By Wyoming Economic Development Association

January 2, 2019

Artificial Intelligence Lab at UW

This story is published with permission from the Wyoming Economic Development Association.

WEDA is a statewide non­profit professional association representing nearly 200 economic development members and organizations. The organization provides mentorship, education and networking opportunities to help the professional development of local leaders.


There is an AI revolution taking place in Wyoming, and it's changing the way Wyoming companies operate. It is being led by research, but a wide swath of the business community can leverage this evolving technology.

AI and the energy sector

From a consumer perspective, AI is already changing the way energy is used.

Products like intelligent light bulbs and thermostats are currently in use across the country, reducing energy usage. The more complex question is how to use artificial intelligence in energy businesses.

Nick Cheney, Ph.D., a visiting professor of computer science at the University of Wyoming, offers a few ideas.

Machine learning can be used to process data gathered by machines working underground. Something like seismic data could be taken and processed to determine what the ground actually looks like underneath, or if there are future oil reserves underground. By comparison, even a well-trained specialist could find it difficult to process this level of information.

Underground drills are getting smarter and smarter. Using AI, they are able to sense and decide the best path to take. AI can drive them underground instead of having someone review sensory data coming from a drill bit. As the technology progresses, autonomous vehicles could also become advantageous for use underground.

There is also a large potential for renewables in Wyoming. Machine learning can be used to process large quantities of data to determine how to do things like change the wind turbine blade to maximize energy potential based on the turbines’ exact location. Knowing how to make these small changes and where to put specific wind turbines to maximize energy, could make a wind or solar farm more efficient and economically viable. 

Machine learning is the focus of AI research at UW

The research conducted at UW is primarily focused on machine learning, robotics, deep learning and creating machines that can make decisions over time.

This technology is used in manufacturing and engineering fields for enhanced production and economic growth.

This is not the only area where AI is changing how business is done. Deep intelligence can be used to gather the data necessary to analyze trends, identify correlations, and provide answers. Using this data, companies are recording more of what is happening with the state of their machines in the industrial process, and with their customers.

This has created a need for machines that can process and analyze data, then use that information to make predictions. Data alone does not provide insight. The relevant and actionable information contained within that data does. This is what allows businesses to make decisions critical to their operations or profitability. AI is currently being used in this way by businesses throughout Wyoming.

Businesses can benefit by working with UW

The UW lab is available to help businesses looking to solve problems using AI. The lab is already working with the Jackson Hole Technology Partnership and assisting startups in the tech space.

Recently, students at the lab used AI to address a Wyoming issue – the tracking of wildlife. With so many wide-open spaces, it can be challenging to determine where animals are, accurately count them, and follow where they are going.

Students authored a paper on how to use artificial intelligence to process images coming in from small cameras placed in wildlife areas. AI makes it possible to track wildlife automatically, a benefit for state agencies and eco-tourism companies.

This same technology can also be used to automatically monitor crops, a benefit to the state’s agricultural sector.

A hot topic at the Wyoming Energy Summit

Dr. Cheney spoke about the impact of AI and machine learning at the 2018 Wyoming Energy Summit.

His work focuses on autonomous robots and vehicles.

Cheney's research has been popular in both scientific and public venues, winning numerous awards at academic conferences, and also featured by venues such as NBC, Popular Science, Discover, and TEDx.

Anyone seeking to learn more about artificial intelligence, machine and deep learning, or the potential impact to the Wyoming economy can view his talk here.

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