Recognized for Efforts to Improve Deep Space Communication
By Gabriella McNevin
Assistant Professor Jonathan Klamkin (ECE, MSE) is one of seven university researchers nationwide to receive the 2014 NASA Early Career Faculty Award. The recognition honors early career faculty focused on space technology that address critical needs in the US space program.
Since joining Boston University in 2013, Klamkin’s impressive accomplishments include, winning the College of Engineering Dean’s Catalyst Award in 2013 and being elevated to Senior Member status of the IEEE in 2014.
Klamkin caught NASA’s attention with a proposal to develop integrated laser transmitter technology for deep space communications. NASA recently completed a mission, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), which demonstrated high-rate laser communication between Earth and the Moon. Now NASA wants to further this technology for future missions to Mars, and Klamkin will develop technology to allow for such deep space communication.
High-rate space communication is made possible by laser communication transmitters. The laser sends data to Earth through space similar to how ground-based lasers send data over fiber-optic cables for the Internet.
With funding from the NASA grant and partnerships with MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Klamkin expects to apply photonic integrated circuit technology to reduce the size, weight, and power of space laser transmitters. Photonic integration is a means to integrate several photonic functions on a chip in a manner analogous to integrating transistors in an electronic integrated circuit. Klamkin hopes that this technology will inspire new design methodologies for space laser transmitter hardware.
NASA’s Early Career Faculty Award will serve as a benchmark to measure the achievements to come for Professor Klamkin. To put the award into perspective, Michael Gazarik of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate said, “Technology drives exploration, and these researchers will provide fuel for NASA’s innovation engine.”
By Paloma Parikh (COM’15)
Three ECE undergraduate students won grants from two programs affiliated with Boston University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Annie Lane (ENG’16) and Maya Saint Germain (ENG’16) are recipients of the Clare Boothe Luce Award; and Dean Shi, (ENG’16) won the Hariri Award.
Annie Lane won the Clare Boothe Luce Award for her research project, “Data Center Power Regulation Modeling,” which she is working on with mentor Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE). The goal of the project is to minimize electricity costs for data centers. To do so, Lane is developing a power control policy based on a mathematical model. Additionally, she will evaluate alternative research models in the hopes of finding the most effective process. Lane believes the practicality of her project caught the attention of the judges. In an email correspondence, Lane mentioned that the project has potential for real-life application, “BU has partnered with other universities, the state, and companies to build and manage the Massachusetts Green High Power Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, MA. The research results will help increase energy savings at MGHPCC.”
Maya Saint Germain, with mentor Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies Hamid Nawab (ECE), won the Clare Boothe Luce Award to fund a project entitled “Human-in-Circuit Signal Processing.” Saint Germain explains Human-in-Circuit Signal Processing as, “a subfield of signal processing in which the signal that is being processed is produced by a human, and – after processing – will be perceived by a human.” Her goal is to improve how the signal is processed. Saint Germain feels proud that she won the award, “It means that my research is important and relevant.”
Dean Shi won the Hariri Award for his project, “Power Optimization and Development of Power Policies on Mobile Devices,” which he is working on with mentor Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE). Shi is working to lengthen battery life for cell phones. To do so, he is researching how cell phones use battery power through different functions, such as applications. With this understanding, he will be able to optimize power usage and make cell phone batteries last longer. Shi recalls, “All of my friends are always complaining, ‘Oh I just charged my phone this morning but it’s already at 10% battery.’” This award will help Shi achieve his goal of lengthening cell phone battery life.
The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) is a supportive resource for faculty-mentor research. It provides grants to students through various organizations such as the Clare Boothe Luce Program and the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering. The Clare Boothe Luce Program aims to support women in science, mathematics, and engineering. Recipients of the undergraduate research awards receive funding to conduct a research project with a faculty mentor. The Hariri Institute promotes innovation in the sciences of computing and engineering. With the Hariri award, they provide grants for collaborative research and training initiatives.
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.
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.
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.”
Professor Bellotti Receives Two New Grants to Develop Vertical Power Electronic Devices and Heterogeneous Computer Architectures
The Computational Electronics Group led by Professor Enrico Bellotti (ECE, MSE) has been awarded funding for two new programs to study novel power electronic devices based on III-Nitride semiconductors and to develop and evaluate heterogeneous computer architectures to simulate advanced materials and devices.
The new grant from the National Science Foundation will provide Prof. Bellotti with $336,000 over a period of three years to establish the theoretical foundation of vertical power switches based on III-Nitride semiconductors. If successfully developed, the power switches proposed in this program may lead to a number of breakthroughs in the areas of energy conversion that may profoundly change how and to what extent energy is consumed by society. First of all, these devices will aid in the implementation of the smart grid concept, delivering an unprecedented quality of service to the utilities’ customers while reducing transmission losses and increasing the capacity of these systems for wind and solar sources. In the area of transportation systems, they will enable the cost and size effective design of electric drives, not only for cars, but also for large vehicles, such as trucks or buses with immediate environmental benefits. They will reduce the development cost of electric trains, reducing the size of the motor control systems, leading to a further expansion and upgrade of local and regional railway systems.
The Army Research Office (ARO), through a DURIP Award, will provide the Computational Electronics Group with the resources totaling $150,000 to develop a heterogeneous computational hardware platform composed of distributed and shared memory systems integrated with GPUs to evaluate novel simulation methodologies for the design of electronic and optoelectronic materials and devices. Exploiting heterogeneous computing platform may significantly increase the ability of material scientists to predict novel material properties and possibly design new ones with specific properties.
For further information contact Prof. E. Bellotti at email@example.com
Hacking for a Good Cause
By Gabriella McNevin and Donald Rock (COM ’17)
A year after the tragic Boston Marathon Bombings, a group of engineers and computer scientists wanted to commemorate the tragedy. To help the community, mobile application development firm Intrepid Pursuits organized HackBostonStrong, an event that took place to encourage technological advancements to solve marathon-related issues. In an event announcement, Intrepid Pursuits said, “Armed with years of Boston Marathon running data, we’re calling all designers, developers and tech-minded folks to produce the best marathon-related tool.” The event was to take place on Friday, April 18th.
On Saturday, April 19th, three BU students and one UMass Lowell student were named the winners of HackBostonStrong. Winston Chen (ECE ’16), Dean Shi (ECE ’16), Huy Le (CAS ‘16), and Corey Prak (UMass Lowell ’15) joined the ranks of industry professionals and student-hackers to show their support for the city. The team was one of the few groups that worked through the night to take advantage of the 26.2 hours allotted to each team.
The team worked at Intrepid Pursuits’ design space in Cambridge, MA, which was open to all 6 teams who participated in the event. The organizers kept participants fed and hydrated with meals and snacks throughout the night. Participants brought their own toothbrushes and laptops for “all-night productivity.”
The students worked diligently. Team member Huy Le recalls getting the most sleep of anyone in the group with 5.5 hours. Winston slept 3 hours, Corey slept around 5 hours, and Dean gave into 1 hour of sleep.
Their hard work paid off. The team developed the “Echo Can,” which is a device that could change the way people think about recycling. It is a green bin that sorts recyclable waste from unrecyclable. It tracks the audio signals of an object being dropped into the trashcan. A microphone, placed inside the can, discerns the analog signal, which is later translated into a digital format.
Team members worked together to blend their unique skills. Le and Prak used an open source program to see graphs of the frequencies of the sound waves detected from the platform and were able to find reasonable thresholds to distinguish between recyclable and waste material. Chen and Shi used their ECE skillset to develop the electrical engineering circuits with tools they had learned in Electric Circuit Theory (EK307). The pair also recalled lessons from Intro to Software Engineering (EC327) to apply C-language software programming.
The team was equipped with the few supplies allowed by a college student’s budget. They arrived with supply kits from Chen and Shi’s EK307 course, some resistors, servos they borrowed from BU’s hackerspace, and transistors they purchased at RadioShack. Other than those materials, everything else used were items one would be able to find in a dorm room – batteries, a bin, some cardboard, and tape. As Le explained, “not having the best material and supplies was a real issue.”
The team felt the Echo Can would be more beneficial to the community than any of the marathon-related tools they had conjured. The fine print in the competition rules revealed “if running’s not your jam, you could honor Boston by creating a more general product or prototype that benefits Boston and its citizens as a whole.”
In the end, the underdogs won. They were so surprised to win that Chen joked, “When I first heard them say Echo Can as the grand prize winner, I thought to myself, ‘Who is Echo Can?’”
Andrea Garvey of Intrepid Pursuits noted that the judges were impressed by Echo Can because it was “an elegant solution to a common problem.” Contests were judged on four criteria: innovation, design, impact, and execution. They were expected to create a practical design that would solve a real problem in a feasible way and could impact a lot of people. Le believes his team was different from his impressive competitors because the team “fulfilled the criteria in an interesting way.” Echo Can addresses a common aversion to recycling and offers a solution that is convenient to potential users.
This win may be the first highlight for the young hackers’ recycling initiative. In addition to winning $2,000, Intrepid Pursuits put the team in touch with BigBelly Solar, the company that created the sustainability solar cans found on BU’s campus, to help the students going forward. The team feels that their current design is not ready for a business venture and they look forward to continuing to work on the project without the time and resource restrictions. Le remarked, “an imperfect product doesn’t fulfill our vision.” He continued, “our plan is to improve, perfect, and innovate a polished Echo Can for practical use for the fall, and hopefully, we have something that fits the original goal and vision our team had.”
By Gabriella McNevin
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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|
By Gabriella McNevin
Kelley found his passion while working with the BU Satellite Program & Rocket Group
By Gabriella McNevin
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.
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.
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:
By Mark Dwortzan
Downtyme, an app that makes it easier for college students and other overscheduled people to get together offline, won the $2,500 first prize at the College of Engineering’s third annual Imagineering Competition.
Held April 17-18 at Ingalls Engineering Resource Center, the competition fielded entries from nine undergraduate engineering students or student teams that applied their creativity and entrepreneurial skills to build working prototypes of technologies aimed at improving the quality of life. Developed in the Singh Imagineering Lab and other on-campus facilities, this year’s projects ranged from a lab-crafted electric guitar to a stairway safety monitor for senior citizens.
Competitors described, demonstrated and defended their work before a panel of four judges—Associate Dean for Administration Richard Lally; Associate Dean for Educational Initiatives/Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE); Jonathan Rosen, the College of Engineering’s director of Innovation Programs; and Associate Professor Daniel Cole (ME). The judges assessed each project for originality, ingenuity and creativity; quality of design and prototype; functionality; and potential to positively impact society.
From Facebook to Face-to-Face
Scoring high marks in all four categories, Downtyme enables Facebook friends with free time to find each other by uploading their calendars, selecting one friend or group of friends who are free and close by during a specified window of time, and inviting them to share a meal, study, play basketball, hang out, and more. Incorporating more than 25,000 lines of code, the app displays friends on your screen in order of proximity and closeness of their relationship to you.
“We think there’s a discrepancy between the time people spend on social media and the time they’d like to spend interacting in the real world,” said Luke Sorenson (CE/EE’16), who
developed Downtyme in the past four months with teammates John Moore (CE’16), Timothy Chong (BME/CE’16) and Barron Roth (CE’16).
“Our solution was to make a smartphone app that saves you from your smartphone,” added Moore. “Our idea is that you take out your phone, go to the App Store, and 30 seconds later you make plans with your friends.”
After the team launched a startup (Downtyme LLC) and rolled out a Beta version of the app for iPhones and Android mobile devices this spring, more than 1,200 users (mostly college students in Greater Boston) downloaded it and are now putting it to the test. The team plans to market the app to college students around the country, companies seeking to coordinate meetings, and other users looking for a convenient way to transact face-to-face connections.
“The Downtyme mobile app shows a highly developed awareness of how important personal contact is in an increasingly digital world,” said Rosen. “All three winning projects show how our students are becoming Societal Engineers as they apply their engineering skills, creativity and entrepreneurship to improve the quality of life.”
Better Robots and Lab Experiments
The second prize winner, Konstantinos Oikonomopoulos (ME’14), received $1,500 for his project, “Hexapteron – A Six Degree of Freedom, Parallel, Semi-Decoupled Robotic Manipulator.” Oikonomopoulos shared first prize last year for his automatic transmission-equipped “Smart Bike” and won second prize in the first Imagineering Competition for his highly-accurate, affordable, easy-to-assemble desktop 3D printer.
The Hexapteron can both translate and rotate objects about the x, y and z axes with three sets of software-controlled, carbon-fiber arms that move in parallel. It’s a next-generation, six-degrees-of-freedom manipulator with a unique design and properties that make it suitable for a wide range of applications, including affordable, desktop 3D printing on curved surfaces, multi-axis machining and multi-axis robotic assembly.
“The Hexapteron has never been built before,” said Oikonomopoulos, who took only a month to make the prototype, which occupies a workspace of 20 cubic centimeters and costs about $1,000. “I think this kind of device will one day replace many industrial robots.”
Adrian Tanner (ME’15) and Rhonda Silva (BME’15) won the $1,000 third place prize for their entry, “LickDat,” a device that monitors how frequently a laboratory mouse sucks on a water bottle containing a sweet, addictive, liquid food sample. Consisting of an Arduino (an open source electronics prototyping platform), LCD screen and liquid dispenser suitable for small rodents, the device was designed to support studies conducted by the Boston University Medical School Laboratory of Addiction Genetics on addictive behaviors towards food including obesity and compulsive eating disorders.
Whereas conventional lab equipment costs more than $300 and runs current through the mouse to detect each lick of the water bottle, LickDat costs less than $100 and uses capacitance sensors—a common technology in touchscreen surfaces—to detect licks.
Other entries included an automated diagnostic platform that communicates results via a smartphone app; a “Smart Mat” that adjusts heating, cooling, and lighting levels when someone steps into a room; a solar powered Stirling Engine designed to power cell phones and other low-energy devices; and an “Electronic Personal Trainer” that provides feedback to improve weightlifting performance.
Sponsored by John Maccarone (ENG’66), the competition was designed to reinforce the ideal of creating the Societal Engineer by spotlighting student efforts to design, build and test new technologies that promise to positively impact society.
Imagineering Lab programming is supported by the Kern Family Foundation and alumni contributions to the ENG Annual Fund.
Hacking to Innovate
By Gabriella McNevin
The Oxford Dictionary defines hackathon as an event “in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.”
During an interview with Connor McEwen, a key organizer of a Boston University hackathon, McEwen mused on the evolution of the word hack and hackathon. He noted that, “hackers are makers, developers, and innovators.” The hackathon is a period of time in which people can tinker with existing technologies to improve or to invent something new.
“Wait,” I piped in, “I thought that hackers broke into secure software systems and stole information.” McEwen smiled in response. He suggested that the term accrued a negative reputation in the 1970s as result of pop culture references. Today, that reputation is fading.
McEwen attended his first hackathon at UCLA and wanted to bring the idea back to Boston. He worked with five other students to plan Boston University’s first overnight hackathon.
On March 21-22, more than 120 students came together for the 24-hour affair. The event included informational lectures, free food and mentoring from industry experts. Ultimately, 17 projects were submitted and five awards were offered.
The hackathon planning team, known as Make_BU, host smaller weekly hackathons. Going forward, the group plans to work with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to host their second University-wide hackathon in Fall 2014. Make_BU hopes to host a city-wide hackathon in Spring 2015. University clubs BUILDS, Digital Media Club, and Open Web were also involved in event planning.
Some Award Winners Include:
Mobile Award Winner
“Buzy” – An application that monitors the busyness of a location. Kanav Dhir (ENG ’15), Alex Wong (ENG ’15), Deven Dayal (ENG ’15) and Clement Su (ENG ’15).
Web Award Winner
“Duster” – A service that determines which Facebook friends an individual interacts with least, and suggests those friends are deleted. Carter Wheatley (ENG ‘15) and Adlai Gordon (CAS ’16). Visit www.dusterapp.com to learn more.
Newbie Award Winner
“Feel Good BU” – a mobile application for the BU chapter of FeelGood, an organization which raises money to end world hunger by selling custom-made grilled cheese sandwiches. Chris Yip (SAR ’17), Kyle Mann(CAS ’17), and Joe Cho (CAS ’17)
- To learn more, or register: http://make.bu.edu.
- To view the project submission gallery: http://makebu.challengepost.com/submissions.
- Make_BU Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/makebu.
Projects Automates Pothole Detection and Management
By Mark Dwortzan
The impact of a long and stormy winter continues to be felt on the roads. According to the Boston Globe, this year the City of Boston has already filled more than 8,800 potholes, primarily reported by drivers, including one in Cleveland Circle that sent a man to the hospital. Taking a more proactive approach could prevent vehicular damage, injuries and claims against the city while saving time and money for all concerned.
Now a vehicle mounted pothole detection system developed by Electrical Engineering seniors as part of their senior design project aims to do just that. Instead of relying on citizens to report potholes or paying crews to look for them, the system, known as AutoScan, could enable city vehicles to detect them automatically as they go about their daily routes. Coupled with tracking and scheduling software and incorporating a low-cost, embedded technology development platform called a Gizmo board, the system could provide a comprehensive and economical road repair solution.
“The low cost, achieved through the extensive use of open source solutions, made it compelling to the Gizmo community,” said Scott Hoot, president of GizmoSphere. “But the idea of how seamlessly this idea fit into the Internet of Things, made the BU project a winner. Clearly this is a project that takes close to real-time measurements in the physical world, and utilizes those measurements through the open standards available in the Internet.”
The AutoScan senior design team consists of Austen Schmidt (systems integration), Vinny DeGenova (image processing), Nandheesh Prasad (power engineering), Charlie Vincent (networking and GPS) and Stuart Minshull (Web application). The EE seniors developed their prototype under the supervision of ECE Adjunct Professor Babak Kia, who often assumed the role of prospective customer.
While there are several solutions available that can quickly measure potholes on a mobile platform, ranging from lasers to accelerometers, the EE team focused on a “time-of-flight” infrared camera that determines distance between the camera and various points in its field of view.
“Our system is basically an onboard computer that mounts to the bottom of a city vehicle, such as a bus,” said Schmidt. “As the bus goes along, it uses the infrared camera to scan the road for potholes and computes their depth, and sends the data collected on each pothole—volume, GPS coordinates, time and date—over a cellular network to a database hosted by a website. The website interprets data coming in from multiple scanners, displays it on a Google map and updates a Web-accessible road repair schedule.”
Exploiting the Gizmo board and open source software, the team has advanced a prototype of a system that promises to cost a few thousand dollars, far cheaper than alternatives that can range from $10,000 to $100,000. The only sacrifice is a bit of accuracy.
“Our system is a little less accurate than our competitors, because they focus on applications where you really need high-fidelity detection, such as airport tarmacs or bridges,” said Minshull. “We wanted a cheaper way for potholes to be detected without having to worry about tracking millimeter-line cracks in the road.”
To put AutoScan to the test, the team used cardboard boxes to create an elevated road surface with cutouts of different volumes representing potholes. Tests showed that the system accurately measured the volume of each cutout and successfully relayed collected data to the website. Next steps include conducting high-speed tests beyond the lab environment, and finding a way to protect the unit against vibration and adverse weather conditions.