Category: Students

Reimagining Engineering Education

August 6th, 2014 in Courses, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities

How ENG is Transforming the Classroom through Digital Learning Technology

By Mark Dwortzan

Active learning in EK301, Engineering Mechanics

Active learning in EK301, Engineering Mechanics

You’ve seen it before: a single faculty member on stage delivering a lecture to row after row of students dutifully taking notes, with little or no interaction between the lecturer and the note takers. It’s been the model for science and engineering education for more than a century, but a new paradigm is emerging that turns this model on its head, all while improving student outcomes: the flipped classroom.

Screenshot of online course video from EK 127, Introduction to Engineering Computation

Screenshot of online course video from EK 127, Introduction to Engineering Computation

In the flipped classroom, students view lectures online while at home, and spend classroom time applying what they learned both individually and in small group exercises. Collaborating with their peers at round tables in a revamped “learning studio” and guided by the faculty member and a team of teaching assistants moving from table to table, they solve problems that reflect the scope of the lecture material. And the difficulty: some problems are chosen based on trouble spots identified via mandatory quizzes that accompany the online lectures to assess student comprehension.

This is where engineering education is heading, and Boston University, which launched its Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) last year to spearhead innovative projects in online learning at all of its schools and colleges, is fully on board. The DLI recently awarded $80,000 to fund a College of Engineering proposal to enhance two core undergraduate engineering courses, EK127 (Introduction to Engineering Computation) and EK307 (Electric Circuits), with a suite of classroom-flipping, studio-based educational technologies and techniques. Lessons learned from this pilot program could be used to upgrade the learning experience in other engineering courses.

Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), the College of Engineering’s associate dean for Educational Initiatives, sees these pilot projects as part of a broader College-wide effort to use digital learning technologies—from tablets to Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)—to bring engineering education into the 21st century.

“Inspired by the success of these technologies in other disciplines and energized by the support and training that the DLI is providing, we are developing new ways to improve what’s important to the student: learning; retention; and career preparation,” said Little.

In both EK127 and EK307, instructors and teaching assistants funded by the DLI grant will develop course content using edX, a non-profit online platform that offers interactive online classes and MOOCs—not as a vehicle to reach large numbers of students via the Internet, but as a tool to boost active learning in the classroom. For each class meeting, they will record a video on the material students need to learn for that class, make it accessible through the edX platform, use edX assessment tools to set up online quizzes, and design active learning exercises.

The instructor for EK127, 2014 Metcalf Cup and Prize winner and Assistant Professor Stormy Attaway (ME), has been gradually flipping the course over the last three years. With the new funding—and support by “course builders” such as Declan Bowman (BME’15), one of the first students in the College’s STEM Educator-Engineer Program (STEEP)—she aims to completely flip the course. Once all course content is placed online along with assessments, Attaway will devote all classroom time to active learning in Photonics Room 117, an instructional space that the College is converting into an active learning studio complete with round tables and modern electronic displays.

“At this point there is ample evidence that flipped classes with active learning environments work; the focus is now on how to get faculty to adopt these best practices,” she said, noting that transforming a traditional lecture into an online course module—breaking it into bite-sized chunks, recording the video and hosting it on the edX platform—can take up to 20 hours. “Although my primary goal is to improve the learning experience for my students, my secondary goal is to be a resource for my colleagues so that I can help them transform their courses.”

With his portion of the DLI funding, Professor Mark Horenstein (ECE) is developing a series of 30-minute course modules to aid fellow EK307 instructors who wish to flip their classrooms or enhance them with online instruction. Always available to students and consisting of animated, voice-over PowerPoint and/or videotaped lectures, the modules are intended to provide an interactive learning tool to supplement traditional textbooks, lectures, discussions and lab work.

“In my experience, students learn in a myriad of different ways,” said Horenstein. “Some students thrive in the traditional lecture/homework environment, while others learn best in a hands-on setting, for example, when a small group works with a professor during office hours on specific problems and concepts. Still other students learn best in the laboratory, where they can transfer lecture/discussion concepts into the hands-on design of electric circuits that solve a problem or meet a desired specification. The hope is that these modules will service all of these learning styles, and more.”

The two pilot projects leverage earlier digital technology-enabled active learning efforts by Lecturer Caleb Farny (ME) in EK301 (Engineering Mechanics) and Assistant Professor Martin Steffin (BME, MED) in BE 209 (Principles of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology), and pioneering work by faculty in the Physics Department in peer-based learning and the use of studio space.

“As these early adopters show what’s possible, we look forward to bringing additional faculty on board,” said Little. “By working with people who are taking risks to do the right thing for students, we’re going to demonstrate the potential of digital learning technologies to make a difference for our engineering students.”

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Where Students Play & Design Video Games

July 31st, 2014 in Courses, Faculty, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students, Video

The Digital Design Industry & ECE Evolve with New Programing Techniques; Verilog and FPGA

By Gabriella McNevin

Video created by Donald Rock (COM ’17 ) and Paloma Parikh (COM ’15)

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) organizes the course around fundamental computer aided design techniques, the hardware description language Verilog, and finally introduces lessons on “synthesizing” the Verilog to a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), which is technology similar to a microprocessor but is programmable at the hardware level.

FPGA technology is important because it gives the engineer an opportunity to reprogram and reconfigure the digital design after manufacturing. By using FPGAs, engineers do not have to fabricate a new chip for every design. This allows for rapid prototyping of designs quickly and at a low cost.

Student projects are evaluated on their success in creating an FPGA design of their choosing for their final project. Teaching assistants like Prashant Vaidyanathan mentor the students and provide help with the design tools. For example, in Spring 2014, four students submitted a digital design video game which performed like an improved version of the game Flappy Bird by allowing multiplayer game mode, and cell phone integration via Bluetooth.

A student rendition of the 1993 game Super Bomberman was submitted in Fall 2012. The game included standard functions of Super Bomberman, including display engine, character movement, and graphics. Additionally, the team programmed multi-screen display modes, an operating scoreboard, and character blocking.

Producing a functioning FPGA prototype provides a student experience that is essential in developing an overall, hands on proficiency with the technology. With the support of Prof. Densmore and ECE resources, students can conclude EC551 with skills that have the potential to jump-start their careers.

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Research Grants for Three ECE Undergraduates

July 14th, 2014 in Awards, Grants, Recognition, Research, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

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; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Annie Lane; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

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; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Maya Saint Germain; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

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; Hariri Award Recipient

Dean Shi; Hariri Award Recipient

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.

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

July 10th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, 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.

PhD Story Block Quote

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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Sophomores Win 1st Prize at #HackBostonStrong

June 17th, 2014 in Awards, Events, News-CE, Recognition, Students, Undergraduate Students

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.

A member of the winning team, working hard through the night.

Winston Chen (ECE ’16) working hard through the night.

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 Echo Can prototype. The photo shows the bottom/landing platform of the trash receptacle. The microphone is the black device in the center of the platform.

The Echo Can prototype. The photo shows the bottom/landing platform of the trash receptacle. The microphone is the black device in the center of the platform.

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?’”

This image shows the bottom view of the microphone and landing platform. The sound trash makes when dropping onto the platform is recorded. The sound, or analog signal, is then translated into a digital format.

This image shows the bottom view of the microphone and landing platform. The sound trash makes when dropping onto the platform is recorded. The sound, or analog signal, is then translated into a digital format.

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.”

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Andrew Kelley Wins The Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award

May 19th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, 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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A 24-Hour Hackathon at Boston University

April 24th, 2014 in Awards, Events, News-CE, Students, Undergraduate Student Opportunities

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.


Make_BU hosts smaller weekly hackathons. Click to learn more.

“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.

Clement Su discussing the Mobile Award winning application.

Clement Su discussing the mobile award winning application that he contributed to.

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 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)


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Got Time?

April 3rd, 2014 in Students, Undergraduate Programs, Video

App Connects You to Nearby Friends
Mark Dwortzan


Downtyme encourages you to spend less time on your smartphone and more time connecting offline. (Images Courtesy of Downtyme LLC)

You’ve just emerged from a lecture in fluid mechanics with 90 minutes to spare before your next class. You’re also hungry, and wouldn’t mind some company while you chow down. So you whip out your smartphone, click on an app and tap on the names of two friends who the app shows are available and close by. Seconds after you send them a request—“[Your name] wants to hang out with you at 3:15 p.m. at The Fresh Food Co. at Marciano Commons.”—you receive

notification that one of the friends has accepted. Problem solved.

The app that’s enabling such connections,Downtyme, is the brainchild of Barron Roth and Luke Sorenson (both CE’16), who came up with the idea last November when deciding on a final project for


their Introduction to Software Engineering course. They subsequently turned it into a startup, Downtyme LLC, within three months. After releasing the app for beta testing to students at colleges and universities in Boston on March 31, Downtyme LLC aggregated nearly 500 downloads the first day.

The app’s immediate popularity is no surprise to Roth.

“It’s very difficult for college students to find opportunities to get together with friends, given the intricacies of our schedules,” he said. “Having access to a list of people you care about who are available and nearby makes life more social and enjoyable.” It also encourages you to spend less time on your smartphone and more time connecting offline.

Users identify their friends by linking the app to their Facebook account, and indicate t

heir availability by entering or importing their calendars. To bring up a list of nearby

Facebook friends, they may either press “Now” or “Later,” depending on when they want to get together.  Users may also press “Hide me” to keep their schedules hidden until further notice, or “Bulletins” to post an open invitation to all their Downtyme friends to join them for activities ranging from study sessions to frat parties.

“Downtyme is a fantastic example of students taking a real-world need—scheduling free time—and translating that into a software application,” said Assistant Prof

essor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME), the Introduction to Software Engineeringinstructor. “Its level of polish and presentation are on par with a professional-level startup, and the leadership of the project is committed to its success.”

Convinced that the idea had commercial potential after they and three other teammates completed a functioning version for Android mobile devices in December, Roth and Sorenson began laying the groundwork for a startup. Over the winter break, the co-founders brought in Nicholas Sorenson (SMG’14) for financial expertise, and recruited Timothy Chong (CE’16) and John Moore (CE’15) to help Luke develop the app for the iPhone and improve the server infrastructure. Roth focuse

d on branding, marketing and customizing the look and feel of Downtyme.

“It’s very rewarding working on a startup, where every decision you make has a big impact and can affect the future of your company,” said Roth, who is now working on Downtyme after hours while serving as a spring semester co-op at AMD in Austin, Texas. Taking advantage of his Austin location, Roth recently pitched the app to 500 technology enthusiasts at the city’s annual South by Southwest festival.

Downtyme plans to launch the app across the country in the fall, distributing it through campus representatives at Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, and other colleges and universities. The company’s initial goal is to build a substantial user base for the free app, and then develop revenue-generating partnerships with academic institutions and industry.

See video.


EE Seniors Win GizmoSphere Contest

April 2nd, 2014 in Awards, News-CE, Recognition, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Students

Projects Automates Pothole Detection and Management
By Mark Dwortzan


The AutoScan senior design team consists of Austen Schmidt (systems integration), Nandheesh Prasad (power engineering), Charlie Vincent (networking and GPS),Vinny DeGenova (image processing) and Stuart Minshull (Web application).


The AutoScan prototype consists of a Gizmo board, depth sensing camera, system battery and other components. The system is designed to be mounted under the front bumper of a city vehicle and scan the road for potholes.

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.

Reviewers at GizmoSphere, which makes the Gizmo board, agree. Dazzled by a $1,000 prototype of AutoScan, they awarded the team first prize in a video contest.

“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.

First Hackathon at Boston University

March 19th, 2014 in Alumni, Students, Undergraduate Students

Hackers receiving mentoring at one of their previous events.

Hackers receiving mentoring at one of their previous events.

Starting March 21 at 7 PM, students have 24 hours to “hack” a digital or physical product. Hackers will work on starting a website or mobile app from scratch, which could be useful for present applications.

“There have been various hackathons before run by BUILDS [an organization that strives on hacker ethic] and other student organizations but we believe this will be the largest, first to take place at EPIC, and includes a collaboration between multiple student organizations,” says team coordinator Connor McEwen (ECE ’14).

Boston University students are invited to get into groups of 2-4 people to learn new practical skills, meet other students interested in building things, having fun, and producing a project to show to potential employers or friends.

In addition, alumni interested in mentoring are welcomed to show up at 7 PM on Friday or 10 AM on Saturday, and those interested in judging should come at 5 PM on Saturday.

There are interesting categories students are being judged on, such as Most Fun Project, Best Noob Project (for those who have not competed or hacked before), Best Mobile Project, Best Web Project, and Best Hardware Project.

The most rewarding prize, however, will be the hands-on and educational experience.

For more information:


- Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)