Category: Undergraduate Programs
Imagining intelligent traffic lights, parking spaces, buildings and appliances
Last year, the Daily Beast named Boston the country’s smartest metropolitan area. The website was referring to the people of Boston, of course, not the city itself. But what if the city itself were smart? What if technology, designed by the smart people who work in Boston, could help us save time and energy and spare us from daily frustrations? We talked to some BU researchers who are studying, designing, and building the technology for a more enlightened city.
Because the cost of electricity fluctuates throughout the day, depending on demand, smart meters that are currently available tell homeowners exactly how much energy they use and at what cost, encouraging them to delay energy-intensive activities until a time of day when demand and costs are low. Supported by a $2 million National Science Foundation grant, Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE), Professor John Baillieul (ME, SE) and two MIT faculty members are collaborating on a study of how these and larger-scale measures could result in a smarter electricity grid. In the United States, we lose about 8 percent of energy because it travels long distances between points of generation to use. Caramanis thinks the loss could be greatly reduced if we got our energy from closer and cleaner sources. A smarter grid could help us do that.
Security officers could sort through billions of hours of video footage and spot unusual events, such as someone attempting to enter a building in the middle of the night, using specially designed cameras with embedded algorithms. Professor Janusz Konrad (ECE) and Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE) have developed the technology, supported by more than $800,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies.
BU engineers have designed software that, once uploaded to a building’s HVAC system, would measure airflow room by room and revise it to meet minimum standards, decreasing energy costs while keeping occupants happy. The invention earned Associate Professor Michael Gevelber (ME, SE), Adjunct Research Professor Donald Wroblewski (ME) and ENG and School of Management students first prize and $20,000 in this year’s MIT Clean Energy Competition. The team plans to develop and market the software through its newly formed company, Aeolus Building Efficiency.
Smarter Traffic Lights
A smart traffic lighting system would mine GPS information from cars and smartphones and count the number of vehicles waiting at red lights. If there is no approaching traffic, it would switch lights from red to green. Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE) is testing this system on a model mini-city in his lab.
Cassandras, working with research assistant Yanfeng Geng (PhD, SE ’13), has developed the BU Smart Parking application, which can be downloaded to a smartphone from the iPhone App Store by searching “BU smartparking.” Drivers tell the app when and where they want to park, prioritizing price and location, and the app searches for available spaces, all of which are networked to the device. When the app identifies a spot that meets the search criteria, it tells the driver where to go. At the same time, a light installed above the spot turns from green to red. When the driver who made the reservations approaches, the light turns yellow. The catch? At the moment the system works only in BU’s 730 Commonwealth Avenue garage, but Cassandras hopes to expand it to private parking facilities throughout Boston.
The next-generation lightbulb could enhance sleep quality, send data like a Wi-Fi hotspot does, or help visitors navigate large buildings through a network of visible cues, while operating more efficiently. This technology is made possible by combining LEDs, sensors, and other control systems within a single hybrid bulb that needs 40 to 70 percent less energy than existing compact fluorescent lights or LED lightbulbs. It is being developed by Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), associate director of the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, working with researchers at the center under an $18.5 million National Science Foundation grant. Little is collaborating with colleagues from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of New Mexico.
Refrigerators and hot water heaters are duty-cycle appliances, meaning they need to run only two to three times each hour. Caramanis thinks they could be designed to communicate with the electricity grid and run when electrical demand is lowest during that time period. Alternatively, if either of these appliances is connected to a home photovoltaic unit, it could be programmed to detect when a passing cloud blocks the sun and choose to cycle at a later time. Caramanis says this technology is mostly being tested in pilot settings. A New Jersey-based company called FirstEnergy has installed temperature sensors and communication controllers that turn on and off the hot water heaters of thousands of consumers in relation to low or high energy costs in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland region.
Smarter Central Control
Imagine a network of sensors that would collect and send data to a centralized processor, which could order a garbage pickup or warn drivers of traffic jams. Cassandras, Professor Yannis Paschalidis (ECE, SE), codirector of the Center for Information & Systems Engineering, and Professor Assaf Kfoury (CS), are testing a miniature version of this network in Cassandras’ lab, with help from a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
-Leslie Friday (Videos by Joe Chan), BU Today
Top-Tier Faculty to Advance High-Impact Field
Synthetic biology brings together engineers, biologists and other life science researchers to conceive, design and build molecular biological systems that rewire and reprogram organisms to perform specified tasks. The field promises not only to yield new insights into biology but also to spark new technologies that could revolutionize healthcare, energy and the environment, food production, materials and global security. Recognizing the wide-ranging potential of synthetic biology and the trailblazing efforts of many of its faculty, the College of Engineering has launched the BU Center of Synthetic Biology (CoSBi) to advance this emerging discipline.
Poised to take a nationally preeminent role in advancing synthetic biology research, CoSBi unites core engineering faculty members that bridge diverse research interests, including microbial and metabolic engineering, immuno-engineering, cell reprogramming, computer-aided design and automation, single-cell analyses and systems modeling. In addition, the center involves leading researchers across the university with expertise in systems biology, leveraging their ability to reverse-engineer natural biological networks to help in the modeling, design and forward-engineering of synthetic biological networks with novel functions.
“We envision that CoSBI will serve as a focal point for activities in synthetic biology at Boston University and the larger Boston area, and help to advance the field toward applications in biomedical research, healthcare and other areas,” said Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE), one of the pioneers of synthetic biology, who directs the center.
CoSBi is located at 36 Cummington Mall, taking advantage of the newly renovated wet and dry facilities on the second floor and computational space on the third floor. Core faculty include Collins; Assistant Professor Ahmad “Mo” Khalil (BME), the center’s associate director; Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME, Bioinformatics); and Assistant Professor Wilson Wong (BME), with 11 associate faculty members drawn from the College of Engineering, College of Arts & Sciences, and School of Medicine.
To advance its research agenda, CoSBi is expected to attract substantial government funding, major industrial collaborators and top-notch graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The center will develop and support large-scale, collaborative projects, organize an annual symposium on synthetic biology featuring prominent researchers from around the world, and host a regular seminar series showcasing research leaders in the field.
To enable students of all levels to learn about the fundamentals and practice of synthetic biology and explore their interests in the intersection of engineering and molecular biology, the center will play an active role in supporting research training, education and outreach activities. Center administrators aim to appoint new research faculty and staff; develop new fellowships for and facilitate mentoring of graduate students and postdoctoral associates; design new courses and produce educational videos; run international synthetic biology competition teams and summer workshops; and build community for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students studying synthetic biology.
“Synthetic biology is reshaping the discipline of biology, and attracting students and researchers with a diverse set of backgrounds,” said Khalil. “A central goal of CoSBi will be to prepare the next generation of synthetic biologists for this multidisciplinary type of research at an early stage, and to challenge them to think conceptually and creatively about how engineering can help in understanding life.”
Each year, the ECE Department requests projects from industry, the government, non-profits, small businesses, and individuals to present to students as part of a year-long, team-based course. Students create a plan for solving the problem, design a solution, test a product, and present a prototype at the end of the spring semester.
Senior design projects give students a chance to work on a task that expands upon traditional classroom assignments and prepares them for future employment and real-world challenges.
Last May, seniors presented their work to ECE professors, alumni, and industry engineers. The top prize was awarded to the team, “Calibration Device for Microarray Slides,” whose members worked with Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME) to develop a system for detection for microarray slides using an Interferometric Reflectance Imaging Sensor. The design has the potential to speed up disease detection in the future.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer customer, have any questions about the project, or would like to discuss potential ideas, please email Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customers are not required to provide financial support but many have chosen to donate equipment or other resources. Project descriptions will be given to students at the beginning of September.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
ENG Alums’ iPad App Helps Speech-Challenged Communicate
Every year, more than seven million people are affected by conditions that prevent them from speaking or understanding language. The disability may mean that stroke victims can’t tell a nurse that they need to use the bathroom, can’t share with their spouse that they are hungry, or can’t simply ask to please change the channel because they are about to watch a fourth straight episode of Law & Order.
To the rescue comes an iPad app designed by College of Engineering alumni Nick Dougherty, Eric Hsiao, and Gregory Zoeller (all CE ’12). Their creation, called Verbal Care, helps nonverbal patients communicate a desire for things like food, medicine, and pain relief by touching one of the large picture-based icons. After creating a few iterations of the software over the course of a year and testing in beta, the last stage of testing for a computer product, the trio will make the latest version of the app available in the iTunes store August 12.
“Our goal is to bridge the communication gap between patients and caregivers,” says Dougherty, CEO of Verbal Applications, the alums’ new company. “Patients will receive custom care faster, and hospitals will get money back in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements because of higher patient satisfaction scores.”
Verbal Care must be downloaded from the iTunes store and loaded onto an iPad. Once opened, the user is asked, “What would you like to say?” as nine icons pop up on the screen, among them “pain scale,” “food,” “bathroom,” and “entertainment.” Each category is subdivided into requests for certain types of food, for example, or a specific television station. Caregivers, who can receive the request on an iPad, can confirm requests with a “yes or no” module, and the app can also act as a rudimentary translation tool. Based on the needs of the patient, caregivers can add their own text, voice recordings, and images (“If the patient’s favorite food is Oreos, they can add that personal icon,” Zoeller says).
In addition to helping people who have trouble speaking, Verbal Care could one day make a difference for those with aphasia, a complex communication disorder caused most often by stroke. “Aphasia patients often mix up signals,” Hsiao says, “So our app has three different inputs, where they can see the pictures and icons, read the text, and hear audio feedback.”
After being challenged senior year to create a communications device by Theodore Morse, an ENG professor emeritus of electrical engineering, Dougherty, Hsiao, and Zoeller designed the Verbal Care app as part of ENG’s electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department senior design project. The three, along with former teammates Kenneth Zhong (ENG ’12) and Kholood Al Tabash (ENG ’12), won the ECE department’s Entrepreneurial Award and second place at the ENG Societal Impact Capstone Project Awards last year.
After graduating, Dougherty, Hsiao, and Zoeller formed their own business venture. Their research, shadowing nurses and speech pathologists at Massachusetts General Hospital, revealed some similar devices targeted specifically for aphasia patients, ALS patients, and stroke victims, but with price tags upwards of $7,500. Verbal Care was designed as a far more affordable app for all types of communications disorders. Currently the app is free, but Dougherty says it may be priced at around $10 a month, or $99 a year. The three alums also learned the importance of user-friendly design, which they achieved by using hard contrast, brighter colors, and very simple icons for patients with lower visibility, Hsiao says.
CEO Dougherty continues to meet with speech language pathologists, nurses, and patients to better understand what they need from the product. He also develops relationships with potential investors and hunts for grants. Zoeller, the COO, deals with pricing and projects how much money they will need from investors to become profitable and in what areas they should spend their money. Chief technology officer Hsiao oversees the product’s infrastructure and technology.
This summer, the three quit their jobs as web developers and software engineers to focus full-time on their business. They had plenty of encouragement – Verbal Care was selected both for the School of Management’s 2013 ITEC New Venture Competition, taking the People’s Choice Award, and the MassChallenge, an annual $1 million global accelerator program, two start-up camps where they could get excellent advice from experienced mentors. And while that advice is certainly helpful, Dougherty says, one of the most important lessons was learned while he was still a student.
“You have to be able to totally burn what you have and start over,” says Dougherty, who also founded the popular campus nonprofit Project Mailbox. “We’ve done Verbal over maybe four times. Every time it’s like a phoenix, where it crumbles to ashes and then rises out of the flames. I think there’s a lot to learn from that, and that’s the benefit of being a younger entrepreneur.”
The latest version of Verbal Care will be launched in the iTunes store on August 12. Users can e-mail the company for more information.
-Amy Laskowski, BU Today
Shawn Jin (SAR ’15) may be majoring in human physiology, but that hasn’t kept him from diving into research that combines both biology and computer engineering.
A Kilachand Honors College student, Jin has been working this summer on synthetic biology research with Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) and Traci Haddock, a post-doctoral associate in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.
Densmore, who recently spoke about the challenges facing this field on a DISCOVER panel, said that DNA assembly is not an efficient practice currently. To help alleviate this, Jin is designing a standardized method for tracking genetic circuits that has the potential to help solve this problem.
“We’re essentially creating a library of well characterized DNA parts that will allow synthetic biologists to share and compare information more quickly,” said Jin.
To help support his summer research, Jin was awarded a Hariri Award by the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computation Science & Engineering. The prize is given to students conducting research in computer science.
In addition to researching, Jin will also spend the next several months preparing for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) regionals competition.
The iGEM competition, which is geared toward undergraduates, is dedicated to advancing the field of synthetic biology by developing its community and collaborations.
Last year, Jin and Monique De Freitas (MET ’13) took home gold in the competition. The BU team will be partnering with Wellesley College like previous years, and with five teammates this time instead of two, Jin and Haddock have high hopes for this year’s contest.
“Our partnership with Wellesley is great because they’re able to provide feedback on our software tools,” said Haddock, who advises the team. “We’re looking forward to working with them again.”
Eventually, Jin hopes to further his education by earning a medical degree. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to competing in iGEM this October in Toronto.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering would like to congratulate all of our May 2013 graduates.
ECE degree recipients included the following students:
B.S. in Computer Engineering
Kimaya Anurag Agarwal
Bradley Thomas Berk
Michael Nanabhai Bhatt
Richard Alexander Christo
Jeffrey Andrew Crowell
Christopher Francis Hall
Peter Verne Junek
Matthew Kin-Chun Lee
Nicholas John Lippis
Michael William Mauro
Jacob Samuel Moisan
Robins N. Patel
Alejandro Lechuga Pelaez
Nicole Elizabeth Seaman
Marque Anthony Sterling
Jillian Noel Tullo
B.S. in Electrical Engineering
Richard Terry Black
Stephen Thomas Brogan
Tristan Javan Campbell
Dulce Maria Casado Fortique
Catherine Augusta Chan-Tse
Jeffrey Pei-Der Chang
Kelvin Michael Chui
Sean Gregory Cunnion
James Christopher Davis
Amilvikram Milind Divadkar
Christian Michael Dorman
Terence John Galasso
Michael Harrison Gurr
Christopher Nathan Hoffman
Matthew Paul Jenkins
Steven Lee Jung
Brian Timothy Kane
Ryan Charles Lagoy
Randy Hoseuk Lee
Huang Cesar Lin
Allison Marie Marn
Kevin Earl Meyer
Katherine Emily Murphy
Brian Keith Norton
Ngozi N. Nwogwugwu
Benjamin Paul Paolillo
Nicholas George Pobat
Gerardo Corpuz Ravago
Lisa Ann Rooker
Jyotsna Simran Singh
Todd Michael Sukolsky
Stefano Joseph Tasso
Daniel Lawrence Taylor
Elshaday Abebayehu Yilma
Hei Po Yiu
M.Eng in Computer Engineering
David Yu-Fong Cheung
Benjamin Francis Duong
Matthew Chet-Yen Yee
M.Eng in Electrical Engineering
Mohammed Saad Al Sammarraie
Benjamin Aaron Bearce
Nathaniel James Conway
Andrew Max Goldberg
Kevin Calder McLaughlin
M.S. in Computer Engineering
Benjamin Aaron Humphries
Michael Edward Pyrch
M.S. in Electrical Engineering
Marjan L S Hadipour
Laura Michelle Ross
Christopher J Sataline
Jason Andrew Small
Ph.D. in Computer Engineering
Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering
Thomas W. Butler
Andrew Mark Fraine
Gary F. Walsh
San Francisco, CA – After advancing to the US Finals in the Imagine Cup, Boston University students, Brad Berk, Nick Lippis, Patrick Maruska, and Robins Patel (all ECE ’13), won the SkyDrive Boost Award for their innovative software system.
The students make up the team, Pitch, and are aiming to make sharing files easier and more applicable to daily situations. Their product uses Windows 8 and a Windows Azure backend server in order to create a secure account that makes accessing any type of document manageable.
Team Pitch has been formulating this idea over the last year as part of their senior design project, a requirement for Electrical & Computer Engineering seniors. On May 6, the students presented their software system at ECE Day and were awarded with the Entrepreneurial Award.
The SkyDrive Boost Award
The SkyDrive Boost Award was given on May 13, 2013, at the U.S. Finals. Pitch was one of the ten teams that won $1,000. The team members will use the money to help launch their start-up. The award was given to United States finalists who utilized the SkyDrive API in a meaningful way into their projects. The SkyDrive API’s common tasks include viewing, editing, creating, and sharing photo albums.
About Imagine Cup
Since 2003, the Microsoft Imagine Cup has challenged students from more than 190 countries to submit ideas that solve the tough societal problems we face today. Each step of the way, students have the opportunity to make friends and win cash, grants, and prizes.
-Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)
Recently in the Photonics Center, passersby were met with a curious sight on the ninth floor. In a small setup resembling a couple of grocery store shelves, a robot, aptly named ShopBot, was picking out items from a grocery list.
Designed by seniors Jeffrey Chang, John-Nicholas Furst, Ngozi Nwogwugwu, Gurwinder Singh, and Hei Po Yiu, the Grocery Shopping Robot was one of 17 senior design projects on display as part of Boston University’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering’s annual ECE Day.
“We wanted to come up with a cheap, automated way to find groceries in a store,” said Singh during their presentation. Their robot uses a pathfinding algorithm to take the shortest path possible and scans barcodes to find its items.
Singh was one of 74 students showing the results of two semesters of work to faculty, friends, parents, and guests on May 6. Additionally, three seniors opted to write an honors thesis and presented their posters during the event.
The projects, one of the last requirements for seniors before they earn their undergraduate degree, allow students to design a prototype, electronic device or software system. Teams work with real world customers that include BU professors and companies like Microsoft and Bell Labs – Alcatel-Lucent.
“This year’s senior design class has been one of the very best,” said Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE), the senior design advisor. “I have enjoyed working with such a talented and dedicated group.”
This year’s projects ranged from a deshredder, designed to test if shredding is secure with today’s computing techniques, to an application that would allow professors to more easily track how a student is performing using BU’s education software, Blackboard.
Six alumni who previously completed senior design projects, David Lancia (ECE ’02, MS ’04), Craig LaBoda (ECE ’11), David Mabius (ECE ’07, MS ’09), Mike Kasparian (ECE ’12), Aaron Ganick (ECE ’10), and Bradley Rufleth (ECE ’04), returned to their alma mater in the roles of judges.
Said Pisano: “The ECE Day judges told me that the job of selecting the winners was most difficult this year because of all of the excellent projects, and they wished we had more awards to give.”
After much deliberation, the judges awarded Calibration Device for Microarray Slides the top prize, the P. T. Hsu Memorial Award for Outstanding Senior Design Project. Sasha Gazman, Ryan Lagoy, Allison Marn, and Jyotsna Singh worked with Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME) to develop a system for detecting target proteins, allergens, and diseases on microarray slides.
“Our system improves upon the accuracy of fluorescence based testing and is compact, portable, and user-friendly,” Singh said during her team’s presentation.
“Overall, we’re increasing the accuracy of diagnostics,” added Lagoy, who also was awarded the Michael F. Ruane Award for Excellence in Senior Capstone Design.
In a show of solidarity, the graduate students in Ünlü’s Optical Characterization and Nanophotonics Laboratory turned out to support the undergraduates during their team presentation.
The day centered around the seniors’ accomplishments, but two teachers were awarded as well. David Castañón, ECE professor and department chair, presented Ari Trachtenberg with the ECE Award for Excellence in Teaching and Molly Crane was named the GTF of the Year.
Other awards at this year’s ECE Day included:
Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award
Senior Honors Thesis Award
Beat Wave Generation and Interactions with Space Plasmas at Gakona, Alaska: Lisa A. Rooker
Pitch: Brad Berk, Nick Lippis, Patrick Maruska, and Robins Patel
Design Excellence Awards
Choreographed LED Artwork: Chris Davis, Mike Gurr, Chris Hall, Matt Lee, and Kevin Meyer
Automated DNA Assembly Platform for Bioengineering: Alejandro Pelaez Lechuga and Janoo Fernandes
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
Before the Singh Imagineering Lab was launched in October 2011, Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen envisioned the facility as a place where College of Engineering students could cultivate their entrepreneurial spirit and develop as Societal Engineers who apply their expertise to advance our quality of life. Since the Lab’s opening, more and more undergraduates have taken advantage of its tools and machinery to pursue their own ideas on how to do just that — including nine who vied for top prizes in the College’s second annual Imagineering Competition, held April 16 and 23 at Ingalls Engineering Resource Center.
Facing a panel of five judges — Associate Dean for Administration Richard Lally, Associate Dean for Educational Initiatives/Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs/Professor Solomon Eisenberg (BME), Engineering Product Innovation Center Director/Professor of Practice Gerry Fine (ME, MSE), and last year’s first prize winner, David A. Harris (ME ’15)—across an oblong conference table, the competitors described, demonstrated and defended seven projects that they developed in the Imagineering Lab and other on-campus facilities. The judges assessed each project for originality, ingenuity and creativity; quality of design and prototype; functionality; and potential to positively impact society.
Biking, 21st-Century Style
The project that wowed the judges the most and garnered the competition’s $2,500 first prize was Smart Bike, a bicycle that Konstantinos Oikonomopoulos (ME ’14) and Lanke A. Fu (ME ’14) enhanced to automatically shift gears in response to changing terrain and road conditions, such as hills and traffic lights.
To provide that capability, they developed an automatic transmission device that’s attached to the rear wheel along with a set of sensors measuring torque (turning force), cadence (peddling rate) and speed, and microcontrollers that adjust gears to keep each of these three factors steady. The gearing can change both manually and electronically via custom designed gear shifter.
“Given the platform’s ability to collect data as well as electronically adjust the gearing with the addition of microcontrollers, the bicycle can become a self-regulating system,” said Oikonomopoulos. “By making the biking experience more pleasant, technologically enhanced and ‘care free,’ we believe that more people will view biking as a modern means of transportation.”
In addition to adding new appeal to an alternative, non-polluting mode of transportation, the Smart Bike may be used as a means of outpatient rehabilitation for people recovering from leg injuries; by regulating the amount of torque on the crank set, the bicycle can reduce strain on riders’ legs.
Fu and Oikonomopoulos — who won second prize last year for his highly-accurate, affordable, easy-to-assemble desktop 3D printer — developed the Smart Bike using workspace and tools in the Imagineering Lab and 3D-printed parts from Mechanical Engineering Department labs.
“It’s like a gym bike that is used for real-life bike riding,” said Lanke, who sees fitness riders, rehab patients and commuters as its most likely customers.
“They started with an interesting premise — an exercise bike you could program with a certain setting and take out on the street and achieve that setting — and they solved a lot of mechanical, electrical, control system and software problems,” said Little. “It was a thorough, end-to-end design, and they built it and demonstrated it by getting on the bike in the presentation.”
Smarter Medicine Cabinets and Alarm Clocks
The second prize winners, John Aleman (ME ’14) and Benjamin Corman (EE ’14), received $1,500 for their project, Roommate Friendly Alarm Clock, which they designed to wake up and keep awake only one person in a room at a set time by shining a concentrated beam of high-brightness LEDs at the user’s face and an under-pillow motor that vibrates the bed.
“I’m a heavy sleeper, so the motor worked for me,” said Corman. “But I’m also a snooze button person, and the light helped me get out of bed.”
Two entries, Can of Corn and Smart Medicine Cabinet, tied for third place, splitting the $1,000 prize.
Can of Corn, developed by Yingming Wang (EE ’13), Ajith Prasad (SMG ’13) and Lalitha Kumaresan (EE ’13), couples electronics — LEDs, a photoresistor and microcontroller — with conventional bug traps to automate the counting of corn borers, which have caused massive crop damage in recent years in China. When counts spike at the start of mating season, farms are sprayed with an environmentally benign pheromone to kill the borers.
Designed by Benjamin Graham (ME ’16), Smart Medicine Cabinet upgrades the traditional medicine cabinet by exploiting built-in electronic sensors and Internet connectivity to make taking medicine and monitoring and ordering prescriptions simple and stress-free, particularly for seniors.
Other entries included a system to manufacture arrays of microneedles for faster, painless diagnostic blood tests; an electronic go-cart; and a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller.
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.
Student Group Develops Software to Address Societal Challenges
A modest College of Engineering workshop that built mobile apps for community service organizations last summer has mushroomed into a vibrant BU-wide student organization that is enhancing communication between pediatric emergency staff and families in New York, enabling collaboration between hundreds of technology trainers, and has its sights set on a massive global project to convert landfill waste into energy.
Last August the College of Engineering ran a five-day residential workshop called Clean App Your Neighborhood, in which 30 undergraduates and recent graduates from across the country designed and built mobile apps to boost the productivity of volunteers for five community service organizations seeking to improve access to healthcare, education, nutrition and other critical resources. Supported by BU faculty and industry experts, the participants assessed each organization’s needs, developed a project plan and initial concept design, produced a rapid prototype of its app, and solicited feedback from organizational representatives.
Eager for a year-round version of the highly successful workshop, five College of Engineering undergraduates took the logical next step: they formed a student organization, the Global App Initiative (GAI), where undergraduates across BU could learn how to design and build mobile apps while addressing the needs of community service organizations. Since its founding last September, GAI has grown to more than 100 members, produced several apps for volunteer-driven organizations recruited by GAI and recently began to field requests from app-seeking organizations around the world.
That includes Sustainable Waste Resources International (SWRI), a new nonprofit that plans to recruit 10,000 volunteers (mostly students) around the world to collect and share data about 100,000 landfills that could vastly improve the quality of the environment and public health for 1 billion people in developing countries. Starting with data provided by Esri, a satellite mapping technology company, SWRI aims to equip volunteers with up to three apps to help them identify landfill sites where waste recovery and conversion businesses could profitably transform garbage into recycled materials, fuel or energy.
That’s where GAI comes in. On April 19 from 10 a.m. to noon in Photonics 206, the club will host a seminar on the SWRI effort, known as the Waste to Worth project, to launch the project and invite BU students to participate starting in September. Featuring the CEO of SWRI and a senior program leader at Esri, the seminar will explore how Geographical Information Systems (GIS) mapping and ground-based information collected by volunteers can be used to improve the lives of people in resource-limited countries, and how GAI members can be part of the solution.
Working in teams, the club has already developed apps to solve problems for four community service organizations, from Harlem Hospital’s pediatric emergency department to the World Computer Exchange, which provides refurbished computers and technical training to youth in developing countries. The Harlem Hospital team’s app provides simple, clear and concise instructions to parents with educational and language challenges so they can respond more effectively to children with asthma, sickle cell anemia and other illnesses. The World Computer Exchange team’s app is designed to help the organization’s 800 volunteers collaborate with one another to improve their effectiveness as technology trainers.
“The work offers a lot of freedom of expression and team interaction, and provides a great opportunity to make a real difference,” said Habib Khan (ECE ’14), president of GAI. “While you have the time as a student, why not give back to the world?”
Supported by funding from the Kern Family Foundation and ongoing training sessions from BU and industry professionals, the club meets at 111 Cummington Mall in a classroom and computer lab provided by the Computer Science Department where members learn about, design, develop and publish iPhone, iPad and Android-based, open-source apps that any organization may use. Today about 80 core members participate in one of four teams composed of students from ENG, CAS, CFA and SMG. Each team has a leader, communications director, lead developer and lead graphic designer.
“What we started as a co-curricular initiative has now morphed into a popular campus-wide extracurricular activity that allows undergraduate students to apply their emerging technical, communication, artistic, management and other skills directly to respond to the needs of communities worldwide through the development of apps that support volunteer programs,” said Jonathan Rosen, director of Technology Innovation Programs for the College of Engineering and faculty advisor for GAI. “It also reflects the College’s commitment to educating students to become Societal Engineers who apply what they learn to solve challenging problems faced by communities and the world-at-large.”