Category: Alumni

Alumni Commercializing Technology to Improve the Health Care Industry

February 24th, 2015 in Alumni, ECE, Events, News-EP, Recognition, Research-EP

By Gabriella McNevin

David Freedman’s winning pitch on the startup stage at CES, presented by Up Global.

David Freedman’s winning pitch on the startup stage at CES, presented by Up Global.

NexGen Arrays develops light-based virus detection tests that have potential to improve the health care industry. Alumnus David Freedman (ECE ’09, @DScottFreedman) is the company Co-Founder & CEO.

Recently, Freedman connected with representatives from the National Science Foundation (NSF) while attending the 2015 International Consumer Electronic Show® (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. NSF filmed their conversation. The video underlines that NexGen Arrays is developing tests to rapidly identify viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola, Lassa, and Marburg. Nexgen Arrays is also developing additional healthcare tests with clinical collaborators in the area of Oncology and Diabetes.

As highlighted in the NSF video conversation, NexGen Arrays tests are used at the patient’s health care site, resulting in actionable clinical information. This feature is a huge deviation from standard sensitive diagnostic tests. Typically, diagnostic tests are less timely because they require the support of a full lab that is often located at a separate location.

The technology that NexGen Arrays is commercializing sprouted from novel biomedical optics research that was performed in Professor M. Selim Unlu’s (@MSelimUnlu) laboratory. NexGen Arrays is working in collaboration with Becton Dickerson (BD), John Connor from the BU School of Medicine and the BU Photonics Center. The mission has received funding from the NSF Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, and the National Institute of Health (NIH) and industrial partners.

As a post-doctoral researcher for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Freedman led the development of prototype development in 2011-2012 as part of an NSF Accelerated Innovative Research (NSF-AIR) grant. The NSF-AIR program led Freedman to participate in the NSF Innovation Corps (I-CORPS) program in 2013 to determine the commercial potential of Nexgen Arrays light-based technology. The future of Nexgen Array  looks bright to Freedman, who established the company in 2014, “I’m excited for 2015. We’re growing rapidly, and are positioning ourselves for great commercial success.”


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Memorial This Saturday for Professor Thomas Kincaid (ECE)

January 22nd, 2015 in Alumni, ECE, Faculty, Uncategorized

By Mark Dwortzan

Emeritus Professor Thomas Kincaid (ECE)

Emeritus Professor Thomas Kincaid (ECE)

Emeritus Professor Thomas G. Kincaid, a longtime faculty member and former chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, died on January 18 at the age of 77.

He joined the Boston University faculty in 1983 and served as ECE chair from 1983 to 1994. He retired in 2006.

Kinkaid’s research at BU focused on signal and image processing, photonics, dynamic neural networks and nondestructive testing. He taught courses in engineering and in logic design, signals and systems, and advised graduate students pursuing degrees in electrical engineering.  Previously, he worked as a researcher for General Electric. A member of the IEEE and its Signal Processing Society, he received his PhD from MIT in 1965.

Throughout his career, Kincaid viewed the cultivation of character and relationships as the foundation of success.

“Tom was a terrific mentor and gentleman and supporter,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen in a message to the ENG faculty. “He had such a calming and gentle yet authoritative demeanor. Boston University benefited greatly from his presence and his leadership.”

As ECE chair, Kincaid increased the size of the department by more than 50 percent, hiring faculty that included three future ECE chairs—ECE Professors Bahaa Saleh (Emeritus), David Castañón (SE) and W. Clem Karl (BME, SE). He also increased the size of the graduate program and focused it on doctoral education.

“Tom was a long, dedicated and impactful member of the ECE department and the College of Engineering,” said Karl. “He was a calm and sure administrator and an able and caring educator.”

A native of Hamilton, Ontario, Kincaid is survived by his wife Elizabeth (Betsy); their three children—Thomas John, Colin and Elizabeth (Mimi)—and their spouses; and nine grandchildren.

A celebration of Kincaid’s life is scheduled for Saturday, January 24 at 11 a.m. at Grace Chapel, 59 Worthen Road, Lexington, Mass; a reception will follow. The family has planned a private burial ceremony. Memorial donations may be made in his name, in lieu of flowers, to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research or to World Vision, Inc.

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Vision Quest

November 24th, 2014 in Alumni, ECE, Graduate Programs, Recognition

Two BU grads seek to revolutionize the eye exam

By Barbara Moran, BU Research

The SVOne shines light into the eye and instantly calculates an eyeglass prescription. “All you have to do is look straight,” says co-creator Marc Albanese. Photos by Conor Doherty.

The SVOne shines light into the eye and instantly calculates an eyeglass prescription. “All you have to do is look straight,” says co-creator Marc Albanese. Photos by Conor Doherty.

Imagine that you’re nearsighted. For many Americans, that’s not hard to do. Around 30 percent of people in the United States are nearsighted, and for most of them, the solution is simple: go to the eye doctor and get some glasses or contact lenses. That way, they can drive, read street signs, and recognize friends walking down the street.

For most of the world, it’s not so easy. About 90 percent of the world’s visually impaired people live in low-income settings, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And often, there are no eye doctors or eyeglasses available. In Rwanda, for example, there are about 10.5 million people—and 14 vision specialists. Without access to an eye exam or glasses, simple nearsightedness becomes debilitating.

BU graduates Marc Albanese (left) and Yaopeng Zhou, founders of Smart Vision Labs.

BU graduates Marc Albanese (left) and Yaopeng Zhou, founders of Smart Vision Labs.

Now two Boston University College of Engineering graduates, Yaopeng Zhou and Marc Albanese, are trying to change those statistics. They’ve invented a handheld device called Smart Vision One (SVOne) that scans a person’s eyes, instantly determines whether he or she needs glasses, and decides what their prescription should be. Bolstered by a $1 million 2013 Powerful Answers award from Verizon, their company, Smart Vision Labs, is poised to start manufacturing and delivering SVOne devices in early 2015.

“This could be big,” says Thomas Bifano, director of BU’s Photonics Center, who advised both Zhou and Albanese on their theses at BU and now serves on their board of directors. “If this caught on, it could be so cheap that everyone has one, like a thermometer. It has the potential to be hugely disruptive.”

The device is a small block of plastic, a little larger than a deck of playing cards, which slips over an iPhone. To perform an exam, one person holds the device (technically known as a “wavefront aberrometer”) up to a patient’s eye, and presses a button. Light shines into the patient’s eye, bouncing off the retina and back out the front of the eye. Curves and imperfections in a patient’s eye will cause beams of light to bend, bouncing out of the front at slightly different angles. A sensor collects this information, the computer in the iPhone interprets it, and the result is a prescription specific to that eye. (Unless, of course, the person has perfect vision.)

Traditionally, optometrists have determined eyeglass prescriptions by asking patients to look through a phoropter, a bulky device on a swivel arm containing multiple lenses. A patient looks through lenses of different strengths and reports which ones make his or her vision the sharpest. “It’s a big, clunky, subjective measure,” says Albanese. “What we have is a small, portable device that offers you an objective number. It just gives you the answer! All you have to do is look straight.”

Albanese also says that the device could work well for young children, who are generally not known for their cooperation during eye exams.

The genesis for the device came over a decade ago, when both Zhou and Albanese were working on their graduate degrees in electrical engineering at BU’s College of Engineering. Bifano, a mechanical engineering professor, had worked for years developing “adaptive optics”—tiny, adjustable telescope mirrors that could help astronomers correct for atmospheric haze and see distant objects more distinctly. Then the technology took a twist. Bifano was invited to join a team from Schepens Eye Research Institute that was working with a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use adaptive optics for a different application: taking better resolution photos of the mouse retina.

“All the major eye diseases affect the cells in the retina,” says Bifano. “If you have a disease like, say, diabetic retinopathy, your capillaries get clogged up, and you get little microaneurysms and new, leaky vessels forming in the retina. Seeing these in the early stage of disease would help diagnosis and treatment. But because your eye is misshapen, the physician can’t see the cellular structures in your eye. They just see a gray mishmash.”

In the summer of 2002, Bifano chose Zhou and Albanese to join the team at Schepens and help develop the technology in mice. “The eye is a window into all these health issues,” says Albanese. “Our goal was to see the blood flow in the retina, but it’s not a clear optical path.”

Eventually Zhou and Albanese wrapped up their work on the project and went their separate ways. They got jobs and then each landed separately at New York University (NYU), at different times, to work on their MBAs. In early 2012, Zhou started thinking again of his work at Schepens. He had read an article about billions of people worldwide suffering with poor vision, with no access to an optometrist. He met up with his old friend Marc Albanese at a bar in Union Square, and they discussed the problem over beers. “And Yaopeng said, ‘Why not use the same optical measurements that we used at Schepens to give people prescriptions?’” says Albanese.

In the intervening years, technology had changed to their advantage. During their work under Bifano, they had used a Dell computer costing $5,000 and a camera costing the same. “Now a $500 iPhone has basically the same camera and processing ability,” says Albanese. “You have a computer and a camera in your pocket that can do most of the work for you. It just all came together.”

The two decided to work on the project together, and formed a company. While they worked on optical problems (like finding the perfect light source and screening out unwanted reflections from the front of the eye), they also started raising money. In 2013, they won $75,000 in the NYU business plan competition. That was followed by a $100,000 grant from, and then, in January 2014, the $1 million award from Verizon.

“That helped a lot,” says Albanese. “Yaopeng had been working on a prototype, but nothing helps a prototype like a million dollars.” The money allowed them to buy a 3D printer, hire a full-time mechanical engineer and a software engineer, and also a “director of social venture” (and director of sales) to help them bring the device to the developing world.

They now have 11 working devices—all handmade—and they will soon start production in Boston for 100 more. They are now accepting preorders for the SVOne and expect the first orders to ship out in early 2015. The device costs $3,950 with an iPhone, compared to other similar devices on the market, which cost between $15,000 and $40,000.

While their primary market is American optometrists (they made their first sale to one running a Pearle Vision center in Philadelphia), their ultimate goal is to make the device widely available in less-affluent countries. Albanese and Greg Van Kirk, the company’s director of social venture, envision a fleet of “optometrist entrepreneurs” who use the device to prescribe and sell glasses in the developing world, creating jobs and saving sight.

“I’m really excited to see this thing go,” says Bifano. “These two guys took what we taught them at BU and just ran with it. It’s been a thrill for me to see them build something from scratch. They just buckled down and made it happen.”

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

September 30th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, ECE, Events, Faculty, Recognition

ENG 50th Anniversary Celebration Showcases Excellence and Impact

By Mark Dwortzan

At the College of Engineering’s Student-Alumni Team Design Challenge, John Folloni (ENG’60,’72) (from left), Gregg Fischer (ENG’07), Abena Kwakyi (ENG’11), Daniel C. Cole, an ENG mechanical engineering associate professor, Ian Leatherman (ENG’11), and Ben Graham (ENG’16) collaborate on their vehicle. (Photo by Cydney Scott).

At the College of Engineering’s Student-Alumni Team Design Challenge, John Folloni (ENG’60,’72) (from left), Gregg Fischer (ENG’07), Abena Kwakyi (ENG’11), Daniel C. Cole, an ENG mechanical engineering associate professor, Ian Leatherman (ENG’11), and Ben Graham (ENG’16) collaborate on their vehicle. (Photo by Cydney Scott).

With sunny skies overhead and an autumnal chill in the air, College of Engineering alumni from across the country converged on Cummington Mall on September 19 to celebrate the College’s first 50 years. The atmosphere was festive both outside, where cotton candy and popcorn were on offer, and inside various campus buildings, where alumni, faculty and students learned about high-impact ENG research and entrepreneurial achievements, toured new facilities, participated in a design challenge and engaged in spirited conversations about the past and future of the College.

Alumni-Student Lunch Panel

Speaking before an audience packed with current ENG students at the Boston University Photonics Center Colloquium Room, six exemplary alumni highlighted their career paths, how they’ve impacted society and how their engineering education has contributed to their success.

Kathleen McLaughlin (ECE’87) observed that the College’s emphasis on problem- solving skills and systems thinking served as “the perfect underpinning” for all she’s achieved since graduating. That includes a Rhodes Scholarship and two decades with the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where she served as senior partner, and her current role as president of Walmart Foundation, where she’s responsible for corporate giving and initiatives in global sustainability, healthier food and women’s economic empowerment.

Fellow Rhodes Scholar Jennifer Gruber (AME’99) described a life path that took her from a Nebraska trailer park and childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut, to the BS/MS program at the College of Engineering, to 12-plus years at the NASA Johnson Space Center. Like McLaughlin, she cited her problem-solving mindset, cultivated at the College, as critical to her success as a mission control flight dynamics officer, mission planner and manager serving Space Shuttle and Space Station missions.

“The answers aren’t in the back of the book when you graduate,” said Gruber, who now manages a team tasked to ensure that all items are properly stowed aboard the Space Station. “Being able to not be intimidated by something that sounds difficult is actually a really good skill that you learn [at the College of Engineering] that I’m putting to use right now.”

Other panelists included Kevin Knopp (ECE’94) co-founder and CEO of 908 Devices, which produces handheld mass spectrometers; Kevin Kit Parker (BME’89), professor of bioengineering & applied physics at Harvard University and a leading traumatic brain injury researcher; Amit Jain (ECE’85,’88), president, CEO and co-founder of Prysm, Inc., which manufactures energy-efficient video walls (including the one recently installed in the lobby of 44 Cummington Mall); and George Savage (BME’81), co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of Proteus Digital Health, which makes pills that double as medical monitoring sensors.

Reconnecting with Classmates and Iconic ENG Faculty

Alumni also had a chance to share memories with classmates and favorite faculty members at the Engineering Product Innovation Center’s (EPIC) Design Studio. Toting coffee, deserts and hors d’oeuvres and dressed in business casual attire, several graduates from as far back as the Class of 1964 caught up with more than a dozen long-time ENG faculty in the packed room.

Victor Almeida (EE’86), who develops software for Cigna Insurance Company, reconnected with Professor Emeritus David Perreault (ECE), who taught two of his favorite courses in digital logic.

“We talked about how kids today do amazing things we couldn’t imagine back then,” he said, pointing to mobile apps and drones as examples.

For Jose Andrade (CE’85), who has worked on Raytheon’s Patriot Air Missile Defense System for the past three decades, “back then” was a time when his undergraduate computer lab mushroomed from the size of a closet to the size of the EPIC Design Studio.

Michelle Tortolani (EE’87), fellow and past president of the Society of Women Engineers and an engineering program manager at Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, marveled at how quickly time had passed since Commencement. “I’m proud to be an ENG graduate,” she said after conversing with Professor Mark Horenstein (ECE), whose courses in electronics she had taken. “It’s amazing to see how the school has grown.”

Reflecting on his reunions with alumni from the past decade who are now doing everything from completing law school to developing a chain of pediatric hospitals in India, Professor Steven Colburn (BME) observed, “It’s been exciting for me because so many of them are having such good lives!”

Design Challenge Energizes ENG Community

The 50th Anniversary Celebration featured not only talks and conversations but also hands-on activities. Alumni were treated to tours of the College’s newest facilities, including EPIC and the Singh Imagineering Lab, and a design challenge staged at the Photonics Center Colloquium Room, where four teams of alumni, students and faculty competed to design and build a small vehicle that could travel across four long tables under its own power.

Supplied with a bag of popsicle sticks, duct tape, straws, plastic wheels, balloons, batteries, circuit boards and other small parts, each team (representing the Electrical & Computer , Aerospace and Mechanical, Biomedical  and Manufacturing engineering gathered around a table to talk strategy and produce a working vehicle within 45 minutes. As alumni, students, faculty and staff cheered from the sidelines and quadcopters  delivered occasional “care packages” of additional supplies to the tables, the event’s emcee, Associate Professor Glynn Holt (ME), monitored the teams’ progress and interviewed random alumni in the audience.

After multiple test flights, all four teams completed the task, though some had to manually nudge their vehicles toward the finish line. The BME team, whose alumni included Lauren Black (’03,’06), Carissa Black (’01,’03,’06), Michael Young (’85,’89, MED’91) and Frank Salamone (’94), was the first to traverse all four tables. Holt recognized team BME for its performance, ECE for speed, AME for completing the course the most times, and AME for style.

Symposium and Banquet Highlight Research Impacting Society

At a late afternoon symposium at the Photonics Center Auditorium, alumni heard two talks on high-impact faculty research and a third focused on the value of higher education.

Professor Thomas Bifano (ME, MSE), director of the BU Photonics Center, described several photonic technologies that are improving our quality of life. These included Associate Professor Xue Han’s (BME) pioneering use of light to silence and activate neurons in the brain as a means of studying brain disorders and explore potential treatments; Professor Theodore Moustakas’ (ECE, MSE) patented technique to make blue LEDs found in smartphone and flat panel displays; and Bifano’s development of adaptive optics with deformable mirrors that are now being used to image retinal cells—technology that promises to improve clinical research on diabetic retinopathy.

Emphasizing the critical need for robust technologies to address outbreaks of the Ebola virus, malaria, HIV and other major diseases in the developing world, Associate Professor Muhammad Zaman (BME, MSE) asked, “What is it that I, as a BU engineer who is ready to make a positive impact on the world, can do for the world? We need technologies that are portable, low power, inexpensive, easy to use, robust and perform quantitative tests.” He highlighted one such technology, PharmaChk, which he’s now advancing to help reduce the prevalence of substandard and counterfeit drugs, a problem affecting hundreds of thousands of people every year. Field-tested in Africa, PharmaChk can test drugs at the point of care and anywhere along the supply chain.

Dean Kenneth Lutchen presented statistics and analysis showing that despite the buzz about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a residential college education—especially in engineering—remains an excellent investment, both in terms of financial success and preparation for lifelong learning and impact. The bottom line? “Go to college,” said Lutchen. “It’s expensive (partly) because it’s very valuable.”

The ENG 50th Anniversary Gala Banquet in the Trustee’s Ballroom capped off the day’s events. More than 200 alumni, friends, faculty and students attended the event, which featured a video presentation that explored the College’s history and some of the current research that promised to make significant impacts on our world. After dinner, Associate Professor Edward Damiano (BME) discussed his efforts to develop a bionic pancreas that could vastly improve the quality of life for people with Type 1 diabetes. Damiano’s handheld system, which automatically manages type 1 diabetes, was recently shown to be as effective as the conventional, manual approach, in which patients periodically check their own blood sugar levels and determine the amount of insulin needed.

Receptions for the ENG Class of 1964 and the ENG National Society of Black Engineers were held the following day on the ENG campus.

ENG Prof Wins NASA Early Career Faculty Award

September 12th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, ECE, Faculty, Grants, News-EP, Recognition, Research

Given for developing deep space communication technology

By Amy Laskowski, BU Today

Jonathan Klamkin, an ENG assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, says photonic integrated circuits will “soon fly into deep space and send large amounts of data back to Earth.” Photos by Cydney Scott

Jonathan Klamkin, an ENG assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, says photonic integrated circuits will “soon fly into deep space and send large amounts of data back to Earth.” Photos by Cydney Scott

Ready to view deep space in high-def?

Jonathan Klamkin is working to make it possible. A College of Engineering assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and a member of the ENG Division of Materials Science & Engineering, Klamkin was recently awarded a NASA Early Career Faculty Space Tech Research Grant for his work developing new and faster ways to send data using integrated laser transmitter technology, which could aid NASA in sending high-definition video of space back to Earth. The grant is given to “outstanding researchers early in their careers” engaged in the development of space technology that has been deemed of high priority for NASA.

Last October, NASA completed the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, the first mission to demonstrate two-way, high-rate laser communication from lunar orbit aboard the Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). Using traditional methods, it would take the NASA spacecraft 639 hours to download an average-length high-definition movie. But using this new technology, downloading takes fewer than eight minutes. As NASA prepares future trips to Mars, it has granted Klamkin up to $600,000 over three years to develop technologies that can be used in future space missions.

“Technology drives exploration, and these researchers will provide fuel for NASA’s innovation engine,” says Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, of this year’s NASA early career grant winners. “Sustained investments must be made to mature the capabilities required to reach the challenging destinations that await exploration, such as an asteroid, Mars, and outer planets. These investments help to assure a robust university research community dedicated to advanced space technology development.”

Klamkin says he was thrilled to learn he had been selected for the honor, which was awarded to only seven university-based researchers nationwide. “This grant not only allows my research group to interact with NASA and develop technologies for future space missions,” he says, “but will also assist us in developing relationships with leading research institutions conducting optical communications research for NASA, including the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.”

Klamkin leads BU’s Integrated Photonics Laboratory, where he and his team research how to consolidate several photonic functions onto a single chip.
Klamkin leads BU’s Integrated Photonics Laboratory, where he and his team research how to consolidate several photonic functions onto a single chip.

“These NASA early career awards are incredibly competitive,” says Kenneth Lutchen, dean of ENG. “Professor Klamkin is advancing highly creative photonic principles and technologies that can transform our ability to communicate efficiently into deep space. It is wonderful to have such a creative young faculty member impacting these challenging problems.”

Klamkin came to BU last year from the Scuola Superiore Sant’ Anna in Pisa, Italy, where he was an assistant professor and director of the Integrated Photonic Technologies Center. Prior to that, he was a member of the technical staff at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. In 2013 he received an ENG Dean’s Catalyst Award, granted to faculty to support promising early-stage projects, and he was recently named a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

At BU, Klamkin heads up the Integrated Photonics Laboratory, where his team researches optical communications, microwave photonics, and sensing. Photonic integration consolidates several photonic functions onto a single chip. Klamkin’s research focuses specifically on specialized data delivery that relies on laser transmitters.

Thinking of new and faster ways to transmit data is critical, he says, because existing radio frequency systems have low data rates. Laser transmitters are able to send data to Earth through space, similar to how internet traffic is sent over fiber-optic cables.

“Deep space communication requires very high performance, but there is less space and power available on spacecraft,” and thus traditional lasers aren’t practical, he says. “Photonic integration, therefore, could be an enabler for reducing the size, weight, and power of laser transmitters for future missions.” The hope is that the photonic integrated circuits will “soon fly into deep space and send large amounts of data back to Earth.”


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Putting Engineering Know-How to Work

August 1st, 2014 in Alumni, ECE, News-CE, Publications, Recognition

Alum’s Company Boosts Customer Loyalty Using Indoor Location Technology

By Mark Dwortzan

Daniel Ryan (ENG’10), CEO of ByteLight, (left) and Manny Malandrakis, (ENG’10) one of the first ENG alumni to become an employee at the company. Photo by Dan Watkins

Daniel Ryan (ENG’10), CEO of ByteLight, (left) and Manny Malandrakis, (ENG’10) one of the first ENG alumni to become an employee at the company. Photo by Dan Watkins

Imagine you’re strolling through the aisles of a supermarket and just as you approach your favorite pasta sauce, a virtual “buy one, get one free” coupon for the product, redeemable at checkout, appears on your smartphone. Rather than having you page through a weekly compilation of in-store offers—that’s so 20th century—the store has delivered the coupon directly to your phone based on your current location and shopping history.

Making this possible are standard overhead LED lights that not only illuminate the room but also function as an indoor GPS. Enhanced with microchips, the bulbs contain sophisticated software that causes them to flicker fast enough to transmit a distinctive, information-rich signal that a smartphone camera can detect and a retailer’s mobile app can decode.

In just three years, the Boston-based startup that developed the software, ByteLight, has become a market leader in indoor location solutions, a burgeoning industry enabling mobile device users to access discounts, directions, and other highly targeted services at precise locations within buildings. Energized by a recent influx of $3 million from investors, ByteLight is piloting its technology at several global retailers, including 3 of the top 10 big-box stores, as well as at 100 stores in China.

Spearheading this success story is ByteLight’s CEO, Daniel Ryan (ENG’10), who cofounded the company with classmate Aaron Ganick (ENG’10) in 2011 based on concepts they studied and implemented as research assistants in ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering Thomas Little’s NSF Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center. Inspired to pursue careers in electrical engineering by childhood visits to Boston’s Museum of Science, Ryan and Ganick devised ByteLight’s core technology in the lab, developed a prototype and business plan in the technology incubator space at the BU Photonics Center and Highland Capital Partner’s Summer Program, and then raised sufficient capital to launch the company. While Ganick moved on last year to pursue other endeavors, Ryan continues to grow ByteLight to meet a surging demand for its unique indoor location solution.

As a smartphone-toting customer approaches a product in a department store, the ByteLight app displays discount information. Photo courtesy of ByteLight

As a smartphone-toting customer approaches a product in a department store, the ByteLight app displays discount information. Photo courtesy of ByteLight

It’s a demand driven partly by the rapid adoption of LEDs, and partly by the product’s market-leading accuracy, responsiveness, and reliability. LED lights equipped with ByteLight software can pinpoint a mobile device user’s location to within one meter in less than a second—far outpacing the performance of other indoor positioning systems developed by industry giants, including Apple and Google, that triangulate distances between hotpots and handsets on wireless networks.

“Sub-meter accuracy has long been the holy grail for retailers experimenting with indoor location,” says Ryan. “With ByteLight, retailers finally have the opportunity to install a wall-to-wall solution that just works.”

Also lifting ByteLight above its competitors are its low infrastructure cost and compatibility with all mobile devices. Unlike other solutions that require additional hardware such as WiFi hotspots or Bluetooth beacons, ByteLight software exploits an existing and ubiquitous infrastructure: overhead lighting. ByteLight not only uses light waves to transmit useful information to smartphone-toting customers at specific locations, but also to quickly and securely verify their presence for loyalty programs, mobile payments, and more at “tap-and-go” check-in and check-out locations equipped with the company’s Light Field Communication readers. Compatible with all smartphones, the ByteLight readers cost five percent as much as the increasingly popular Near Field Communication (NFC) readers, which use radio signals to process such transactions and work only with a limited set of mobile devices.

Once integrated into a retailer’s app and LED lights, ByteLight software promises to boost customer loyalty and sales by delivering personalized savings from store shelf to checkout. Since ByteLight technology was introduced in 100 stores in China, the stores have seen a 30 percent increase in loyalty reward redemptions.

“Brick-and-mortar retailers are demanding new solutions that can leverage digital assets within physical store locations to engage and retain customers,” says Don Dodge, developer advocate at Google and an industry leader in indoor location technology. “ByteLight’s indoor location solutions assist retailers with delivering hyper-targeted information and content to customers on mobile devices within their stores based on the device’s precise location. More importantly, these solutions fully integrate physical commerce with eCommerce to give retailers an omni-channel offering.”

ByteLight software exploits an existing and ubiquitous infrastructure: overhead lighting. Photo by Dan Watkins

ByteLight software exploits an existing and ubiquitous infrastructure: overhead lighting. Photo by Dan Watkins

ByteLight’s primary focus is on the retail industry, but the company’s technology could also be deployed in venues ranging from museums—including Boston’s Museum of Science, where ByteLight is used in one exhibit to display location-sensitive content—to factories to airplanes. To expand the company’s repertoire, ByteLight provides its customers with a software development kit they can use to invent new applications for the software-enhanced lights. In the coming years, as the use of LED lighting and mobile devices continues to grow, Ryan envisions integrating ByteLight technology into stadiums, conference centers, schools, office buildings, hospitals, and other domains.

Little, who is also affiliated with ENG’s division of systems engineering, served as mentor to Ryan during his undergraduate years, and is now an advisor to the company. He is bullish about his former student’s prospects. “Dan is an exceptional individual who epitomizes what engineering school is all about—learning to solve problems. Any problem,” says Little. “And to be adaptable and agile in a continuously changing technological world. He has demonstrated the ability to deliver a product coupled with software integration and analytics that support a complex supply and distribution chain with diverse market stakeholders.”

In his role as ByteLight’s CEO, Ryan draws on engineering, entrepreneurial, and interpersonal skills that he cultivated at ENG, where he helped launch a small satellite while participating in the BU Student Satellite for Applications and Training (BUSAT) program, took an ENG/SMG course in entrepreneurship, and served as the Class of 2010 Commencement speaker. Today, as he steers ByteLight toward a rollout in US stores from a new office in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood, Ryan finds himself applying these skills to solve a full spectrum of problems.

“Each day brings a new problem, ranging from product development to technology to new competition,” he says. “The key to responding effectively and moving forward through the chaos is your team. It’s that simple. At ByteLight, we’ve been fortunate to build an incredibly talented core of technologists to take our vision and turn it into reality.”

One of Ryan’s valued team members is former classmate, Manny Malandrakis (ENG’10), one of the first ENG alumni to become a ByteLight employee. He focuses on digital signal processing and communications systems, the subject of two courses he took as an undergraduate.

“These classes were the foundation of this company,” says Ryan. “We’re leveraging the core theories and techniques we learned in these courses every day.”

Mark Dwortzan can be reached at

A version of this story was originally published in the spring 2014 edition of Engineer.

2014 Best ECE Ph.D. Dissertation Award goes to Dr. Jie Meng

July 10th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, ECE, Graduate Programs, Graduate Student Opportunities, Graduate Students, Recognition, Research, Students

By Donald Rock (COM ’17)

On May 17th, Dr. Jie Meng received a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and was presented with the 2014 Best ECE Ph.D. Dissertation Award. Her dissertation is entitled Modeling and Optimization of High-Performance Many-core Systems for Energy-Efficient and Reliable Computing and focuses on improving the energy efficiency of many-core processors and large-scale computing systems.

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Accomplishing this goal, as Meng’s thesis argues, requires detailed, full-system simulation tools that can simultaneously evaluate power, performance, and temperature. Her award-winning thesis includes the design of such simulation methods and leveraging these methods for the development of dynamic optimization policies for computing systems.

This prestigious award is just one of a number of awards that the ambitious engineer has received throughout her Ph.D. career. In 2012, Dr. Meng won the Best Paper Award at the High Performance Extreme Computing Conference; in 2011 she won the A. Richard Newton Graduate Scholarship Award with her advisor, Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE), at the Design Automation Conference; and in 2010 she received the Google Scholarship at the Google GRAD CS Forum. Furthermore, Dr. Meng has won a number of awards from Boston University, including the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Fellow in the School of Engineering and the 2009 ECE Graduate Teaching Fellow of the Year Award.

Professor Ayse Coskun (left) and Dr. Jie Ming (right) at the 2014 College of Engineering Ph.D. Commencement Ceremony (Photo provided by Professor Ayse Coskun).

Professor Ayse Coskun (left) and Dr. Jie Ming (right) at the 2014 College of Engineering Ph.D. Commencement Ceremony (Photo provided by Professor Ayse Coskun).

Dr. Meng started her academic career at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), where she earned a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Electrical Engineering in 2004. She went on to earn a Master of Applied Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering at McMaster University before coming to Boston University in 2008 to pursue her Ph.D.

Dr. Meng simultaneously pursued career advancement while maintaining her academic workload. She landed an internship at the Intel Corporation, and another at Sandia National Laboratories.

Currently, Dr. Meng works as a software engineer at CGG, a French-based geophysical services company. “To be specific, I am working on developing software modules for modeling and imaging geological structures in the exploration [of] seismic field,” Meng clarified in an email correspondence.

When Dr. Meng reflects back on her time at BU, she remembers, “I was very lucky and grateful to have Professor Ayse Coskun as my advisor. [She was] a role model for me.” Professor Coskun felt similarly, noting, “Jie is a very hard-working researcher and she has the necessary perseverance to succeed. Seeing Jie graduate successfully as my first Ph.D. student and continue to her career has been among the most satisfying accomplishments of my time at BU.”

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ECE Seniors Share an Intention to Improve Societal Issues by Improving Technology

June 12th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, Courses, ECE, Events, Recognition, Senior Design, Undergraduate Students, Video

By Gabriella McNevin

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 ECE Day 2014

Senior Capstone Design and Honors Thesis students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) spent May 5, 2014 showcasing projects that represented the culmination of their education at Boston University.

Each presentation accomplished more than just entertain the audience; it earned its creators their due respect. Topics covered technology like a 3D printer scanner, a remote controlled helicopter, and a Mario Kart video game.

During team 6’s presentation, “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins blared through the speakers. The big screen streamed a video of a search and rescue remote controlled car, which the team programmed to patrol a fire hazard site for survivors. (Click the controller to listen to “Danger Zone”).

Earlier in the day, the team that created EPIC/ EpiPen Calls concluded their presentation with a spirited Q&A. A number of people –including team members, the client that requested technological support, and a panel of judges– raised their voice to speak about the real-world application and potential of the invention.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

The commercial application that teams intend for their projects were as diverse as the equipment they used. The purpose of the designs ranged from assisting the visually impaired, to improving search and rescue missions, to generating alternative energy harvesting methods.

A panel of ECE alumni judges watched each presentation and asked questions to pick a winner for five of the ECE Day Awards. The judges were well prepared to make the call because each had once walked in the students’ shoes and all are currently executing the engineering skills that they realized during their Senior Capstone Design Course. ECE graduates Peter Galvin, Mikhail Gurevich, Craig Laboda, Ryan Lagoy, George Matthews, Drew Morris, Bradley Rufleth, Dan Ryan and Stephen Snyder served as the 2014 judges. Each missed work –at companies such as General Electric, Microsoft, ByteLite, and Btiometry– to share insight with the graduating class of 2014, and decide the most impressive project.

“Wow,” muttered an impressed audience member after the AutoScan team calmly countered questions posed by judges on the technical depth of the team’s invention. The team’s pothole detection system demonstrated the technical skill that is only achievable by a team of well-matched individuals with different specialties.

The dynamic skill sets within each team is key in assembling the ECE Senior Capstone Design Project teams. Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE) coordinated 20 well-rounded teams by measuring individual strengths. For example, he placed students that gravitate towards user interface development with those who lean towards sensor analytics or java script programming.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

The team members that created AutoScan contributed either their hardware or software know-how to develop the project that won Best ECE Senior Design Project Award, 2014. The team was also nominated to show a poster of their project at the national Capstone Design Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The mission of the Capstone Design Conference in Columbus is to improve design-based courses around the country. On June 2nd, Professor Pisano and team members Vinny DeGenova, Stuart Minshull, Nandheesh Prasad, Austen Schmidt, and Charlie Vincent flew to Ohio for the two-day event. Professor Pisano led a workshop on assembling strong design teams.

A significant feature of the Senior Design Capstone project is the team client. Each team is paired with a client. The client (who is either a professor or actively working) requests software and/or hardware for a particular problem that will improve a societal issue.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

The principle of a school in Boston that specializes in mentally and physically disabled student academics posed a task for one ECE senior design team. Carter School Principal Marianne Kopaczynski requested a learning tool that would impart fundamental communication and cognitive skills to students. The students created a user-friendly devise called the Automated Announcement System that generates announcements based on each student’s location. Principle Kopaczynski plans to install the system in the school to support location-based feedback learning.

ECE Day Award Winners

Best ECE Senior Design Project Award AutoScan
Entrepreneurial Award Cloud 3D Scanner
Design Excellence Award Cement Impedance Analyzer
Design Excellence Award dDOSI Spectrum Analysis Unit (dSAU)
Michael F. Ruane Award for Excellence in Senior Capstone Design Samuel Howes
Senior Honors Thesis Award Julie Frish, “Development of Low Loss Waveguides for Mid-Infrared Integrated Photonic Circuits”
Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award Andrew Kelley
Teacher of the Year Ajay Joshi
Graduate Teaching Fellow of the Year/Teaching Assistant of the Year Lake Bu

Congratulations, Class of 2014!
Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.


By Gabriella McNevin

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ENG Graduates Urged to Use Their Societal Engineer Skills

May 23rd, 2014 in Alumni, ECE, Events, Uncategorized

By Kathrin Havrilla

Kevin Kit Parker (ENG'89), Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard University, addressed bachelor's degree recipients at Commencement Exercises. (All photos by Commencement Photos)

Kevin Kit Parker (ENG’89), Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard University, addressed bachelor’s degree recipients at Commencement Exercises. (All photos by Commencement Photos)

The College of Engineering’s Class of 2014 was reminded of the impact a Societal Engineer can make in improving society’s quality of life at convocation ceremonies on Saturday, May 17.

Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen led the way for the 336 undergraduates being recognized with a quote from the popular movie “A League of Their Own,” congratulating graduates for attaining what he contended was one of the most difficult degrees to earn from BU, with the classic speech “’If it wasn’t hard, anyone could do it. The hard is what makes it great. Anyone can’t do it. YOU can.’ Well done.”

The Dean went on to add “What you’ve done by getting an education at Boston University is really understand the extraordinary importance of learning how to create, design and interact with other disciplines and understand how to move organizations forward by integrating with a complex social economic system.”

Student speaker Shana Blumenthal (ME’14, Aero) will soon be working at Pratt and Whitney as part of a two-year rotational Manufacturing Engineering Development Program. As she said to her fellow graduates, “Great engineering feats of the past century were not


developed by those who Student speaker Shana Blumenthal (ME’14) addressed her fellow graduates, encouraging them to be risk-takers who find solutions for new challenges.

solved the easy problems, but by those risk-takers who attempted the impossible. It is our time to find solutions for new challenges. It is our responsibility to seek out opportunities to allow us to grow and develop.”

The commencement speaker Kevin Kit Parker (ENG’89) is now Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard University, and led a research team that in 2011 upended the conventional wisdom about the cause of traumatic brain injury. Parker spoke consistently of strength and perseverance, mentioning his time as a U.S. Army paratrooper when he completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan. “I’m a BU-trained Societal Engineer. And my job isn’t always technical, but it always involves solving problems … Do not be afraid of the cutting edge.”

Dean Lutchen also gave out the Department Awards for Teaching Excellence, which went to Michael Smith (BME), Ajay Joshi (ECE) and William Hauser (ME). Outstanding Professor of the Year went to James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE), and the Faculty Service Award went to Elise Morgan (ME, BME). He also noted that Stormy

grad speaker smaller4

Girish Navani (MFG), CEO and Co-founder of eClinicalWorks, addressed the graduate students at their ceremony later in the afternoon.

Attaway (GRS’84,’88) would receive the Metcalf Cup and Prize, the University’s highest teaching honor, at the University commencement ceremony the following day.

Later Solomon Eisenberg, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, gave out a multitude of student awards: the Earle & Mildred Bailey Memorial Award for Scholarship and Service to the College to Nichole Black and Harvin Vallabhanemi; the Ging S. Lee Community Service Award for Outstanding Community Service to Habib Mohammed Khan; and the Anita Cuadrado Memorial Awards for Enthusiasm and Devotion to the College to Samantha Chan. The prestigious Outstanding Senior Project Awards were also given out to Sarah Clark and Jeremy Rosenthal (both BME) for “SGRS RNA Visualization in Live Bacteria Cells Using Fluorescent Protein Complementation;” to Vincent DeGenova, Stuart Minshull, Nandheesh Prasad, Austen Schmidt and Charles Vincent (all ECE) for “AutoScan;” and to William Gullotta, Coleton Kirchner and Aaron Yuengert (all ME) for “Resettable Landing Gear for Mars Hopper.”

And finally, the Societal Impact Capstone Project Awards were given to Yash Adhikari, Angela Lai, Timothy Mon and Leslie Nordstrom (all BME) in first place; to Ian Choen and Zachary Herbert (both ME) in second place; and Elving Cako, Anne DuBois, Benjamin Nichols, Evan Praetorius and Heather Towey (all ECE) in third place.

Later in the day, Girish Navani (MFG), CEO and Co-founder of eClinicalWorks, a leader in ambulatory healthcare IT solutions, delivered the speech at the master’s and PhD ceremony in which 86 master’s students, 150 MEng students and 53 PhD students were recognized for successfully completing the requirements for graduating. Navani was named a 2010 Mass High Tech All-Stars honoree and received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2009 Award in the Healthcare Technology category in New England, and was also chosen for the Boston Business Journal’s 2006 40 Under 40 list of entrepreneurs and innovators.

He commended the graduate students on their success, saying that “milestones like the one you are experiencing right now remind us of the paths we have taken, and present us with a road for the future. Today is full of promise; full of opportunity for what lies ahead.”

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Andrew Kelley Wins The Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award

May 19th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, ECE, Events, Recognition, Research, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students, Video

Kelley found his passion while working with the BU Satellite Program & Rocket Group

By Gabriella McNevin

On May 5, 2014, Andrew Kelley (middle) received The Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award at the senior capstone event, ECE Day. Standing to Kelley's left is Associate Professor Semeter, and to Kelley's right is ECE Department Chair Professor David Castañón. Photo by Chitose Suzuki  for Boston University Photography.

From left to right: Associate Professor Semeter, Andrew Kelley (ENG ’14), and ECE Department Chair Professor David Castañón. Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography.

Andrew Kelley (ENG ’14) won The Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award for his contribution to the BU Satellite Program and the Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group. The award recipient was decided by the Director of the BU Center of Space Physics, Professor John Clarke (AS); and Associate Director of the BU Center for Space Physics, Professor Joshua Semeter (ECE).

Kelley’s success was achieved in a relatively short period of time. Kelley entered BU excited to gain a versatile education in computer engineering in an accelerated 3-year program. For his first two years, like many, Kelley was unsure of his passion and did not know what career would best unite his academic skills and interests. He explored the possibilities by researching extracurricular activities that involved computer engineering. Ultimately, Kelley joined his first space program venture after his freshman year, and realized his passion in the field after his second year. It was not until his third and final year at Boston University, that Kelley dove, head-first, into space programs.


Andrew Kelley showing off one of the BU Rocket Propulsion Group’s model rockets in Amesbury, MA.

A future that blended computer engineering and space programs was first proposed to Kelley at Splash Day his freshmen year. Splash Day is an annual fair that features student organizations. Kelley recalls noticing a ten-foot model rocket hoisted on the shoulders of two students laughing and jogging to the opposite side of the field. He thought to himself, “follow those footsteps!” The name of the student organization in charge of that rocket, now known as the BU Rocket Propulsion Group, was painted on the side.

Before joining a team, Kelley weighed his enthusiasm about the BU Rocket Propulsion Group with his interest in other groups, and his collegiate goals. He spent the remaining year developing relationships with organization members, contemplating rocketry, and discovering how to best manage his time.

At the end of the academic year, Kelley and a member of the Rocket Propulsion Group were chatting about the organization. Kelley’s friend expressed some concern about the group’s leadership. The group insider mentioned that the vice president was expected to graduate with no prospect of a predecessor. Instinctively Kelley responded, “I will do it.”

Two years later, Kelley recalls those four words as the best he ever said. Joining the group helped Kelley to realize his passion for space programs, and introduced him to a network of some of his most trusted advisors, including Professor Semeter and Principal Fellow at Raytheon Missile Systems Joe Sebeny.

Towards the end of his second year at BU, Kelley was at a crossroad. He needed a summer job, and had been denied internships at Google and Microsoft. Uninterested in returning to his home in Texas, Kelley took the advice of Professor Semeter and applied to work at Boston University Student Satellite for Applications and Training program, specifically ANDESITE. It was a pivotal time for the satellite program, as it had recently been awarded an Air Force Research Laboratory grant and joined a national competition to win the opportunity to launch a satellite to orbit. As one of the newest members to the satellite program, the Texan embraced the organization’s mission to design, fabricate, and operate a low-earth-orbiting satellite.


Kelley stands ready to present a poster on his honors thesis research topic at ECE Day. Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography.

In September 2013, the beginning of Kelley’s final year at BU, his extracurricular and academic interests melted into one. Kelley opted to complete his academic capstone requirements by completing an honors thesis, rather than a senior design project. His theses work, entitled “Design and Implementation of a 3-DOF Rocket Autopilot,” advanced both the BU Student Satellite and supported the BU Rocket Propulsion Group.

“Design and Implementation of a 3-DOF Rocket Autopilot” provided an analysis and design investigation of rocket trajectory systems to develop a functioning autopilot. Without trajectory control, a rocket would run the risk of becoming a missile.

After graduation, Kelley will spend a week with his family in Fort Worth, Texas before jet-setting to Los Angles, California to be a Space X intern.  Kelley will be involved in vehicle and systems integration for the Dragon capsule.

Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group Watch the group’s second hot fire test:

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