Teenage Boffin's Research Could Help Self-driving Cars Avoid Crashes

Advances in theory of pattern avoidance could prevent fender benders

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Teenage Boffin's Research Could Help Self-driving Cars Avoid Crashes
Photo: Siemens Foundation

The winners of the 15th Annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology  were announced yesterday. The individual winner was Peter Tian, a senior at The Wellington School in Columbus, Ohio. Tian was awarded a US $100,000 college scholarship for his mathematical research on pattern avoidance multidimensional matrices. The advance, say the competition’s judges and other observers, will help improve the performance of self-driving cars and drones by making them better at obstacle avoidance.

Tian was one of 2263 students who submitted projects for consideration. His project, Extremal Functions of Forbidden Multidimensional Matrices, advances the theoretical understanding of pattern avoidance, which may let computers consistently identify the shortest rectilinear path around obstacles in space.

The potential applications to drone programming and self-driving cars—and even to circuit design—were immediately obvious. But Tian, whose goal is to become a mathematics professor, was just as interested in what his work means for pure mathematics. His project has a direct application to hypergraphs and may be useful in areas including computational geometry.

"One of the more striking results is the way Peter was able to build on previous work by generalizing standard results and adding multi-dimensions,” James Haglund, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Street. “His work forms a wonderful basis for future graduate research, and he hasn't even studied at the undergraduate level yet!”

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