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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Academics & Research

Faculty member receives Fulbright funding

Engineering professor Driss Benhaddou is joining the esteemed list of professionals to receive a Fulbright grant. The Fulbright Program, an international educational exchange program, awards 7,500 grants annually to applicants with excellence in academic achievement and demonstrated leadership in their careers.

Benhaddou focuses his research on ‘smart buildings,’ structures that can regulate their own climate. He said it was started by an interest in wireless sensor networks.

“My line of research is optimization of routing protocols and resources allocation in optical networks. Five years ago I started investigating similar issues in wireless sensor networks,” said Benhaddou.

“WSN turned out to be very specific to their (motes) applications and problems. A couple of years ago, I started working with a group of faculty on applying WSN in intelligent building management systems.”

Motes, which were invented by different groups from Berkley University and various companies, have the function and size of a minute computer and accomplish small, specific tasks like sensing and communicating.

After a couple of years of research and discovering that WSN were specific with the motes, Benhaddou and his group began working with smart buildings.

“With the advent of smart grid, I started working on how we can use WSN to interface buildings to a smart grid, which led to the concept of smart buildings,” Benhaddou said.

Benhaddou will further his research in the fall semester in his native country, Morocco, at Al Akhawayn University. Selecting a country to further develop Benhaddou’s research was a part of the proposal-writing process for the grant.

Morocco is one of the front-runners in solar energy implementation and deployment of one of the largest solar farms in Africa, Benhaddou said. The choice was both fulfilling and commendable because his research involves interfacing solar energy in buildings.

“I felt very happy, as it will allow me to give back to my native country that gave me the opportunity to study and be where I am now,” Benhaddou said.

Additionally, a part of the leadership role after obtaining the grant is to involve as many faculty and students as possible.

“I will have direct contact with graduate students in Morocco, and I will also work with faculty who will involve their students,” Benhaddou said. “Students from UH are not involved directly as part of this grant, but they will be involved when I am back. They will also have the opportunity to go to Morocco and do research in the future.”

The algorithm is the heart of Benhaddou’s research, so he plans to first explore existing algorithms and then modify them in order to accomplish his objective.

“In research, you always need to start from what has been done before and then expand the research,” Benhaddou said. “The research of developing ‘smart building’ is still in its infancy and the domain is huge. There are many research problems to solve and I am hoping someday to come with a complete solution that will involve an end-to-end solution of a building automation.”

Benhaddou said he hopes that this development will revolutionize the way buildings are managed and is confident that, in the future, buildings will be controlled using motes.

“The major goal is to spark a collaborative effort between UH and Morocco and enable student and faculty exchange,” Benhaddou said. “I would also like to collect data from solar farms in Morocco that will enable us to analyze the trend of solar energy generation and consumption.”

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