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CSE News

  • CodeSpells Triples Its Take from Crowdfunding Campaign

    A team of CSE students and alumni finished their massively successful campaign to seek funding from "the crowd" for further development of their computer game to teach programming skills. Friday was the final day of the month-long campaign for CodeSpells on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform. Co-founded by Ph.D. student Stephen Foster and recent CSE Ph.D. alumna Sarah Esper, the company ThoughtSTEM launched the campaign to raise $50,000, but by the end of Friday, Oct. 3, nearly 5,500 supporters had committed more than $164,000, more than triple the original target.  

    The success in getting the public to fund CodeSpells means that the team will be able to ramp up production and expansion of CodeSpells much faster. The team will now be able to convert CodeSpells to a multiplayer experience by early 2016, which means that students will be able to learn programming while dueling each other in wizarding battles and coding their own mini-games to play with their friends. Also promised for 2016: a new artificial intelligence system for non-player characters that populate the game world, along with a dialogue system so players can create new story-based adventures within CodeSpells.Then by early 2017, users will be able to create their own new species inside the game. The first 'alpha' version of the game will be released this December to those supporters who contributed $80 or more to CodeSpells during the Kickstarter campaign. The team also released the first CodeSpells Development Update on Sept. 29 (see image), and in it the team offers viewers an inside look at some of the tools currently being developed within the Earth environment, which allows players to execute spells that modify their avatar's surrounding environment. 

    Learn more about the crowdfunding campaign for CodeSpells.
    Watch the CodeSpells Development Update #1 video.

  • Why Computer Scientists May Want to Attend Contextual Robotics Forum

    Faculty and other researchers in Computer Science and Engineering are invited to participate in a robotics forum on October 10 organized by the Jacobs School of Engineering. The first Contextual Robotics Technologies International Forum will feature eight headliners who are world leaders in robotics disciplines that are relevant for the coming era of ubiquitous consumer robotics. Medicine, agriculture, environmental monitoring and disaster response are some of the areas of modern society that ubiquitous consumer robotics is poised to disrupt. "We organized this forum to bring world-class robotics thought leaders together before an audience of Southern California technologists and entrepreneurs with an interest in robotics,” said Jacobs School Dean Albert P. Pisano. “We are dedicated to building and nurturing a robust robotics ecosystem here in San Diego. This means working to help build and sustain collaborations and partnerships among many different players in industry, academia, the military, entrepreneurial communities, and more generally, the region’s public and private sectors.” What does "contextual robotics" mean? The term highlights how the context must be addressed if technologists and society at large are to realize the potential of ubiquitous consumer robotics for the public good. This entails developing robotics systems that are able to determine the context of a situation involving humans, determine a course of subsequent action and then accomplish that action. Contextual robotics systems will likely integrate mobile platforms empowered with sense, machine learning, adaptive control, communications and locomotion functions, and, on occasion, collaborative robots working toward a common goal.

    In addition to introductions by Dean Pisano, Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla (who has a partial faculty appointment in CSE) and Ramesh Rao (director of the Qualcomm Institute, a co-sponsor of the forum), the forum will showcase some of the top minds in robotics. They include University of Pennsylvania professor Vijay Kumar on "Robot Swarms", 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson on "Airborne Big Data", MIT professor Daniela Rus speaking about "Printable Robots", and the chief technology officer of Rethink Robotics, Rodney Brooks, who will talk about mobility, manipulations and messiness -- the three major challenges in robotics research. Other speakers include Brad Nelson of ETH-Zurich on "MicroRobotics and NanoMedicine", Qualcomm CTO Matt Grob on "Smartphone-powered Robots", DARPA robotics program manager Gill Pratt, and Dean Kamen, founder of DEKA Research and the FIRST robotics competitions as well as the Segway. Kamen will talk about creating and forming future technology leaders. The Contextual Robotics Forum begins at 8:30am on October 10 and ends at 5pm. Registration is required.

    Learn more and register at the forum website.

  • Deadline Looms for Startup Ideas for I-Corps; Info Session for Student Entrepreneurs Oct. 7

    The von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center is inviting students to apply to the I-Corps Program. This fall, 30 teams interested in starting their own companies will have the opportunity to explore the commercialization potential of their ideas. Those teams will be selected by organizers based on applications that are due no later than October 9.  To socialize the I-Corps process among faculty and students, von Liebig is organizing an information session on October 7 from noon to 1pm in Jacobs Hall's Qualcomm Conference Room. The info session has been expanded to include other entrepreneurship opportunities and resources for students at UC San Diego, including the Moxie Entrepreneurship Academy (which runs 6-8pm every Tuesday) and the UC San Diego Entrepreneur Challenge, in addition to I-Corps.

    While the program is geared to the graduate student community, undergraduates can request special permission to participate. The 30 projects to be incubated in 2014-15 will each receive an initial $1,000 and business mentoring, plus an opportunity to receive an additional $2,000 if their ideas and progress toward commercialization are deemed strong by a team of judges. Most of the students will also take part in a series of courses designed to help engineering students take a product to market. Called Venture Mechanics (ENG 201), the course is given in the fall and spring. Students who are not yet enrolled in the course, but who are planning to apply for an I-Corps spot, are advised to enroll for the Fall 2014 quarter.  Even if they cannot take the course, you can still compete for the seed funding by competing in twice-yearly competitions. Ultimately, student teams who go through the I-Corps program may be eligible to compete for up to $50,000 in funding made available by the I-Corps National program, and going through the program also positions student startups to compete for various funding opportunities, including small-business SBIR grants worth up to $150,000.

    Register to attend the Oct. 7 info session for I-Corps, Moxie and Entrepreneur Challenge. 
    Visit the I-Corps UC San Diego website for more details.

  • Undergrads Receive Award for Augmented-Reality Solution for Color Blindness

    It isn't every day that an academic paper at a major conference is authored or co-authored by undergraduate students, especially not a paper that wins an award. But at the ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing, that's what happened. The UbiComp program commitee gave the UC San Diego paper, "Chroma: A Wearable Augmented-Reality Solution for Color Blindness", a Best Paper Nominee award, which is reserved for the best five percent of accepted papers (in a conference that accepts only 20% of submissions). At the mid-September conference in Seattle, WA, computer science undergraduate Enrico Tanuwidjaja delivered the presentation as the first author of the paper, but he wasn't the only undergrad among the co-authors: others included Derek Huynh, Kirsten Koa, Calvin Nguyen, Churen Shao and Patrick Torbett. The students undertook nearly two-dozen interviews with people with varying types and levels of color-blindness. In addition to the undergrads, the authors included CSE research scientist and lecturer Nadir Weibel and research associate Colleen Emmenegger.

    Weibel worked with the six CSE undergrads, all of whom took his CSE 118 course as a follow-up to the Google Glass project they worked on in their class last fall. "I decided to invite them to participate in a 198 Directed Study Group course last winter quarter, with the goal of going from an early prototype to a real research project," recalls Weibel. "We worked on IRB, participant recruitment, development of the system, interviews, testing and evaluation." Together they wrote the paper submitted to, and honored by, UbiComp. The team developed Chroma, a wearable augmented-reality system based on Google Glass. It allows users to see a filtered image of the current scene in real time.

  • Lovett Lecture on (Log Rank) Conjecture

    CSE Prof. Shachar Lovett was at MIT on Tuesday, Sept. 16, to give a talk on "New Advances on the Log Rank Conjecture." His colloquium was part of MIT's Theory of Computation lecture series. The log rank conjecture is one of the fundamental open problems in communication complexity. According to Lovett, the conjecture speculates that the simplest lower bound for deterministic protocols, the log-rank lower bound, is in fact tight up to polynomial factors.

    "A simple argument shows that there is always a deterministic protocol which uses r bits of communication, and until recently the best known bounds improved on this only by a constant factor," said Lovett (at right) in his abstract for the talk. "Recently, two new approaches allowed for improved bounds." One new approach was determined jointly by Lovett with Technion's Eli Ben-Sasson and Noga Ron-Zewi, a Technion-trained computer scientist now at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. They related it to a central conjecture in additive number theory, showing that "if it holds, then there are protocols which use O(r / log(r)) bits," i.e., at most a constant times (or factor) more than r/log r bits. The second approach outlined in Lovett's talk was based on discrepancy theory, giving an unconditional, upper bound of O(\sqrt{r} \log(r)) bits of communication. In addition to explaining the approaches and background, Lovett sketched the proofs and outlined "intriguing connections" to other central problems in complexity theory, including matrix rigidity, and two-source extractors. The Theory of Computation group, which organizes the colloquium, is part of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), which spans two departments: Mathematics, as well as Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

    Read the complete abstract for Prof. Lovett's colloquium.

  • SoCal Theory Day 2014

    Be sure to mark Friday, October 17, 2014 on your calendar. Prof. Shachar Lovett is organizing SoCal Theory Day 2014. Reviving a tradition from long ago in CSE, SoCal Theory Day will host a series of external speakers in Theoretical Computer Science, as well as "ample time for mingling and networking." External speakers from Stanford, UCLA and Caltech will include: 

    • Amit Sahai, UCLA. Advances in Obfuscation.
    • Luca Trevisan, Stanford. Spectral graph algorithms for partitioning problems.
    • Chris Umans, Caltech. Approaches to bounding the exponent of matrix multiplication.
    • Ryan Williams, Stanford. Algorithms for circuits and circuits for algorithms: connecting the tractable and intractable

    The external speakers are pictured above right, l-r: Amit Sahai, Luca Trevisan, Chris Umans and Ryan Williams. Registration is required but free of charge (including free lunch for registered participants). 

    Click here to register for SoCal Theory Day.

  • Single Model to Explain Visual and Auditory Precortical Coding

    CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell, Director of the multi-campus and interdisciplinary Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC), will be the next speaker in a new lecture series sponsored by Dart NeuroScience. On Sept. 24 at 3pm in the Duane Roth Auditorium of the Sanford Consortium, Cottrell will explore how "a single model explains both visual and auditory precortical coding." It's part of a year-long dialogue on "the role of time and timing in learning, across multiple time scales, brain systems and social systems." According to TDLC, the Dart Neuroscience-TDLC Seminar Series is "a means of sharing a body of excellent science with the larger UCSD scientific and educational community" as well as the communities of both TDLC and Dart NeuroScience.

    According to Cottrell's seminar abstract, "precortical neural systems encode information collected by the senses, but the driving principles of the encoding used have remained a subject of debate. We present a model of retinal coding that is based on three constraints: information preservation, minimization of the neural wiring, and response equalization. The resulting novel version of sparse principal components analysis successfully captures a number of known characteristics of the retinal coding system, such as center-surround receptive fields, color opponency channels, and spatiotemporal responses that correspond to magnocellular and parvocellular pathways." Cottrell (at left) also notes that, "when trained on auditory data, the same model learns receptive fields well fit by gammatone filters, commonly used to model precortical auditory coding. This suggests that efficient coding may be a unifying principle of precortical encoding across modalities."

    The Sanford Consortium is located at 2880 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive in La Jolla. All of the seminars in the Dart NeuroScience-TDLC series in the 2014-2015 academic year will be available as live streaming webcasts for those unable to attend in person.

    Click here to watch the live webcast of Prof. Cottrell's seminar at 3pm on Sept. 24. 
    Keep track of future seminars in this series on the TDLC website. 
    Learn more about TDLC.

  • New Deadline for Students to Propose Venture Ideas, Enroll in Innovation Course

    Here's a heads-up for CSE students who have bright ideas that they might want to develop as entrepreneurial ventures. The von Liebig Center has extended the deadline for proposals from students who apply to be part of the NSF-funded I-Corps site at UC San Diego. The new deadline is October 9, and there will be an information session on October 7 from noon to 1pm in the Qualcomm Conference Room in Jacobs Hall.

    According to I-Corps site organizer Jay Gilberg, CSE students are particularly well suited to developing technology startups, because they typically have the ability to create a proof-of-concept themselves, without having to hire external (read: expensive) outside suppliers to build a prototype.  CSE students can also be matched with students from other disciplines who could benefit from a team member with strong programming skills.

    The I-Corps site program at UC San Diego is looking to select 10 teams for Fall 2014, then 15 more teams over the winter. For students without any business experience, I-Corps organizers recommend that students enroll (via TritonLink) this fall in ENG 201, the first in a three-course sequence in innovation and "venture mechanics" that continues in winter and spring, all taught by instructor Svetlana Eremenko. The curriculum includes the Lean Launchpad startup methodology of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank. Students in the course compete for $1,000 in funding for proof-of-concept development, plus mentoring support. At the end of the course, teams can compete for an additional $2,000, and the most promising startup teams can go on to compete for a $50,000 NSF I-Corps National award (like the one that CSE Ph.D. students Stephen Foster and Sarah Esper received to commercialize their CodeSpells game to help teach students how to code in Java.

  • CodeSpells Update: Kickstarter Campaign Hits Target After Seven Days

    Last week we reported on the launch of a new Kickstarter campaign by the CSE graduate students who developed CodeSpells, a magic-themed computer game designed to help teach students how to program in Java. The crowdfunding appeal aimed to raise $50,000 by early October to make the game more attractive and more fun to play, thanks to improved computer graphics and coding interface. Barely one week into the campaign, CodeSpells had supporters under its spell, putting the game and the company created by the CSE students, ThoughtSTEM, over the top. As of late Tuesday, Sept. 9, the CodeSpells campaign had raised over $58,500 from nearly 2,500 backers, with 24 days still to go in the month-long appeal that ends Oct. 2.

  • CSE Alumna Participates in Visit of Obama Cabinet Member to UC San Diego

    CSE alumna Sarah Esper (Ph.D. '14) was front and center when the administrator of the Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet (pictured at left, with Esper), visited the UC San Diego campus to announce a $50,000 grant to The von Liebig Center and Rady School of Management for their joint mystartupXX program. The program nurtures the next generation of female company founders and female-led technology startups through mentorship, education and funding. The SBA administrator announced mystartupXX is one of 50 winners of the SBA's Growth Accelerator Fund competition.

    Sarah Esper is one of the female entrepreneurs (and CSE students) who have benefited from the mystartupXX program. “The funding from mystartupXX was the first money we put into our bank account,” remembers Esper, co-founder of ThoughtSTEM, a computer science education startup. The support from mystartupXX came at a critical moment, helping Esper and her co-founders launch the company as ThoughtSTEM and getting their first game-based computer science courses for kids up and running. In the last two years, ThoughtSTEM has expanded from one location on the UC San Diego campus to two dozen locations spread across San Diego, the Bay Area and Boston.

    Read the full news release. 
    Learn more about the mystartupXX program.

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