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  • Social App Wins Prize at USD Social Innovation Challenge

    CSE junior Sneha Jayaprakash and her team of a dozen fellow students, most from CSE, in the social startup Bystanders to Upstanders, were one of three teams that each took $10,000 in prize money in the USD Social Innovation Challenge awards handed out on Friday evening. A total of 15 finalists made their closing pitches to a jury of leading corporate and non-profit executives, including representatives from Qualcomm Ventures and Project Concern International. The Bystanders to Upstanders (B2U) mobile app connects socially conscious organizations and volunteers to promote community service through the power of social media and game design.

    For B2U founder Jayaprakash, winning awards has become almost second nature. She originally started B2U after winning Microsoft's YouthSpark Challenge for Change in 2013 and putting the $2,500 prize money to work building a team with other CSE students, including Winnie Xu (pictured far left, with Jayaprakash following the May 1 award ceremony). B2U was subsequently awarded $10,000 from Microsoft's Imagine Fund, which also promotes the venture through its "My Startup in 60 Seconds" online pitch via Microsoft's Channel 19 website. The venture also won smaller amounts from the UC San Diego Social Innovation Fund and the Zahn Prize Social Innovation Open Challenge, and the team got coaching from Microsoft technical mentors, courtesy of the Imagine Fund.

    In the finals, the app competed against six other social startups from San Diego universities other than the University of San Diego (USD). A second UC San Diego entry also took home a $10,000 prize. The Engineering World Health team of bioengineering students was honored for its plan to develop a low-cost HIV test..

  • Computer Vision + Brain-Computer Interface = Faster Mine Detection

    Computer scientists in UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering have combined sophisticated computer vision algorithms and a brain-computer interface to find mines in sonar images of the ocean floor. The study shows that the new method speeds detection up considerably, when compared to existing methods—mainly visual inspection by a mine detection expert.

    “Computer vision and human vision each have their specific strengths, which combine to work well together,” said CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner (pictured at right). “For instance, computers are very good at finding subtle, but mathematically precise patterns while people have the ability to reason about things in a more holistic manner, to see the big picture. We show here that there is great potential to combine these approaches to improve performance.”

    Researchers worked with the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) in San Diego to collect a dataset of 450 sonar images containing 150 inert, bright-orange mines placed in test fields in San Diego Bay. An image dataset was collected with an underwater vehicle equipped with sonar. In addition, researchers trained their computer vision algorithms on a data set of 975 images of mine-like objects.

    In the study, researchers first showed six subjects a complete dataset, before it had been screened by computer vision algorithms. Then they ran the image dataset through mine-detection computer vision algorithms they developed, which flagged images that most likely included mines. They then showed the results to subjects outfitted with an electroencephalogram (EEG) system, programmed to detect brain activity that showed subjects reacted to an image because it contained a salient feature—likely a mine. Subjects detected mines much faster when the images had already been processed by the algorithms. Computer scientists published their results recently in the IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering.

    The algorithms are what’s known as a series of classifiers, working in succession to improve speed and accuracy. The classifiers are designed to capture changes in pixel intensity between neighboring regions of an image. The system’s goal is to detect 99.5 percent of true positives and only generate 50 percent of false positives during each pass through a classifier. As a result, true positives remain high, while false positives decrease with each pass.

    Researchers took several versions of the dataset generated by the classifier and ran it by six subjects outfitted with the EEG gear, which had been first calibrated for each subject. It turns out that subjects performed best on the data set containing the most conservative results generated by the computer vision algorithms. They sifted through a total of 3,400 image chips sized at 100 by 50 pixels. Each chip was shown to the subject for only 1/5 of a second (0.2 seconds) —just enough for the EEG-related algorithms to determine whether subject’s brain signals showed that they saw anything of interest.

    All subjects performed better than when shown the full set of images without the benefit of prescreening by computer vision algorithms. Some subjects also performed better than the computer vision algorithms on their own.

    “Human perception can do things that we can’t come close to doing with computer vision,” said Chris Barngrover, who earned a computer science Ph.D. in Kastner’s research group and is currently working at SSC Pacific. “But computer vision doesn’t get tired or stressed. So it seemed natural for us to combine the two.” CSE Ph.D. student Alric Althoff also participated in the study.

  • CSE Students Explore Platform to See World Through Others' Eyes

    The Basement is the campus-wide incubator operated by the Alumni & Community Engagement office, and an article in the Jacobs School of Engineering blog showcased four of the ventures now using the facility to expand on their entrepreneurial ambitions.

    Among the students profiled in the article: Ryan Hill (left), a computer engineering sophomore, who is part of a CSE-heavy team focusing on "providing a platform that allows users to explore the world and share their adventures via a Google map-like interface that results in a photo/video map of the world," Hill told the blog. "We want you to see breaking news, historical wonders, local celebrations and much more, all through the eyes of those who are there to experience them live." Hill's teammates on the project include Thomas Chang (human computer interaction), Mike Shi (math and computer science), and Joseph Le (computer science). "The concept is brand new and we are only a recent admit to The Basement, so it's hard to tell exactly where my team and I will end up," admitted Hill. "However, I know our entrepreneurial spirit will push us to continue working, even if the idea doesn't." Hill is also juggling duties as an officer of the Triton Engineering Student Council and as professional development chair for the Computer Science and Engineering Society. But he has talked with a few large venture capital firms in the Bay Area, "and the idea really found traction with two of them," added Hill.

  • Savage Comments on Possible Spear Phishing Attack by Russian Hackers

    There is a new type of cyberwar that goes beyond phishing scams. A security firm reports that in so-called "spear phishing", a group of hackers get hold of confidential "lure" documents that can be dangled in front of officials to get them to open emails with malicious attachments. The first large-scale case of spear phishing was the attack on Sony Pictures, but now the security firm Lookingglass says a dedicated group of hackers -- probably on behalf of Russia -- was successful in getting Ukrainians military, counterintelligence, border patrol and local police to open the attachments, making it possible for the hackers to place malware on Ukrainian computer systems to gather confidential documents. In a report on National Public Radio, CSE Prof. Stefan Savage warned that in cyber attacks such as this one, the evidence is usually circumstantial because "researchers have the digital version of tire tracks and gun casings --- not DNA and fingerprints," reported NPR. Savage noted that anyone could have carried out the attack technically. "The question as to be, 'who else would have the motivation to do it?", because this is a significant piece of work," said Savage. "It's effort."

    Read or listen to the full NPR article on spear phisphing.

  • Faculty to Share Experience of ‘Transformational Projects’ in IDI Showcase Events

    Faculty from CSE and other departments are invited to attend one of the three showcase events organized by the Integrated Digital Infrastructure (IDI) program on May 6 and 7 at different locations around campus. The IDI was conceived a year ago to provide a campus-wide approach to applying advanced IT services to support the wide variety of disciplines that increasingly depend on digital data.
     
    “This will be real celebration of a wide range of pioneering projects,” says IDI Director and CSE Prof. Larry Smarr (at right, viewing quantitative health data), also founding director of Calit2. “We hope the entire campus community will attend these inaugural Showcases to learn how IDI can help lead them to similar successes.”
     
    To ensure that faculty members recognize the value of IDI, most of the speakers at each forum will be faculty who are already receiving IDI mini-grants for the 2014-'15 academic year. They will share how they interacted with IDI to enhance the cyberinfrastructure that supports their research or instruction. In addition to viewing those successes, attendees will also learn how to apply for next year’s support for their own Transformational Projects.
     
    Wednesday, May 6, 10am - noon, Learning Center Room 143, Education and Telemedicine Building, School of Medicine
    • Ilkay Altintas: WiFire UCSD GIS effort
    • Jurgen Schulze and Trey Ideker: Creating greatly expanded, scalable visualization capability for graphing gene and cellular networks
    • Rommie Amaro: Rational drug design
    • Falko Kuester: Prototype lab for student access to drones
    • Lucila Ohno-Machado: Establish scalable Health Sciences HIPAA cloud for human-generated data
    Wednesday, May 6, 2pm - 4pm, 4500 Hubbs Hall, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
    • Frank Wuerthwein: Large Hadron Collider/CMS Data Tier Two site
    • Brenda Bloodgood: Neuronal computation changes in response to interactions with the environment
    • Greg Hidley: SDSC's High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network
    • Jules Jaffe: Underwater imaging of plankton/phytoplankton
    • Mark Ellisman: Crack the living cell nucleus
    Thursday, May 7, 10am - noon, 15th Floor Meeting Rooms, The Village at Torrey Pines, West Campus
    • Kim Albizati: Undergraduate instruction in upper-division Chemistry
    • Thomas Levy: Evolution of societies in the southern Levant from the Neolithic to Islamic periods
    • Mehrdad Yazdani: Twitter Big Data study measuring happiness of metropolitan areas
    • Allison Marsden: Graduate instruction on computational fluid dynamics
    • Rob Knight: Radically advance UCSD's capabilities in multi-omic integration of the human microbiome
    Speakers affiliated with the CSE department will include instructor Jurgen Schulze and SDSC's Ilkay Altintas at the first session, while pediatrics professor Rob Knight, who has a partial appointment in CSE, will speak at the Thursday meeting. At each event, faculty speakers will describe their research and how IDI supported that work. Registration information, the full agenda for speakers and location maps are available at IDI’s website
  • Business Plan Contest Offers $100,000 in Prizes

    The UC San Diego Entrepreneur Challenge has set the deadline for submissions in one of its most lucrative contests for students. The organization announced the 2015 $100,000 Business Plan Competition, and set Monday, May 18 as the deadline for registering to compete in this year's competition. The semi-finals are scheduled to begin at 5pm on Friday, May 22.

    In previous competitions, the Entrepreneur Challenge has awarded more than $800,000 in cash awards and pro-bono professional services to winners of Business Plan competitions, and the winners have chalked up a strong record of funding and other awards following success in the UC San Diego challenge. Two startups -- Cognionics (the 2010 winner) and DevaCell (2014) -- went on to win prestigious innovation awards from the San Diego Business Journal, and other past winners including Nasseo and Biological Dynamics followed up their wins with significant rounds of private funding. Any team can compete in the $100,000 Business Plan Competition as long as they have at least one full-time UCSD student, postdoctoral researcher or recent graduate (as long as it has been less than a year since graduation).

  • What Does It Mean to Be Literate in the Age of Google?

    What does it mean to be literate at a time when you can search billions of texts in less than 300 milliseconds? That's the central question that Google's Uber Tech Lead for Search Quality and User Happiness, Dan Russell, will tackle in his lecture on Monday, May 6 as part of the Design Lab's Design at Large series organized by CSE and CogSci professor Scott Klemmer.

    Date; Wednesday, May 6
    Time: 4pm - 5pm
    Location: Calit2 Auditorium, Atkinson Hall

    Although you might think that "literacy" is one of the great constants that transcend the ages, Russell argues that "the skills of a literate person have changed substantially over time as texts and technology allow for new kinds of reading and understanding. Knowing how to read is just the beginning of it. Knowing how to frame a question, pose a query, how to interpret the texts you find, how to organize and use the information you discover, how to understand your metacognition -- these are all critical parts of being literate as well."

    In his talk, Russell will review what literacy is today, in the age of Google, and show how some very surprising and unexpected skills will turn out to be critical in the years ahead. We have created powerful new tools for the mind.  "Thing is, those tools are constantly evolving and changing even as the things they operate on change as well," claims Russell in an abstract for his talk. "This puts us in the position of having to learn how to find tools, and understanding the substrate on which they work. Literacy in these days is not just reading and writing, but also understanding what knowledge tools are available, and who they can be used in interesting new ways." He goes on to add that the role of the designer turns out to be critical in this new understanding of literacy.

    Dan Russell works at Google in Mountain View, CA. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science, specializing in Artificial Intelligence, until he realized that amplifying human intelligence was his real passion. His day job is researching how people search and the ways they come to learn about the world through Google.  His 20% job is teaching the world to search more effectively. Russell enjoys teaching, learning, running, and music, preferably all in one day.

  • Big Pixel Hackathon Set for May 23

    Three "hackers" will each win $500 cash awards if they are in the winners' circle at the conclusion of the Hackathon  organized by the Big Pixel Initiative at UC San Diego. Beyond the top three spots, however, the Hackathon to Discover the Planet could open up opportunities for UC San Diego students to eventually secure mini-grants ranging in size from $1,000 to $3,000 to continue research involving geospatial big data.

    Date: May 23
    Time: 10am - 5pm
    Location: Calit2 Theater, Atkinson Hall
    Register: http://bit.ly/1ExaA5F

    What will your discovery be? UC San Diego has recently been given unprecedented access to the  largest volume of the ultra-highest resolution satellite imagery of our planet. Imagine being able to count every car in every city, monitor illegal elephant poaching from your couch, or measure the total area of solar panels on the planet. This is an emerging industry, with nearly a billion dollars in cash flowing into satellite imagery and geospatial big data analytics startups in the last three years. The question on everyone's mind is: What will will we see? The organizers are calling on students from CSE and other disciplines to bring their thoughts to this exciting new field.

    The Big Pixel Initiative is looking for smart, early-stage multidisciplinary ideas. While coding is not required, early proof-of-concept work will increase competitiveness. Students are encouraged to bring their own laptops and to use the software platform of their choosing. Support stations will be provided for students to tap into industry standard GIS software (ArcGIS, etc.).    

    The Big Pixel Initiative is developing geospatial capacity to address our world’s greatest challenges at scale. Founded in partnership by UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute and the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS), the Initiative has partnered with the Digital Globe Foundation to grow a living, learning laboratory related to everything spatial, to investigate and design best practices in geospatial data visualization user experience interfaces, and design techniques for scientific discovery and decision-making.     

  • Student Startups Among Finalists in Social Innovation Challenge

    Two CSE student startups have reached the finals of the San Diego Social Innovation Challenge. The companies -- Evocado, and Bystanders to Upstanders -- will participate in a final round of  judging on April 28 along with three other teams from UC San Diego that are among the eight finalists in the San Diego-wide track of the competition (while eight teams from the University of San Diego are in a separate but parallel competition, because USD is organizing the Social Innovation Challenge).

    Sneha Jayaprakash (left) is the CEO of Bystanders to Upstanders (B2U), to which she recruited six of her friends (all computer science majors) shortly after founding the company in 2013. Now a junior in computer science specializing in bioinformatics, Jayaprakash says her passion is social change. Her startup aims to revolutionize the way people view community service. The company is designing and developing the app to apply game design and social networking to community service, and she has found backers, including the Microsoft Imagine Fund (with a $10,000 award). Since founding B2U in 2013, Jayaprakash has shifted from a non-profit to a for-profit model focused on encouraging volunteer work in corporate settings, and the size of her team has doubled to more than a dozen people, most of them CSE undergraduates. The company aims to "start finalizing contracts with companies who want to license the app" by the end of 2015.

    Daniel Kao (right) founded Evocado in December 2014 to create an online platform to intelligently connect grant seekers with foundations, and to simplify the grant application, review and management process. It's also a for-profit venture that is nevertheless focused on "funding and raising awareness for the social solutions the world needs," according to the team's overview impact statement. Kao is a computer science senior who leads product design and development for the company. Other team members include Edgardo Leija, a recent UCSD alumnus (BS '14) in cognitive science with a minor in computer science. Since graduation, he has gone to work as an interaction designer for Hewlett-Packard, but still leads user experience design for Evocado in his spare time. Leija was part of the founding team of UXSD, the student branch of the new Design Lab at UC San Diego.

    Kao, Jayaprakash and other team leaders will deliver 6-minute pitches in the final judging. The pitch has to appeal to a broad audience, according to B2U's Jayaprakash. "It needs to make sense to the social good side, the business and marketing side," she told the Jacobs School blog. "Each sector has different things that they want to see, and crafting a pitch that apseaks to each sector is the challenge."

    The recipients of the prizes (seed funding for winning startups) will be announced at an awards ceremony on May 1. At that ceremony, all of the finalists will present the 90-second "fast pitch" for their projects to the social innovation community members attending the event.

  • Alumnus Looks Back at Inaugural Introduction to Robotics Course

    Recent CSE alumnus Chris Barngrover (MS '10, PhD '14) developed a new CSE 190 course, Introduction to Robotics, which he first taught during the Winter 2015 quarter, juggling lectures to undergraduates with his full-time job in SPAWAR's Unmanned Systems group (where he works on computer vision for robotics). He also arranged to provide low-cost robotics kits to each team to integrate into a more complex system, including at least two peripherals. During the second half of the quarter, students broke into teams to work on robot projects that accounted for 50 percent of their final grades in the class.

    This week Barngrover (at right) posted a video created by one of the CSE 190 teams involving "Autonomous Tracking and Following of Indoor RC Helicopter." Undergraduate students (below, l-r) Frank Bogart, Mike Lara, James Lee and Kenny Yokoyama completed the BLLY project (pronounced Billy, and derived from the first letters of the students' last names). Three of the students are computer engineering majors: fifth-year student Bogart worked on the vision for the robot; senior Lara handled the embedded systems; and Lee, a second-year transfer student, worked on the navigation and hardware. The fourth team member, Yokoyama, is a third-year computer science major who worked on the Linux setup and networking.

    BLLY combined a do-it-yourself personal robot (based on the TurtleBot robotics kit) and open-source software with a Kinect and a netbook. Students also used Qualcomm DragonBoards to gain hands-on experience with Robot Operating System. The Kinect was used to detect the helicopter in 3D space using its RGB camera in conjunction with its depth-sensing capabilities. The students also implemented an LED array to display the relative position of the RC helicopter in the frame of the Kinect's camera in real time. The resulting autonomous robot follows around a tiny, remote-controlled quadcopter, and if the copter starts moving away, the robot accelerates in its direction to maintain an ideal distance between the two.

    For the Spring 2015 quarter, Barngrover switched to teaching a course in the Master of Advanced Studies program in Wireless Embedded Systems of the Jacobs School, titled Introduction to Embedded Systems Design (WES 237A). The part-time MAS program is designed for working professionals, and it involves a full day of lectures and labs every other Friday.



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