it means it is surrounded by the lake water, but does not consist of water itself. Once a computer better understands such descriptions, it can add missing information from existing maps. In the long term, the research will make computational tools for recording, processing, and searching through spatial information much more powerful and user-friendly.

The project will support two graduate students and it will offer opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved in cutting edge research.

More information about the project is available at