Written by: 
Amy Brundeen

our new car is making a funny noise again, so you call your dealership. Rather than speaking to a computer, you are transferred to a live, friendly representative who helps you set up an appointment with the service department. Thanks to artificial intelligence, the call was routed to the agent who has provided you with the best service in the past. You hang up the phone smiling, and the customer service agent does, too. In fact, she smiled throughout the entire call because facial recognition software alerted her when she wasn't, providing gentle reminders of the importance of sounding friendly.

Zikra Toure ('16, '17 M.S.), who earned two degrees in electrical engineering from UNT, is a machine learning engineer at Dallas-based Call Box. She uses machine learning -- in which computer algorithms become more accurate without being explicitly programmed -- to develop the advanced facial recognition technology that makes enhanced customer service interactions like these possible.

"What truly excites me about AI and machine learning is their potential to overlap with any industry," Toure says. "A doctor, real estate agent, stockbroker or plumber can all make use of machine learning to make their work better, because they all have some sort of data to work with."

Toure is one of many UNT College of Engineering alums who are on the frontlines of what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Like the three that preceded it -- steam, electricity and digital -- the Fourth Industrial Revolution is radically changing the way humans live and work. The fusion of artificial intelligence with emerging technology like robotics, additive manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, fifth-generation wireless technologies, and power generation, storage and distribution is a catalyst for unprecedented change.

Driving better human interaction

Call Box integrates artificial intelligence into its product to reduce inefficiencies in phone handling processes, which in turn saves money for the companies it serves. Its facial recognition software goes beyond simple identification to reading actual facial expressions.

"It's really important that customer service agents smile when they call -- customers can tell," Toure says. "We've coined it 'call tracking,' but it is way more than that. It really helps in places like call centers where there are hundreds of employees. Human monitoring of all the calls is difficult."

Toure brought her UNT research experience in neural networks and image processing to her work at Call Box. As a student, she also was involved in the Society of Women Engineers and served as president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society. She says she wants to learn all she can and use artificial intelligence to help others, including those in her home country of Mali in Africa.

"I want to one day go back as a consultant to help different businesses incorporate AI and machine learning into their work," she says, "so they, too, can become part of this big, cutting-edge industry."

Solving big problems
Juan Pineda Aguirre
Juan Pineda Aguirre ('15) (Photo by Ahna Hubnik)

Like Toure, Juan Pineda Aguirre ('15) was a member of UNT's IEEE Computer Society as a student, where he collaborated in building a first-prize autonomous robot for a robotics competition. He credits the project and others, along with the professors who assigned them, for his success as a systems engineer at General Dynamics in Plano, where he creates software to control satellite communications.

"Engineering helps you develop how to think," Pineda says. "It's about finding solutions to problems."

At General Dynamics, Pineda solves problems for international companies and governments that develop mission systems for those receiving and routing communications from Earth to satellites.

Today's satellite communications are crucial in any industry, and ubiquitous and increasingly fast connectivity worldwide is critical to the innovations of the future. Autonomous vehicles, machine learning and artificial intelligence all depend on smooth satellite communications.

"We create the software and also develop algorithms to optimize the satellite communication systems' efficiency, reduce possible human error and decrease downtime," Pineda says. "It's important to incorporate processes for those who are new to the industry, especially from a security perspective."

Pineda's work takes him all over the world meeting with his team and installing the software for satellite Earth systems.

"Delivering cutting-edge technology allows more people worldwide to have satellite communication services," he says.

Manufacturing the future
Peeyush Nandwana
Peeyush Nandwana ('13 Ph.D.)

Also driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution is additive manufacturing, in which custom parts can be made in one piece in their final shape and size through 3D printing, with metals and alloys providing superior performance and easier customization.

Using this process, materials science engineers like Peeyush Nandwana ('13 Ph.D.) develop new materials that allow for stronger, lighter and more affordable parts in areas ranging from the aerospace and automotive industries to biotechnology. As a staff researcher at the Department of Energy's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Nandwana conducts research to solve obstacles related to increasing energy efficiency and America's manufacturing competitiveness.

"With 3D printing, materials do not behave the same way they would in traditional manufacturing because of the high solidification rates and complex thermal cycles involved," he says. "And the performance and longevity of metallic parts used in aerospace or in medical implants is critical."

Part of Nandwana's work is in materials characterization, which involves looking at the structure and properties of the 3D-printed metals and how they change at the atomic level during the manufacturing process.

"We are working to develop alloys that are more suitable for the solidification conditions during additive manufacturing," he says.

Nandwana completed his Ph.D. research under Rajarshi Banerjee, Regents Professor of materials science and engineering and director of UNT's Materials Research Facility.

"Based on my professional experience and what is needed in materials science, UNT's facility will provide students with exposure to this emerging interdisciplinary field," Nandwana says. "Often projects require people working together from robotics, mechanical engineering and materials science. This cross-talk helps students gain insights in other fields, promotes lateral thinking and generates new ideas."

Disruptive technology
Samu Chakki
Samu Chakki ('12 M.S. (Photo by )Suhas Chandrasekhar)

Samu Chakki ('12 M.S.) is a senior hardware engineer at Tesla in Palo Alto, California, known for its disruptive technology and business model for electric vehicles and clean energy products.

"Tesla has and will continue to challenge and redefine previously held paradigms," says Chakki, who works on the autopilot system for Tesla's all-electric vehicles.

Chakki helped profile and validate the silicon power and thermal characteristics for Tesla's autopilot hardware platform.

Working at Tesla gives her the opportunity to push boundaries, something she says she first experienced as a student.

"I had the opportunity to explore different areas in electrical engineering as well as physics at UNT, and there was a strong sense of community that helped me grow," she says.

Last year, Chakki served on the College of Engineering's IEEE Industry Advisory Board because she says her professors made a big impact on her and she wants to pay it forward.

"This is why I keep in touch and give back," she says.

She adds that being an integral part of Tesla's mission to "accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy" has been a rewarding experience.

"Helping to engineer the solutions for tomorrow is exhilarating," Chakki says. "I'm getting to build something that will change life as we know it today."

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