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  • Ph.D. Student Deploys SphereCam to Track Most Endangered Marine Mammal

    Antonella Wilby graduated with a B.S. in computer science in 2015 and easily transitioned into graduate school, where she works with CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner on underwater robotics and computer vision. It grew out of Wilby's participation as an undergraduate in the Engineers for Exploration program, co-directed by Kastner and Qualcomm Institute research scientist Albert Lin.

    Wilby is focusing her Ph.D. work on interdisciplinary applications of robotics and computer vision in exploration, ecology and conservation. Engineers for Exploration began as a joint partnership with the National Geographic Society, which positioned Wilby to apply and get a Young Explorers Grant from National Geographic. Now, she is updating the NatGeo audience on her research that focuses on development and deployment of a system to detect and monitor the most endangered marine mammal in the world: the vaquita porpoise, with an estimate 100 vaquitas in the wild.

    Wilby (at right and below) and colleagues recently began testing a newly-developed underwater camera, the Spherecam. It contains six cameras on the faces of a cube which yield a 360-by-360-degree view of its surrounding environment. Vaquita porpoises are rarely photographed, because there are so few of them, and they don't arc out of the water like dolphins (so they are harder to spot) and they typically stay up to a kilometer away from nearby vessels.

    "Not a single underwater photo of the animal exists," wrote Wilby in National Geographic Voices. "Remote monitoring technologies like camera traps have become ubiquitous in behavioral monitoring and conservation of terrestrial species... Infrared sensors are often used as trigger mechanisms for the camera traps [on land], but water filters out the infrared light too quickly for this to be a viable triggering method underwater."

    So instead Wilby and her team settled on acoustic monitoring, using a hydrophone to listen for the narrowband, high-frequency ultrasonic clicks with which vaquitas communicate or echolocate. In order to detect the notoriously shy mammals, Wilby developed the system to capture the clicking sounds. If the Spherecam registers clicks in the target range of around 139 kiloherz, it will automatically turn on and begin recording video.

    "This month the SphereCam will be starting its first long-term deployment in the field," Wilby told the Qualcomm Institute's David Wang, "so hopefully we'll get some detections soon."

    Read the Qualcomm Institute article about the vaquita project.

  • CSE Graduate Program Honored After Student Survey

    Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) is one of six departments or programs recognized as Outstanding Graduate Departments and Programs. The awards are the first to reward demonstrated excellence based on the university's Graduate and Professional Student Experience and Satisfaction (GPSES) survey.

    The awards are given by the Graduate Student Association (GSA)  and the Graduate Division of UC San Diego. The GSA GPSES Awards will be handed out between 4-6pm on Thursday, March 17 (St. Patrick's Day!) in a ceremony at the Loft.

    CSE is one of the six outstanding programs or departments. In a separate category, the GSA named Structural Engineering as the Best in Engineering. Other departments competed for "best in" Arts and Humanities (Philosophy), Biological, Physical and Health Sciences (Neurosciences), and Professional Programs (Rady's Flex MBA program).

  • CSE Startup Highlighted as Event Tech of the Week

    CSE Prof. YY Zhou's current startup Whova is on a roll, along with the company's software engineering development team, The Whova app was selected as the Event Tech of the Week by the blog TechsyTalk, which keeps event organizers up-to-date on new technologies to enhance the event experience for both organizers and attendees. Zhou and co-founder Weiwei Xiong responded to questions from blogger Liz King. "An important factor for successful events is how well your attendees engage and connect with you, with the speakers and each other," said Zhou (pictured below). "A great attendee experience can improve retention, foster relationships and build community."

    The Whova development team includes three alumni of CSE's doctoral program: Jiaqi Zhang (Ph.D. '14),  Zhuoer (Joel) Wang and Rishan Chen. Two other Whova developers also did research in CSE: Soyeon Park was a postdoc and project scientist from 2009 to 2013, and Tianwei (Tim) Sheng was a CSE postdoc from 2011 to 2013.

    "The Whova app makes attendees an active part of the event and extends the engagement beyond the event's location and time limit," added Whova's Weiwei Xiong. "Research has shown that active participation provides a significantly better experience than passive attendance, and in comparison with other apps, Whova has the highest download ratio, typically around 60-90%. That's why we have a very high customer retention rate." That ratio is the percentage of total attendees at an event who actually downloaded the app.

    Asked about the 'coolest' feature of the app, Whova's co-founders pointed to features including a personalized agenda, attendee networking, photo sharing, Twitter integration. real-time announcements, and the integration of the app with various registration systems. "We have also used machine intelligence to automatically recognize event organizers' data formats to minimize the amount of manual data entry by organizers," noted Zhou, who holds the Qualcomm Endowed Chair in Mobile Computing. "From the app side, another very unique feature is business-card scanning and digitization, as well as attendee networking (one-to-one chats and group chats)."

  • Computer Engineering Major Leads Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Chapter

    Alejandro (Alex) Buitimea, a computer-engineering major who expects to graduate in 2017, is the current president of the UC San Diego chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). He is also the latest student to be featured in the Jacobs School of Engineering's #ILookLikeAnEngineer social-media campaign.

    Originally from Sylmar, Calif., Buitimea (at left) is interested in human-computer interaction and design, and he's hoping to find a summer internship to get more hands-on experience in both areas. In 2014-15 Buitimea also worked on a team in Calit2's Qualcomm Institute that developed an Anrdoid application that turns a smart device into an augmented-reality platform -- specifically a tool to be used in cyberarchaeology for viewing information related to an archaeological artifact.

    In the social-media campain, Buitimea says he hopes to empower the Hispanic community and introduce more students to computer engineering. "In the area where I grew up, not many talked about engineering," recalls Buitimea. "I myself didn't know what engineering was when I was choosing my major. I knew I liked math and solving problems, and I'm also fond of technology and computers. So pairing the two, I chose computer engineering."

    He adds: "Just because you don't have the same opportunities as everyone else, it doesn't mean that you cannot be successful. There are people in your community that will help you be successful."

    "I knew my freshman year that I wanted to pursue computer engineering, more on the side of building technology for education," says Buitimea. "Building devices that actually help students learn better, I know Microsoft and Google are doing big things along that path. If I can be involved with a company in that kind of sector, I think I'd follow that."

  • CSE Sophomore Wants to Design and Implement Software Solutions

    Another CSE student highlighted in the Jacobs School's #ILookLikeAnEngineer social-media campaign in February is Paul Epperson. A computer-science major and Regents Scholar in his second year, Epperson expects to graduate in 2018. He says he chose engineering at UC San Diego "because I wanted to be able to make real things. As someone with an interest in computer science, I had a desire to be able to design and create practical code that would provide useful solutions to applicable problems."

    Epperson (at right) says his career goal is to "help design and implement software solutions for hard, science-based problems. The closer to outer space and robots, the better." His hobbies include going to hackathons, 3D printing, over-customizing his self-built quadcopter, and building his own parallel cluster of Raspberry Pi's for active web analysis. Meanwhile, Epperson juggles part-time jobs testing massive open online courses for CSE faculty, and at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, he writes code and builds hardware to be used in teaching high-school students how to build parallel computing modules out of Raspberry Pi's. As a freshman, Epperson also did research in the Qualcomm Institute's Engineers for Exploration program, as a member of the "Stereo Diving Rig" project in which he helped implement 3D vision for the stereo diving rig's Android-ROS tablet interface. The interface allows a diver to see images and sensor data streaming from the rig in real time, and enables them to control the parameters and settings of the onboard cameras to adapt to changing underwater lighting conditions.

  • Google Selects CSE Professor and Alumni for Faculty Research Awards

    Google has announced two new Google Faculty Research Awards to CSE alumni and one to CSE Prof. Ravi Ramamoorthi. It is Ramamoorthi's second such award, after receiving one in 2014 while he was still at UC Berkeley (just months before he joined the CSE faculty at UC San Diego).

    The program received 950 proposals in the company's open call, with which it aims to "identify and support world-class, permanent faculty pursuing cutting-edge research in areas of mutual interest." The program allows Google to maintain strong ties with academic institutions pursuing innovative research in core areas relevant to its mission, notably computer science and related topics such as machine learning, speech recognition, natural language processing, and computational neuroscience. This year's proposals came from over 350 universities across 55 countries.

    For the awards, the selection committee selected 151 winning projects, including the one to CSE's Ramamoorthi.  (CSE Prof. Steven Swanson was the sole recipient last year from UCSD.) Ramamoorthi (at right) is also director of university's Center for Visual Computing.

    Ramamoorthi's proposal was submitted in the Physical Interfaces and Immersive Experiences category, a relatively new area for the Faculty Research Awards (with proposals in this category up 19 percent over last year). Specifically, Google will support the CSE professor's research on "Unified Multi-Cue 3D Depth Estimation from Light Field Images."

    "We are seeing a revolution in imaging technology, with the conventional camera being replaced with a light-field sensor," said Ramamoorthi. "Instead of capturing a simple 2D image, these new cameras use micro-lenses or multi-camera arrays to capture a full 4D light field." He also believes the next revolution in light-field cameras will involve bringing the technology to smartphones.

    "Light-field cameras are a single-shot 3D depth estimation and shape capture device," added Ramamoorthi, noting that the passive devices can overtake active devices such as the Kinect sensor which usually cannot be used outdoors. "Indeed, we believe that light-field cameras will revolutionize and democratize 3D capture, bringing it to the masses."

    The two CSE alumni who made the Google list this year included Yuvraj Agarwal (Ph.D. '09), now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The award to Agarwal (right) was in the Privacy category. And Zachary Tatlock (Ph.D. '14) was cited for work in Systems (Hardware and Software). Tatlock (at left), whose advisor in CSE was Sorin Lerner, is currently a professor at the University of Washington.

    The largest increase in support this year, however, went to faculty on machine learning projects, up 71 percent compared to the previous round. The Google grants cover tuition for a graduate student and provide both faculty and students the opportunity to work directly with Google researchers and engineers. If CSE faculty are interested in applying for the next annual round, the deadline is this October 15.

  • Alumnus Daniel Hsu Among '10 to Watch' in Artificial Intelligence

    CSE alumnus Daniel Hsu, who earned his Ph.D. in Machine Learning in 2010 from UC San Diego, is now on the computer-science faculty at Columbia University, and he has received a rare honor. Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI), and Hsu was just named one of "AI's 10 to Watch" by the IEEE Computer Society publication, Intelligent Systems. Recipients of the honor must have received their Ph.D. degree in the previous five years (between January 2010 and December 2014 for the latest round). The list is compiled every two years to "celebrate 10 young stars in the field" of artificial intelligence. (Photo below of Daniel Hsu by Ryan John Lee)

    According to Intelligent Systems (Volume 31, Issue 1, pp. 56-66, January-February 2016), "despite being relatively junior in their career, each one has made impressive research contributions and had an impact in the literature -- and in some cases, in real-world applications as well." Specifically, the publication cited Hsu's "Algorithms for Machine Learning", and his specialization in interactive learning (a subset of machine learning). Interactive learning makes it possible for a computer to learn by hand-labeling a much smaller set of data compared to traditional machine learning (where more hand-labeling is required to recognize future data).

    Hsu is a member of Columbia's Data Science Institute, which profiled the algorithmic work that won him the 10 to Watch distinction. In particular, the computer scientist  develops algorithms for computer-aided analysis of electrocardiogram to improve the accuracy and speed of heart diagnoses. Hsu's work has also been used in connection with personalized medicine, automated language translation, and methods to reduce noise and preserve privacy while maintaining data integrity on the Internet.

    "By shrinking the number of labels needed, the active learning process exponentially speeds up the process of training algorithms to do useful things," according to the Data Science Institute profile, which went on to note that Hsu developed an active learning method while at UC San Diego that was later applied to electrocardiograms that reduced the amount of training data by 90 percent. Hsu's theoretical work also extends to recommendation systems, and he has developed algorithms for Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) such as those used by Siri and Cortana speech recognition to infer written words from a stream of sounds. The work on HMMs has also been applied to Spectacle ENCODE annotations in genomics, notably to infer regulatory changes in the cell from the surrounding chromatin state.

    "It is impressive to note that Daniel Hsu's work was already used in Spectacle ENCODE and in EKG analysis," said CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta. "The Columbia University article is well-written and explains the advance, the background in active learning in terms everyone can understand and acknowledges the background training and work here at UC San Diego."

    Read the Columbia University Data Science Institute profile of Daniel Hsu.

  • Longtime Staffer Sets Ambitious Goal

    CSE contracts and grants administrator Cheryl Hile was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2006. Now she has embarked on an ambitious plan to become the first person with MS to run seven marathons on seven continents in a single year.

    At the time of her diagnosis, Hile's neurologist urged her to lower her expectations. "That ticked me off," she recalls, "so I adopted a new life mantra to do what I can and never give up." As a runner of marathons since 2000, she had to get used to one particular new symptom of the MS after 2006: she suffered from dropfoot, which would cause her to trip and fall when running. So she learned to run while wearing an ankle-foot orthotic (AFO) made of carbon fiber. Since then, Hile has run in 32 marathons and 30 half-marathons, each time wearing the AFO device.

    Now she has set for herself the goal to run marathons on seven continents in 12 months. "I want to achieve this to inspire people to never lower their expectations," explains Hile. "I want to encourage others, with or without MS, that they should always do what they can and never give up."

    Running in races on seven continents won't come cheap, so Hile hopes to raise sufficient funds for travel expenses on CrowdRise, while also raising money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for its research and patient programs. (E.g., on March 22, Culture Brewing in Solana Beach will donate 20 percent of sales from 5-8pm to benefit the MS Society; see Evite below.)

    "Antarctica will be a huge expense, especially since there will be two of us," says Hile. "My husband Brian runs all the marathons beside me because my MS symptoms can be unpredictable, so he's there in case I fall, or I'm too weak to tear open a GU energy packet, or to adjust my orthotic device on my foot." (At left: Hile waves while wearing her ankle-foot orthotic during the San Francisco Marathon.)

    Organizers of some races are expressing support for Hile in her campaign. Marathons in Cape Town (South Africa) and Honolulu, Hawaii, have given her complimentary entry passes to those races, and she has received in-kind donations for airline tickets to those marathons.

    Hile is also starting to get support from corporate sponsors: BIC Bands, which makes non-slip headbands, is helping her raise funds by creating a custom headband; Larabar is donating gift for her fundraising events; Kinetic Research, which makes her AFO device, donated $1,000; AirMed will provide membership for emergency air evacuation; Xcom Global will supply a mobile Wi-Fi device for all countries; and the organizers of the Rock 'n Roll Marathon -- Competitor Group -- will help promote her fundraising effort because she will kick off her training with the RnR Half Marathon event this coming June.

    "The drug company that makes my MS medication, Biogen, cannot fund me directly due to FDA regulations, but I will be doing doctor-patient talks up and down the West Coast," says Hile. "I can spread my message at these meetings and hopefully make more connections to make this adventure possible." Hile is already scheduled to speak in San Diego, Brea, Seattle and Honolulu.

    To keep friends and colleagues aware of her activities, Hile is updating her Facebook page and will launch a blog by the end of February. And she is currently featured in the January/February issue of Women's Running Magazine (pictured at right).

    Hile is currently planning to launch her 7-marathon, 7-continent year with the Cape Town marathon next September.

  • Recent CSE Alumnus to Receive Dissertation Award at DATE 2016

    A recent graduate of CSE's doctoral program has won the top dissertation award in his category. The jury of the European Design and Automation Association (EDAA) selected Abbas Rahimi for the Outstanding Dissertations Award 2015 in the area of new directions in embedded system design and embedded software. Rahimi (M.S., Ph.D. '13,'15) was cited for his thesis, "From  Variability-Tolerance to Approximate Computing in Parallel Computing Architectures”. His advisor was CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta.

    Rahimi (at right) did his doctoral work on microelectronic variability and approximate computing, and he was part of the NSF-funded Variability Expedition as well as the Microelectronic Embedded Systems Laboratory, both led by Prof. Gupta. He also worked as Gupta's teaching assistant in Digital Logic Design in fall 2013. That same year he was a finalist for the best-paper award at the 50th IEEE/ACM Design Automation Conference (DAC).

    Rahimi moved to UC Berkeley last fall to work as a postdoctoral scholar on brain-inspired hyperdimensional computing under Prof. Jan Rabaey in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, as well as the Berkeley Wireless Research Center. His research interests include brain-inspired computing, massively parallel memory-centric architectures and interconnections, embedded systems and software with an emphasis on improving energy efficiency, and robustness in the presence of variability-induced errors and approximation opportunities. In these areas, Rahimi has published more than 30 papers in top-tier conferences and journals.

    Rahimi will accept his EDAA award and 1,000-euro prize on March 15 as part of the morning plenary session at the Design, Automation and Test in Europe (DATE) conference and exhibition. DATE 2016 takes place at the International Congress Center March 14-18 in Dresden, Germany. Rahimi is one of four winners in separate categories; the others were from Switzerland's EPFL, China's Tsinghua University, and Stanford University.

    Read Abbas Rahimi's Ph.D. dissertation.

  • Gravitational Wave Discovery Echoes CSE Professor's 1975 Dissertation

    In his doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas, Austin in 1975, CSE professor Larry Smarr developed a computational method for solving Albert Einstein’s equations of general relativity. Smarr’s PhD thesis, “The Structure of General Relativity with a Numerical Illustration: The Collision of Two Black Holes,” showed how computers could reveal the “generation of gravitational radiation from the formation of black holes,” he wrote in his dissertation. “The particular case of two non-rotating black holes colliding head-on is chosen as a test case for the computer.”

    Forty years later, Smarr – now director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and the Harry E. Gruber professor of Computer Science and Engineering in the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego – was inundated with messages following a Feb. 11 announcement by the National Science Foundation at the National Press Club. A global consortium of more than 1,000 scientists had, for the first time, detected evidence of ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves. The waves were produced by the merger of two black holes in space some 1.3 billion years ago, but passed through the Earth only last September. The waves were recorded using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) barely one day after the observatory became operational following a major upgrade to make the detectors more sensitive. The devices – located in Louisiana and Washington State – are now referred to as Advanced LIGO. “These gravitational waves induced fluctuations in length of Advanced LIGO’s two 4-kilometer laser beams that are smaller than one-thousandth the diameter of a proton,” said Smarr.

    [Pictured above: Calit2 Director Larry Smarr holds his 1976 handmade model of the curved space caused by two black holes just before they collided. Each paper strip of the coordinate grid was printed out with its distorted shape accurately represented.  Then the strips were woven together by hand.  One could consider this an analog precursor to today’s digitally driven 3D printers.  Next to Smarr are his Golden Goose Award, his blue PhD dissertation, and the book he edited on the 1978 workshop on Sources of Gravitational Radiation. Photo by Alex Matthews/Qualcomm Institute.

    The power radiated in gravitational waves by the collision of the black holes (merging black holes estimated to be 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun, respectively) was 50 times larger than the power emitted by all the stars in the universe and yet would have been invisible to humans on Earth without LIGO.

    “It’s hard to overstate how historic the moment is,” Smarr told HPCwire yesterday. “Think about all of the amazing astronomical objects we’re studying with radio astronomy, x-ray astronomy, ultraviolet astronomy, infrared astronomy or optical. Those are all just parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is an entirely new spectrum, from end to end, with as diverse sources as the electromagnetic spectrum that we have been working on since Galileo.”

    The hard evidence of gravitational waves came almost exactly 100 years after Einstein’s general theory of relativity proposed the concept of space-time and distortions in what are now known as gravitational waves. Einstein believed, however, that the waves would be so small and fleeting that they would never be detected experimentally. “The National Science Foundation began funding development of LIGO some 30 years ago, even though they knew that the first version of the ‘telescope’ could not be powerful enough to make this observation,” said Calit2’s Smarr. “It cost more than a billion dollars to get this far over 30 years, and it demonstrates how important long-term research funding is to our understanding of physics and the universe.”

    [Pictured at left: Advanced LIGO detector in Livingston, Louisiana, registered the two-black-hole collision’s gravitational waves at 9:51 UTC (2:51 Pacific time) on September 14, 2015; seven milliseconds later the sister detector in Hanford, Washington, recorded the same signal. The signals at each site are depicted below.]

    Smarr recalls that after his Ph.D., as a Junior Fellow at Harvard, he organized an international workshop in Seattle in 1978. The workshop explored “Sources of Gravitational Radiation,” and Smarr edited a book based on the proceedings (still available on Amazon). The first article in the book was by Ray Weiss, the researcher at the NSF press conference yesterday who invented the gravitational-wave laser interferometer, and the third article was by Kip Thorne, who was also at the press conference (and with whom Smarr first met in 1970). 

    “We all knew in 1978 how difficult the problem was going to be – both to solve computationally the nonlinear coupled Einstein equations for the collision of the two black holes and the subsequent generation of gravitational radiation, as well as to build the most sensitive measuring instrument in human history,” noted Smarr on Thursday. “However, I was always confident that technology would eventually improve to where it would be sensitive enough to detect what was reported yesterday.”

    Smarr’s work on black holes made him realize how revolutionary supercomputers were going to be in a wide array of disciplines.  So he pulled together a team of pioneering researchers and submitted an unsolicited proposal to NSF in 1983 to create a university-based supercomputer center. “My research led me to understand that academics needed access to supercomputers,” he noted. His was the first proposal to the NSF, closely followed by one from Sid Karin at General Atomics in 1984. The eventual result: NSF funded the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where Smarr became the founding director.  Sid Karin became the founding director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Karin is an emeritus professor of computer science at UC San Diego.