TAMU-CC Researchers Co-Host Artificial Intelligence Retreat, Promote Launch of Pilot AI Educational Program

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – It’s 2 in the morning, and your smartphone awakens you with a blaring alert notification. Your computer and various other Wi-Fi-enabled devices also blink rapidly and let out the same shrill weather warning message to create a staggered chorus-like effect.

When seconds mean the difference between survival and tragedy, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) could one day not only provide accurate information in real time, but also help users escape the danger that looms in the distance.

It’s a future that researchers are already working toward.

At the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, a team led by Dr. Philippe Tissot, CBI Interim Director, and Dr. Scott King, TAMU-CC Professor of Computer Science, has partnered with Del Mar College to launch the first-of-its-kind pilot AI in GIS Occupational Skills Award. The local team is supported by $3.2 million over five years.

“Artificial Intelligence is a game changer, and the Coastal Bend is at the heart of this revolution,” Tissot said. “In terms of the future, we’re looking at AI and thinking about how it applies to the environment and how it can be trustworthy.”   

To help achieve such a goal, our institute is developing and testing methods to better understand how the AI works, shining light into the black box, as well as how humans will interact with AI predictions.

Dr. Philippe Tissot, Interim Director of the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science

The partnership between TAMU-CC and DMC makes up one of seven inaugural $20 million National Science Foundation AI Institutes set to further explore how to best develop AI to benefit society. The partnership is headed by the University of Oklahoma (OU) and includes private sector companies such as Google, IBM, NVIDIA, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

AI in Corpus Christi formally kicks off this fall with the launch of an AI class as part of a 14-hour AI in GIS Occupational Skills Award at DMC that also supports the college’s Geographic Information System associate in science degree. TAMU-CC is assisting with the program’s content, data sets, and general assistance to DMC instructors.

“As AI is in its early developmental phase, we need to make sure that the students will gain AI skills that are useful to employers,” Tissot said. “DMC and TAMU-CC are interacting with industry to adjust the curriculum and create a feedback loop such that the classes and examples can parallel the growth of the application of AI at the potential employers.”

At TAMU-CC, the institute has already funded a dozen graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty and research staff. The first publication focused on predicting fog with a deep learning method was accepted, and two students won awards at this year’s annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society.

This summer, Tissot and his team partnered with Dr. Phillip Davis, DMC Professor of Computer Science, to co-host the Coastal Bend AI2ES Retreat, which was held July 19-21 at TAMU-CC and included visits to various locations in Corpus Christi. The meeting included a keynote address by Dr. Amy McGovern, OU Professor of Computer Science and head of the NSF AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography – which oversees the AI in GIS occupational skills award program in the Coastal Bend.

Other retreat activities included an opening round of presentations by Island University researchers as well as a visit to the USS Lexington for a public introduction to the topic of AI and its benevolent application potential. Hands-on activities included a visit to Padre Balli Park to see demonstrations of drones and lidar technology by Dr. Starek, TAMUCC Associate Professor of Geospatial Systems Engineering, and his team, along with a trip to the Padre Island National Seashore to witness a sea turtle hatchling release and further discussions of how AI can benefit sea turtles conservation.

Developing Coastal AI models using big data and satellite imagery to better predict and understand beach inundation which impacts beach goers and sea turtle nests is one of the current goals of the inaugural AI center. Researchers are also working on other local environmental issues, such as coastal fog predictions.

Geospatial Computer Science doctoral student Marina Vicens Miquel ’24 is an international student from Spain working with Dr. Medrano, Assistant Professor of Geographical Information Science, and Tissot.    

“Accurate information will allow geological, biological, and beach managers to make important decisions to keep the public safe,” Miquel said. “For example, advising beachgoers to avoid driving on the beach before the water reaches the dunes or removing showers and portable restrooms from the beach.”  

In addition to developing new models and methods to improve weather, climate, and coastal forecasts, Tissot says CBI researchers are also focused on expanding AI’s beneficial to society.

“To help achieve such a goal, our institute is developing and testing methods to better understand how the AI works, shining light into the black box, as well as how humans will interact with AI predictions,” he said. “The future is just about here.”