Computer Science professor receives Young Investigator Research Program grant

Assistant Professor Philip Brown

Philip Brown, Assistant Professor in Computer Science, is one of two UCCS faculty to be awarded the Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), which is the research department of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Justin Cole, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics, was also selected as an awardee.

The three-year, $450K award will be used to pursue continued research in the broad area of complex networks.

Brown’s project, titled “Novel Metrics and Randomized Algorithms for Robust Networked Multiagent Coordination” explores coordinating the behavior of large groups of autonomous machines in situations when the machines can’t communicate with each other. Complex networks of autonomous machines are an emerging area of technology and might include groups of unmanned vehicles, such as drone swarms, aircraft, satellites, and undeveloped future technologies. These technologies work independently and together to make micro-decisions based on analytics, algorithms, network capabilities, and optimization. Game theory is used to mitigate decision failures of individual machines which would then affect the entire network of autonomous machines.

“My lab has been working toward this problem for several years, and this award will greatly accelerate our progress,” Brown said.

Brown’s journey to the award-winning research project started in graduate school. Brown had been formulating the ideas included in this award since graduate school, and the current state of his research was the result of four years of thinking about these specific problems. Most recently, Brown’s PhD student, Joshua Seaton, was instrumental in opening up some of key questions in the research.

This award will impact Brown’s research work in the area of complex networks by allowing Brown to hire a postdoctoral researcher to work on the project full-time, which will accelerate the work. It will also have significant positive effects on Brown’s research lab as the postdoctoral researcher will be available to mentor other research assistants in this unique area of study.

“This award is given to early-career researchers that the Air Force thinks have great promise, so it’s a huge vote of confidence that the work I’m doing and the activities I’m engaged in have been recognized in this major way. Several of my mentors in graduate school won this award, and it was always an unspoken goal of mine to win one as well. Receiving the award is hugely validating, and has me over the moon,” said Brown.

Brown’s research has many potential applications across the spectrum of the defense and civilian worlds. One example is modern energy systems that have many features of extreme decentralization similar those in the research study. Thousands of homes with solar panels and battery backups could be optimized to schedule battery charge/discharge cycles to help the grid. Another example is self-driving cars. Each self-driving car has its own “brain” and makes its own decisions independently, and yet all the cars’ collective behavior could lead to significant traffic congestion if not managed properly.

In addition to the work that will be funded by the Air Force award, Brown’s lab has a second major research area focused on the strategic effects of information. Brown gave the example of how people process information about traffic congestion when Google maps says there is a slowdown on the road. Ideally, we want to give people information that helps them feel like they’re getting a good service, as well as leads them to make decisions which are good for the system as a whole. However, sometimes those two features are in conflict with each other; in those cases, Brown’s research investigates the best course of action.

Brown is in the Department of Computer Science at UCCS, where he leads the Decision Science and Control (DeSCon) laboratory. He received his PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from University of Colorado Boulder, and Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech. Between these degrees he developed process control technology for the biofuels industry. Brown researches large-scale systems of strategically-interacting agents, and studies this by combining concepts from game theory and feedback control of distributed systems.

The University of Colorado Colorado Springs is an R2 research institution, and the College of Engineering and Applied Science leads the campus in research-funded activities. The Air Force Office of Sponsored Research and the Young Investigator Research Program is part of the Department of the Air Force. Awards are given annually in existing and new areas of research to early career researchers nationwide.

About AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit their site.


The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, or AFOSR, expands the horizon of scientific knowledge through its leadership and management of the Department of the Air Force’s basic research program. As a vital component of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), AFOSR’s mission is to discover, shape, champion and transitions high- risk basic research that profoundly impacts the future Air and Space Forces. AFOSR accomplishes its mission through global investment in advanced discovery research efforts in relevant scientific areas. Central to AFOSR’s strategy is the transfer of the fruits of basic research to industry, the supplier of Department of the Air Force acquisitions; to the academic community, which can lead the way to still more accomplishment; and to the other directorates of AFRL that carry the responsibility for applied research leading to acquisition.

About the College of Engineering and Applied Science

The College of Engineering and Applied Science enrolls more than 1,700 students and offers 24 engineering and computer science degrees, ranging from bachelor to doctoral. The college is a Department of Homeland Security/National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense and works closely with the National Cybersecurity Center and with more than 250 aerospace and defense, information technology, cybersecurity and engineering organizations in the Pikes Peak region. Learn more about the College of Engineering and Applied Science at UCCS.