INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER — UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS

People of IARC

keith

Keith Cunningham

Since 2011, Keith Cunningham has worked to establish and facilitate new collaborative research projects and funding pathways at the IARC’s Scenarios Network for Alaska + Arctic Planning. Cunningham’s specialties include geospatial and remote sensing technologies.

Contact Dr. Cunningham

Have you always been interested in spatial modeling and the ways it can be used and marketed?

During my PhD work in geography, I focused on intersections between perceptual learning and signal processing, and specifically neural networks, or interconnected webs of processors that work to transmit signals in a collective way. These systems can be used to process extremely large and complex sets of data, such as for change detection in massive imagery datasets.

So I have long been interested in big data, and creative ways of using it. In the twenty years between my PhD and when I began working with UAF, however, I focused on the technology necessary to make that big data useful— remote sensing tools, communications networking, and metadata, among others. Much of this work involved a good deal of entrepreneurship as well, including founding several geospatial consultancies.

How did these circumstances lead you to Alaska and IARC?

Beginning toward the end of the last decade, it became clear to me that academics offered a competitive advantage for the research I am interested in. So I sought a university position where research funding aligned with my interests.

At SNAP, where I work now, I’m provided with a great deal of freedom to focus on research that is not only cutting edge but also has the potential to contribute to our state’s economic development in fields ranging from drones to hydrokinetics (development of energy harnessing from water).

What might interest people about your current work?

I’m currently focused on one commercialization project in particular, which is related to aviation safety and funded by the US Air Force. We are building drone sensors and forecasting tools to assess airborne hazards including volcanic ash, dust, and even PM2.5 air pollution.

This has led to the creation of V-ADAPT (Volcanic Ash Detection, Avoidance, and Preparedness), with research expertise from our Geophysical Institute’s Jon Dehn and Peter Webley. V-ADAPT is notable as the first UAF business spin-off and the first to generate commercial royalties.

I also seek out opportunities to form collaborations and connections—between myself and other researchers, between our research community and funding opportunities, and between the university and the state economy that depends on it. Opportunities for these connections grow every day.

Slope stability model at Glitter Gulch, Alaska, for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT). Billions of laser measurements (colored dots) obtained over the past three years are used to calculate the amount of falling rock, to help forecast DOT maintenance costs.
Slope stability model at Glitter Gulch, Alaska, for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT). Billions of laser measurements (colored dots) obtained over the past three years are used to calculate the amount of falling rock, to help forecast DOT maintenance costs.
Ash movement from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, forecasted to ensure the safety of air travel. The brighter the color, the more ash is in the air.
Ash movement from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, forecasted to ensure the safety of air travel. The brighter the color, the more ash is in the air.
Keith Cunningham demonstrates the Value Chain concept—in this case, how to turn data into something useful.
Keith Cunningham demonstrates the Value Chain concept—in this case, how to turn data into something useful.