Friday, January 21, 2022

The U.S. Air Force has promoted a University of Iowa Technology Institute (ITI) graduate research assistant to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, an accomplishment recognized in a ceremony at ITI’s Operator Performance Lab (OPL) in December. 

Patrick “Dice” Highland is a third-year PhD student studying industrial engineering at the University of Iowa, and he works as an experimental test pilot for OPL. Highland also serves as an active-duty experimental test pilot for the U.S. Air Force.  

The ceremony was attended by Highland’s family and friends and led by Lt Col Matthew Youmans, who serves as the UI Air Force ROTC Detachment Commander. 

“A promotion to Lieutenant Colonel is not a reward, necessarily. It is a recognition that an individual is able to perform at a higher capacity, so we expect great things from him,” Youmans said in his speech. 

Video by Pareen Mhatre

The ceremony included a reading of the promotion order before the new insignias were pinned on Highland’s dress shirt and service dress coat by members of his family. Highland was officially promoted following a reaffirmation of the oath of office.  

“The ceremony was really for my family, but it was also a good way to remember that I didn’t get there by myself,” Highland said. “I couldn’t have gotten my PhD without the people at OPL, and I couldn’t have gotten this promotion without my family.” 

As a test pilot for OPL, Highland has been a part of many of the lab's major projects for the past three years. He works on OPL’s Cognitive Assessment Tool Set (CATS) and often pilots OPL’s AV L-29 Delfin jets.  

Outside the lab, Highland’s PhD has focused on human trust of autonomy in high-risk situations with a specific interest in air combat. 

This included developing a model that allows for the novel objective real-time measurement and classification of human trust in autonomous systems.  

“The model classifies human trust in autonomy into under-trust, over-trust, and appropriate trust,” Highland said. “That was a successful project, and that was the first time that has ever been done in the context of air combat.” 

The day prior to his promotion ceremony, Highland successfully defended his dissertation. 

Highland will graduate with a PhD in industrial and systems engineering in the Spring of 2022. Before receiving his PhD, Highland will take his dissertation research to the next level with work on a project called “Have R2D2.” 

Highland’s prior research used one plane against a virtual entity. In those previous research trials, test subjects were told the planes were piloted by AI, however they were flown by a human pilot. The upcoming Have R2D2 trial will now include two planes with one flight-directed by an autonomous system – a much higher-risk situation that should provide higher-fidelity human trust of autonomy data than Highland’s previous work. 

Highland said he is thankful for the tools and opportunities at OPL that have helped him complete this work.  

“It’s such a cool thing that there are fighter jets flying at a university in Iowa. There’s just no place else like this in the world,” Highland said. “There are other schools that have flight test operations, but they are not flying fighter-type-aircraft. The things we are doing at OPL are truly unique.”