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Gareth's good thinking about drinking

30 Nov 2016 - 10:52 in Research


An Honours-year Electronics and Computer Systems Engineering student won’t find his good ideas drying up any time soon. That’s because this year, Gareth Clay built a ‘Bioimpedance Hydration Measurement Device’ that could prove handy for emergency department doctors treating dehydrated patients on the go.

Gareth’s device enables doctors to form an accurate picture of the volume of fluid within a person’s body by measuring their ‘body impedance’, or the resistance and reactance of the body.

The hydration level of a patient is extremely important to the treatment options prescribed, especially on admission in an emergency room setting. Low levels of hydration in patients who are already weak due to sickness or injury can lead to complications that compromise patient health.

“I’ve made a unique device using all the skills I’ve learnt from my university studies”, says Gareth. “It could really help doctors in their day to day work. A lot of people are interested in developing it further”.

The project was proposed by Dr Sapi Mukerji, an emergency department doctor working at Lower Hutt hospital, who contacted Victoria about the potential to collaborate on developing some biomedical products he had been thinking about.

Several clinical techniques already exist to measure the hydration levels of a patient. However, Gareth’s new technique has been praised for being less invasive and less expensive than current commercial bioimpedance devices. His device was also found to be precise to within 1%.

“It’s always nice to have a real world application for a project – it’s really motivating!” says Gareth. “It was easy to see how this device would be helpful to doctors and that made the project all the more appealing and interesting to be part of”.

Gareth has already landed his dream job at Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, which he says was “definitely” helped by the fact that he had developed a medical device at university.

“It was a lot of fun and a great learning experience because it’s the first chance you get as an Engineering student to develop a large project independently”, he says. “It was also a time to refine all my learning, solidify the theory and practise the practical stuff I needed to hit the ground running when I entered the workforce”.

Gareth’s advice to other Honours students is to get as much done as early as possible.

“I put a lot of work into the first trimester, when the workload was easier, and it really paid off”, he says. “It meant I had time for setbacks and to refine my ideas, including actual testing with patients in the final stages of the project.

“The next step in the process is to decide the feasibility of further development - I would love to see a new commercial product on the market as the result of this idea.”

Operation Zombie saves the day

21 Nov 2016 - 10:18 in Research


A group of enterprising third year Engineering students are the ‘brains’ behind Operation Zombie, a project to develop cutting-edge technology for use in search and rescue training scenarios.

The project was one of several available to students to choose as part of a compulsory year-long project management paper, where students were asked to combine their electronics, software and networking expertise to solve a problem for an external client.

A team comprising Patrick Savill, Layne Small, Callum Gill, Miten Chauhan, Kandice McLean and Marc Laroza created a product for the New Zealand Fire Service’s Urban Search and Rescue team that simulates human behaviours for search and rescue training exercises.

All of the team members are studying Engineering, but as they are pursuing different majors, they each brought something different to the table. The project was called ‘Operation Zombie’ as it is targeted at replacing humans during training operations. Real people cannot be placed in realistically dangerous scenarios for fear of physical harm - and using dummies to simulate these scenarios is currently too expensive.

Patrick, the team’s spokesman, says they were aiming to produce a simple and cheap solution to the problem, by creating a small, self-contained motorised control box that can be operated wirelessly from a website. Instead of using a real person, the motorised box can mimic heat loss from the human body that might occur due to exposure in an emergency situation, as well as providing a realistic rescue scenario where someone is trapped in a river or under rubble. The group’s design was praised for being robust, waterproof and able to be operated at long-range.

“We had to build the hardware, configure the network, and design software to run the web page, so we were able to utilise our team members’ individual skills based on their areas of expertise”, Patrick says. “It was an enjoyable challenge with a tangible result, which is always a bonus”.

Patrick and his teammates found the project a useful platform to practise both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills learnt in class.

“I used what I knew about creating printed circuit boards - equipment that supports electrical components - as well as everything I had learnt about micro-controller coding”, says Patrick. “A happy by-product of the course was getting to practise people-management and communication skills which are so valued by employers”.

The team met some hurdles along the way, including “timing, work falling behind, untested assumptions - and blowing up electronic parts!”

“It was definitely challenging”, says Patrick. “I went in imagining the utopia of a high-functioning team, perfect circumstances and rigid scheduling – but came out the other side with an intimate understanding of Murphy’s Law.”

Patrick says that despite the challenges, the project has definitely added value to his university degree.

“I now realise that the challenging projects are the ones you learn the most from”, he says. “I have learnt far more by making mistakes than I ever could have from easy successes. Now I hope to find a job where I can use my engineering skills and really make a difference in the world”.

And Patrick’s advice to future students?

“No one said Engineering was going to be easy, so to paraphrase American writer Denis Waitley, “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised!””

Executive Assistant: Introducing Robyn Armstrong to ECS

09 Nov 2016 - 14:30 in Achievement


Name? Robyn Armstrong.

Born in? Sydney, Australia.

Lived in? Sydney, The Hague in Holland, London – I’m a keen traveller!

Education? First class Honours degree in Fine Art, majoring in Print Media and Object Design from Sydney College of the Arts, part of the University of Sydney, and a Certificate in Public Relations from the University of Technology in Sydney.

First job? Shop admin assistant for Kodak one hour film service – basically we printed photos in an hour!

Position at VUW? EA to Dale and Stu.

Most looking forward to at VUW? The awesome environment!

Why Wellington? We relocated our family from London to Wellington for my husband to work at Weta because he believes they are the world leaders in their field.

Favourite movie? We watch so many movies as a family that I couldn’t choose just one!

Favourite musician? Adele – we call her ‘Del’ at home…

Favourite food? Gluten free – yum! (Not…)

Quote to live by? “Do what you love – and love what you do!”

Making sensor of the Internet of Things

09 Nov 2016 - 10:59 in Research


People like to think of themselves as complex, but compared with things they are all too predictable.

That’s what Winston Seah, Professor of Network Engineering in Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, has found as he leads a team of researchers working on the Internet of Things (IOT).

Currently the area of internet development “the whole world is crazy about,” says Winston, IOT seeks to give everyday and other objects network connectivity so they can send and receive data.

Supported by a three-year $1 million deal with telecommunication giant Huawei New Zealand, one of the aspects of IOT Winston and his team are exploring is how networks might handle the massively increased traffic such functionality would bring.

“It’s already been predicted the numbers are going to exceed human connections by hundreds of thousand times or even a billion. How many smartphones can we carry? Maybe two or three—and that’s a lot. But let’s say my jacket is embedded with sensors that measure my body statistics. It could easily have 100 sensors, each sending data. Multiply that by the number of people in a city. And that’s just one application.”

Then there is the variability of what is being transmitted and when.

“It’s not like the internet in the past where you’re just dealing with human beings’ communications. People are creatures of habit. How we communicate tends to be the same. Whereas machines are so different. And sometimes you just can’t think what kind of data they will send and what kinds of patterns will emerge.”

Winston and his team are also developing individual IOT applications such as land movement sensors that give advance warning of potential landslides, which are being trialled in the Manawatu Gorge near Palmerston North.

With a glint in his eye, Winston ponders other New Zealand sensor candidates, turning the Internet of Things into “the Internet of Sheep, the Internet of Cows, the Internet of Pinot Noir vines…”

ECS lecturers the best

26 Oct 2016 - 11:02 in Achievement


The School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) was twice recognised for teaching excellence at the Student Representation Celebration held by the Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association (VUWSA) recently.

From more than 100 nominations, VUWSA's selection committee awarded ECS's Dr Elf Eldridge the prestigious Lecturer of the Year Award, while Senior Tutor Dr Howard Lukefahr received an Honourable Mention.

It was the first time that Victoria's outstanding lecturers were recognised at the awards, alongside the achievement of exceptional student representatives and student leaders.

Annaliese Wilson, VUWSA's Education Officer, said the time was right to celebrate Victoria's unsung heroes with a formal awards ceremony.

"We wanted to recognise the quality of our talented teaching staff and the time and effort they put into making their lectures useful and engaging", Annaliese said. "The Education Team had a tough time selecting the winners becaues of the high calibre of the candidates".

Elf Eldridge, a well-known personality around campus and an ECS institution in his own right, is currently teaching ENGR101 (Introductory Engineering) and ENGR110 (Engineering Modelling and Design). He is also actively involved in many of the student hackathon events held throughout the year and frequently uses social media to engage with students.

Students nominated Elf - one describing him as "hands down the best lecturer I have ever had" - for always making lectures enjoyable, for his clear and accessible teaching style, and for going above and beyond the call of duty when students need extra help.

"Elf is very passionate about engineering, friendly and empathetic - and he makes every class interesting", said one student. "He can explain difficult concepts well, he is entertaining to listen to, and he captivates the audience no matter what the topic".

"Elf really enjoys the subject he is teaching, which makes for a good vibe in class", said another student. "When I queried a grade, he sat down and remarked my assignment with me, giving me personal feedback as he went".

Elf himself says the best thing about being an ECS lecturer is working with students who have a great mix of enthusiasm and humour - and teaching a subject that is so relatable.

"Engineering and Computer Science is so easily connected to modern life; be it from examining content throttling by Internet Service Providers, to discussing the effect of bugs in games; from the design of new graphics cards to the ethics of probing the security of a network", he says.

Elf has also honed his teaching technique to get the best from his students.

"I try to acknowledge that my students are human - for example, I split my lectures into two 20-minute chunks with a break for a discussion or a video in between, so it's easier to concentrate", he says. "I also use my class reps to keep track of how busy students are; I sometimes cancel lectures to give students more time, and I visit the labs regularly to keep tabs on their progress."

Senior Tutor Howard Lukefahr's students were equally quick to point out his commitment to helping students achieve highly in the four 100-level Engineering courses he teaches.

"Howard has gone out of his way to help us get through our first year of engineering and our first set of university exams", said one student. "He even ran extra tutorials before assessments".

Students also commended Howard for making sure that no one is left behind.

"He always makes sure that everyone understands the concepts by teaching in an engaging, fun and informative way. I am nominating him because he is the most involved and passionate lecturer I have ever had.

"It's because of him that I have succeeded this year".

Howard himself says it is a "great honour" to receive the Honourable Mention from VUWSA.

"I get to work with very keen and able students everyday - they like learning and I like helping them learn", he says.

Kittens make game from scratch

06 Oct 2016 - 10:47 in Achievement


Two ECS students were part of team Wise Kittens that won first place at the recent PxlJam 48 Hour Game Design Competition held at Victoria University. We asked third year Software Engineering students Hannah Craighead and Tana Tanoi to share their thoughts on the competition - and their road to game-making success…

“PxlJam is a whirlwind event where teams have to design a game in just 48 hours based on a given theme. This year’s theme was “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” We competed last year after we were encouraged to get involved by one of our tutors - and we enjoyed it so much we decided to have another crack this year.

Our team consisted of us coders – Hannah and Tana – as well as designers Nicola Yeo and Gerrit van Rooyen, and our friend Jackson Cordery, who studies musical composition. There’s a great mix of people who take part, from first years who we’ve tutored ourselves through to PhD students who’ve tutored us. There are even people outside of the University who come along because they have a passion for game-making.

After the theme was announced, we spent the first few hours coming up with an idea for the game, which we found really challenging to begin with. The theme could be interpreted so many different ways and we wanted to come up with something unique. So we deliberately built bugs into our game, but gave players the ability to turn those bugs into tools they could use to complete each level.

Although we probably got more sleep than the majority of competitors, time management was still the biggest issue. We spent a lot of time getting the game mechanics to work - and we still didn’t have any levels designed three hours out from the end of the competition!

There were so many awesome games and it was amazing to see what other people came up with. One of the highlights was collaborating with the two designers in our team – they were great to work with and they also created some really cool content that was key to our success. Jackson’s compositions were also a real selling point: his music was amazing and everyone who played our game commented on how nicely the different pieces of music complemented the overall experience.

We didn’t expect to win overall – we were just there to have fun making games with our friends – but we were so happy to place first after last year, when our game was nowhere near as good. This year’s competition was sponsored by Victoria University, Victoria Engineering Club, Acidic website developers and Powershop, so we got to choose from a big pool of prizes: everything from Nerf guns with foam ammo to Steam gaming vouchers.

We’d love to revisit our game in the future to really flesh it out. We need to fix up some bugs and create some more levels and content. We met some awesome people, got great content for our portfolios – and it was some of the best fun we’ve had this trimester!”

Top appointment to head Victoria cybersecurity partner

27 Sep 2016 - 09:57 in Achievement


Victoria University has welcomed the appointment of NZX Chief Operating Officer Mandy Simpson as head of Cyber Toa, Victoria's partner in developing a centre of excellence to strengthen New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific's resilience against cybercrime and cyberattacks.

“The appointment of someone of Mandy Simpson’s calibre as Chief Executive Officer is further testimony to the quality and impact of Cyber Toa,” said Professor Dale Carnegie, Dean of the University’s Faculty of Engineering.

“A combination of Victoria’s research and teaching excellence, Cyber Toa’s status as one of just 10 certified training partners in the world of the gold-standard Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States and Mandy’s extraordinary leadership skills makes for cybersecurity capability and potential unmatched in New Zealand.”

Victoria’s partnership with Cyber Toa, previously the cyber division of Total Risk, includes a new Master of Cybersecurity, with a range of undergraduate degrees also proposed.

In addition, Cyber Toa’s existing SEI-accredited cybersecurity training delivered in association with Victoria is being expanded to eventually include all 42 courses the SEI has available.

Cyber Toa and Victoria will be the only provider in the Southern Hemisphere to offer all the courses, teaching them in Wellington and Auckland, and if demand requires in Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries.

The partnership also sees the establishment of a commercial computer security incident response team, or CSIRT, run by Cyber Toa and based at Victoria’s Kelburn campus, where it will offer proactive and reactive cybersecurity support to businesses and other clients.

Chief Operating Officer at NZX for the past four years, Ms Simpson has held senior roles at the State Services Commission and IT services company Fronde.

Born in Britain but a Wellingtonian since 2006, she has an Executive Master of Public Administration from Victoria’s Australia and New Zealand School of Government and a Master of Arts in Law from the University of Cambridge.

She trained as an accountant at Deloitte in London, specialising in financial investigation, and later spent four years at the London Stock Exchange, initially in market surveillance.

Ms Simpson said: “I’m excited to be joining Cyber Toa in this key growth phase. As the use of technology accelerates in all areas of our business and personal lives, the need for qualified, capable cybersecurity professionals has never been clearer. With Cyber Toa’s world-class expertise, and in partnership with Victoria University, we’ll be able to make a significant difference to our clients’ ability to respond to this growing threat.”

Postdoctoral Fellow: Introducing Harith to ECS

26 Sep 2016 - 09:36 in Research


Name? Harith Al-Sahaf.

Born in? Lincoln, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Lived in? Iraq (1984-2006), and New Zealand (2006-present).

First job? Yarn machine operator (Iraq), Delicatessen, New World (New Zealand), and Tutor for SWEN304 (VUW).

Position at VUW? Postdoctoral Fellow working with the Evolutionary Computation Research Group.

Most looking forward to at VUW? Joining the team!

Key research interests? Evolutionary Computation and Computer Vision.

Why Wellington? Definitely not for the weather, but absolutely for the friendly people.

Favourite movie? The Message, The Godfather - and almost all comedy movies.

Favourite musician? Lionel Richie, Air Supply, ABBA.

Favourite food? My mum’s.

Quote to live by? “The more you know, the more you realise how much you don’t know – the less you know, the more you think you know”.
- David T. Freeman

Digital Disruption: A Wellington Case Study

20 Sep 2016 - 11:46 in Event


The challenges facing Wellington's fast-growing digital industry were explored in a recent seminar hosted by Victoria University.

The event, titled "Digital Disruption: A Wellington Case Study", brought together staff and students from Victoria's Schools of Engineering and Computer Science, and Management, with industry experts and practitioners, who delved into what it takes to thrive in the digital age.

Dr Richard Norman, a co-host of the event, is a senior lecturer in Victoria's School of Management. His research focuses on understanding how people and organisations can adapt to technology change.

"The work environment is changing. Occupations are changing, there are new sectors emerging—such as the cyber security sector—and companies are becoming more agile, with a focus on fast development and fast turnaround", says Dr Norman.

"What is distinctive about this event is that it brought together both the people and the technical sides of business. For companies to be successful they really have to be on top of both. We have had a lot of interest in this event from the local digital industry—it's a good opportunity to share knowledge".

Dr Stuart Marshall, Head of Victoria's School of Engineering and Computer Science, says that the event gave students an important opportunity to hear about the industry many of them will be working in.

"We ran a similar event late last year, which was solely for industry. This year we wanted to open it up to students, so we ran it during class time to make it even more accessible. When students graduate a lot of them will be working in these digitally-focussed companies, and this was a valuable opportunity to hear about what the environment is like".

This year, the speakers were:

- Associate Professor Kris Bubendorfer, Victoria University of Wellington
- Professor Neil Dodgson, Victoria University of Wellington
- Collier Isaacs, Farm IQ
- Ruth McDavitt, Summer of Tech
- Dean Pemberton, Network Startup Resource Center
- Anthony Pratt, Park Road Post Production
- Laura Reitel, Lightning Lab / Creative HG
- Chris Ward, Total Risk / CyberToa
- Dr Ian Welch, Victoria University of Wellington