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Riding high on a great idea

29 Jul 2015 - 15:23 in Research

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Cycling is an increasingly popular way of getting around in New Zealand. However, in 2013 alone, eight cyclists died, 171 were seriously injured and 646 suffered minor injuries in police-reported crashes on New Zealand roads( Ministry of Transport, Cyclist Crash Facts).

Michael Baird, who is studying for a BE(Hons), is hoping to discover how cyclists can lower the inherent risks of being less protected and less visible than the motor vehicles they share the road with. His Honours project involves developing a sensor system that integrates multiple sources of data inputs to improve rider safety—and enjoyment.

A keen cyclist himself, Michael says the idea for the project came about while he was out riding with his brother. “I asked him what sort of data he’d find useful to make cycling a safer and more fun experience, then I compared his ‘wish list’ with the features of the products that are on the market now.” He says that although today’s products provide basic, mostly fitness-related information such as speed, heart rate and cadence (how fast you spin the pedals as you ride), his focus is on developing a product that gives cyclists the information they need to feel safer on the road, including alerts to problems or faults with their bikes.

Such information will include the real-time status of both bike and rider (for example, speed, condition of brakes and cycling characteristics), that will be provided via a set of on-bike sensors that communicate with an on-bike controller.

Michael will also look at integrating multiple modes of sensory information (including one of the world’s biggest networks, Google Maps) that will enable warnings to be given to riders about difficult terrain ahead, or whether they are approaching a junction too fast. Proximity sensors will also warn riders that they are approaching or being approached by another vehicle too closely.

Improved safety is Michael’s primary goal, but he also plans to include data that will increase enjoyment for recreational or competitive cyclists, together with “some route planning features that will recommend roads to take and speeds to ride at, based on current conditions.“

Michael’s supervisor, Professor Winston Seah, says he is delighted to see Michael thinking in such an innovative way.

“When I set a project, I don’t usually expect students to come up with their own novel idea to base it on, as Michael has. But when they do, and that idea involves solving a real-world problem, it makes the project that much more relevant for them.”

Michael concurs. “I’m really enjoying working on something I can relate to personally. Professor Seah is one of the top academics in the field of wireless sensor networking, so I feel very lucky to have him as one of my two supervisors.”

Michael’s current focus is on finishing the development of the project’s programming and electronics in time for testing and evaluation at the end of the year, but he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of taking it to market in the future. “It’s cool to think there’s a possibility that I might be able to build a business out of it!”

Innovate and create: Kate's GovHack experience

22 Jul 2015 - 12:25 in Achievement

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When you hear the words 'government' and 'hack' in the same sentence, you could be forgiven for thinking there is questionable business afoot. But third year Computer Science student Kate Henderson assures us the recent GovHack weekend in Wellington was all above board. Here's what she has to say about her team's success at the competition...

“GovHack is an event run across Australia and New Zealand where participants use government data to build projects. We pitch ideas, form teams and create a product in just one weekend. The word 'hack' traditionally has negative connotations, but here it is used in the old-fashioned sense of the word, where you 'hack' something together to get it working.

GovHack was attended by ideas people, community members and business and marketing experts, as well as developers and designers. I was part of Team Working Title. It was great to work with a mix of people, including students from Engineering and Computer Science at Victoria. We worked well together because we knew each other from our university courses.

Our project was called “What's Next?”, a career tool for high school students. Because many of us are at university, we can remember trying to make important decisions about the future. We turned NCEA subjects into interest groups and our tool suggested career options. It also supplied average incomes for that career and the average student loan expected. The government data we used was supplied by NZQA, MBIE and the IRD.

It was great to see just what's possible over just one weekend. We managed to build a functional, interactive web page, as well as a three minute video demonstrating our proof of concept. Working on a project for three days and having it turn out well at the end is a great feeling of accomplishment.

There is no chance before GovHack that I would have been offered links to government to pitch a project. It was a great opportunity. A lot of the people involved are in the industry already, and you might be working for them in the future. It's cool to meet those people and see what different companies are doing.

We were stoked to be awarded 'Best Team' and we were also named as the Wellington nomination for the national award. I would encourage other students to go along to events like this, even if you have no idea what to expect. Hackathons are just too much fun to pass up!”

Leading from the front: Daniel's Startup Weekend success

15 Jul 2015 - 12:27 in Achievement

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We asked Daniel Yeoh, a fourth year Electrical and Computer Engineering student, to share his impressions of the recent Wellington Science and Research Startup Weekend. This is what he had to say...

“The Science and Research Startup Weekend was a New Zealand first, where a bunch of different people competed to create a viable startup business in just one weekend.

It began with everyone who wanted to pitching an idea to the room. Then all the people who didn't pitch an idea chose a team to join. That's how I became a team captain, with other participants choosing to join my team if they liked my idea. I assigned roles to my group. I like leading from the front, so I used individuals' specialisations and backgrounds to allocate the roles.

My original idea was a window-cleaning robot that would scale the outside of a building. We came up with the design on the Friday night, but we discovered that there was a company in America already doing exactly the same thing. I wanted to come up with something completely new.

I decided to pivot towards a robot that, instead of cleaning windows, would climb the inside and outside of the building to scan the structure and create a 3D model. This would allow it to ascertain the structural integrity of the building by measuring, for example, the interior wall densities.

I was inspired by the opportunity to be my own boss. It meant a lot to me that the team was working on my idea. The friendships, connections and resources I gained were invaluable. Now I know that I can approach Wellington companies like Creative HQ and BizDojo to pitch ideas or ask for help from their mentors.

I think our idea was the best; the most profitable, and helpful for the community. We also got a special mention for scientific innovation from Helen Anderson, ex-CEO of BRANZ. It is a product that would help a lot of people, especially in the current New Zealand market with the earthquake strengthening taking place.

I hope to pursue the project at the VicLink Entrepreneurial Bootcamp at the end of the year. If you are a student and plan to attend a future Startup Weekend, I would say make sure to pitch your own idea. It makes the experience more meaningful and you feel like you own a piece of the process.”

Prolific Computer Science pioneer named Emeritus Professor

07 Jul 2015 - 09:35 in Achievement

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Nearly 40 years since he began lecturing Computer Science at Victoria University in 1977, Professor John Hine has become an integral part of both the academic environment and the daily hustle and bustle of university life. You could describe him as a greatly-respected 'part of the furniture' – in the most positive sense of the phrase – although the enterprising academic does not sit still for long.

Now Professor Hine, widely regarded as a pioneer of the Internet and a leading advocate of Computer Science education in New Zealand, has been awarded the honorary title of Emeritus Professor. The accolade follows a long, illustrious career spanning many decades and including numerous services to his field and, in particular, to Victoria University.

Professor Hine's contribution began in the 1970s when organisations began to realise that it was necessary to educate more people in the field of Computer Science. He responded proactively to that need and in 1984 was appointed the foundation Professor of Computer Science.

Since then Professor Hine's multiple roles have included Chair of the Department of Computer Science, Head of the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Head of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, Dean of Engineering and Director of eResearch.

He has also been involved in the development of the Internet in New Zealand, including establishing an inter-university online network in the early 1980s. This later evolved into the backbone of New Zealand's Internet and email services. Professor Hine's associated commercial company Netlink was sold in 1999, bringing a substantial financial boost to Victoria.

In the late nineties, Professor Hine was a member of the Domainz Board, the company that initially managed New Zealand's domain name space. From 2000 he was instrumental in founding the Kiwi Advanced Research Network (KAREN) and has since been made a KAREN fellow.

Professor Hine's contribution to the development of Computer Science education and the Internet in New Zealand is truly exemplary and an example of academic leadership at its best and most exciting. He is held in high regard by staff, students and the ICT community both in Wellington and more broadly in New Zealand.

We ask you to join us in congratulating him on being awarded the status of Emeritus Professor in recognition of his outstanding achievements.

Top conference award a milestone for PhD student Harith

30 Jun 2015 - 10:51 in Achievement

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Sushi wasn't the only thing Computer Science PhD student Harith Al-Sahaf got a taster of when he travelled to Sendai, Japan in May this year. The trip to the IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation (CEC) represented Harith's first overseas conference. He and a team of collaborators from New Zealand and Australia presented a prize-winning paper to an audience of top researchers and practitioners from around the globe. The conference is the largest of its type and covers diverse applications of Evolutionary Computation ranging from medical to military.

Harith, who completed his undergraduate study at the University of Baghdad in his home country of Iraq, moved to New Zealand in 2006 to pursue post-graduate study in Computer Science at Victoria University. While he has attended domestic conferences before, his team's 2015 Overall Best Paper Award, bestowed within such a prestigious global context, was an exciting milestone. The research his team presented was considered “a big jump within the field”, he says.

The award-winning paper was concerned with Computer Vision, one of Harith's main research interests. “Computer Vision is about replicating human visual systems to make machines that have the ability to 'see' things as humans do”, he explains. The project could also be described as advancing 'texture classification', where materials of the same texture type are grouped together. Analysing images to generate data from the real world is in turn is used to make decisions in real-life applications.

Such real-life applications of this ground-breaking research include roadside vegetation classification for assessing fire risk, and even facial recognition technology. “But one of the most important applications is within the medical field for cancer detection”, explains Harith. “Using this technology, we can detect cancer based on the texture of the tissues which are quite different from normal tissues.”

So where to now for the enterprising Harith? He is busy with his PhD research, extending the original image classification method to handle the rotation and scaling of the textures. “It's a complex problem”, he says. Harith is also keen to attend more international conferences where he enjoys making connections, sharing information and organising collaboration on future projects.

Watch this space – we're sure to hear more from Harith soon.

First Year autonomous robot challenge

29 Jun 2015 - 11:29 in Event

Many Engineering students want to get ‘hands-on’ with their course work as quickly as possible—after all, they’re often practical people who like to learn through doing. So when Victoria University’s first-year Engineering students discover they’ll be building an autonomous vehicle during their first trimester , most can’t believe their luck!

“The first part of Engineering 101 (ENGR101) gives students a general introduction to engineering practice, and covers the basics of software, hardware and network systems,” says Dr Stuart Marshall, Head of the School of Engineering and Computer Science. “Halfway through the first trimester, we form them into teams so they can apply this knowledge to complete a project – the Autonomous Vehicle Challenge – which includes all aspects of these technologies.”

Dr Marshall says that each team of students must build a vehicle – complete with processing board, motor driver, and a network link to communicate its progress back to a central computer – which can navigate its way through four quadrants of a maze, each more difficult than the last. Students fit sensors to their hand-sized vehicles to keep them on the right path, and away from walls and other obstacles.

“We change the maze every year, just to keep things interesting,” says Dr Marshall. “This year, we’ve added an archway with an automated door that opens and closes; students now have the added challenge of having to get the timing right in order to pass their vehicles through the archway unobstructed.”

At the end of the first trimester, vehicles are put to the test; each team must race their vehicle against the clock while attempting to complete all four quadrants. The top performing vehicles take part in a final, more informal, challenge where they compete for bragging rights rather than credits.

“You could say that we’re throwing students in the deep end,” says Dr Marshall. “But the project not only provides an effective way for students to engage in the many aspects of engineering, it also gives them a tangible way of learning how to problem-solve. And they seem to really enjoy it!”

Dr Marshall says that in addition to team work, each student has to write an individual report, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work during the process. “Students obviously develop practical skills while they’re building their vehicles, but they’re also learning soft skills such as report-writing, time management, and how to work as part of a team.”

Some previous ENGR101 students have cited their experience with the Autonomous Vehicle Challenge as the event that got them interested in the National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition (NI-ARC) – a student robotics competition designed to encourage development and innovation in the field of robotics.

How much architecture up front?

22 Jun 2015 - 10:46 in Achievement

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Top VUW computer scientists rewarded for pioneering research

A trio of enterprising academics from Victoria University of Wellington's School of Engineering and Computer Science have been recognised and rewarded at the highest level internationally for their ground-breaking research into software development methodology.

Professor of Computer Science James Noble, colleague George Allan and PhD student Michael Waterman received a 'Distinguished Paper Award' at the prestigious International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE). Michael Waterman completed the research with assistance from a Victoria University PhD scholarship.

Professor James Noble, who himself completed undergraduate, Honours and PhD study in Computer Science at Victoria University, states, “ICSE is the largest and most important academic and research conference on Software Engineering. It is attended by academics, researchers and teachers, but there are also a lot of industrial researchers there. That means there are people from Google, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook and Apple.”

The trio's award-winning paper described alternatives of software development methodologies, including the differences between the dynamic 'Agile' model when compared to the older, more traditional 'waterfall' model.

In the software development process, the Agile model is better equipped to deal with change, while the waterfall method approaches set tasks in a strictly linear fashion. The team's research, which investigated how much architecture should be provided up front in a software design process to maximise customer value, established that there were several optimum approaches.

Professor Noble likens the development of virtual architecture to a real-life analogy: “Traditional software development says, for example, “We want to build a really big building, so we'll dig a really big hole”. The problem is we can't use any of the building until it's built, and even then, because of technological changes and market changes over the years, when it's finished it won't do what we want.

“In some sense, traditionally, you can build software in the same way. With the Agile approach the real issue is how can you get the advantages of being able to build up these projects slowly and also be able to cater to customers as soon as possible? That's important from a financial perspective but also when you start gaining customers they can tell you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong.”

Professor Noble continues, “So that's the real tension: how do you manage to build a system that in five years is usable, but more importantly, how can we start using it immediately?”

He believes the research will be useful to planners and project managers.

“It's a recognition of the great work we do here at Victoria. When we say that we are a world-class research institution, awards like this show that we are exactly that”.

Offline but switched on

19 Jun 2015 - 11:21 in Event

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Computer Science workshop to inspire new way of teaching

“Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”

- Edsger Dijkstra, Dutch computer scientist

Invitation:

Victoria University of Wellington invites primary teachers to a free workshop which aims to change the way computer science is taught to primary school students.

Computer Science Unplugged (CSU) is a collection of kinesthetic learning activities that teach computer science through games and puzzles using hands-on materials, and enable young students to physically engage with concepts – without a computer in sight!

The two-hour programme will enlighten teachers as to the benefits of CSU, and will be of value to those primary and intermediate teachers interested in adopting computational thinking in the classroom and encouraging young minds to explore the dynamic world of computer science.

“CSU is about empowering students to explore the great ideas that are hidden in the technologies that have become so commonplace that they are taken for granted,” says workshop coordinator Professor Tim Bell from the University of Canterbury.

“This removes the barrier of having to learn to program or even own a computer before you find out if computer science is really your thing.”

CSU introduces students to underlying concepts such as binary numbers, algorithms and data compression, but remain separated from the distractions and technical know-how we usually associate with computers.

These teaching methods have become widespread in countries such as Sweden, Germany, Korea and Japan, with the CSU programme itself supported internationally with online and adaptable resources.

Event details

Computer Science Unplugged

Thursday 9th July 2015, 9.30am-11.30am

Top floor of the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library, Corner Queens Drive and Woburn Rd.

Places are limited so please RSVP to suzan.hall@vuw.ac.nz at your earliest convenience.

Further information about Computer Science Unplugged, including resources and texts for teachers, can be found online at http://csunplugged.org

Research to reduce the cost of traffic

16 Jun 2015 - 09:27 in Research

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Drivers may be less frustrated by the apparent whims of traffic signals if a research project by Victoria University of Wellington associate professor, Dr Paul Teal, goes ahead.

The multidisciplinary project aims to bring together economists and engineers to design a traffic control system that reduces operational costs and delays, thereby delivering both economic and social benefits.

Strengthening the relevance of the research is the recently released OECD Economic Surveys NEW ZEALAND report which states that Auckland and Wellington are the second and third most congested cities in Australasia, according to the TomTom traffic index.

The OECD report suggests implementing demand management strategies such as pricing mechanisms to reduce urban road congestion. Dr Teal’s research will explore utilising mobile devices as a means to predict traffic movements, thereby enabling a new kind of management strategy.

“Although the traffic control system in New Zealand is relatively advanced, it can’t anticipate traffic flow, which is part of the reason why roads get congested,” says Dr Teal. “It’s also why we often find ourselves sitting at the lights even when there is no traffic around.

“Our project aims to use mobile devices in cars to convey key information some time before the vehicle arrives at an intersection, and use that information to set a more appropriate phasing of traffic lights.”

GPS tracking technology will be used to determine such factors as speed and location, with the information then sent back to a centralised traffic control system.

Wider application of the technology may also include providing information on vehicle weight, fuel economy, destination and costs of traffic delays.

“Two key components when it comes to inefficiencies in traffic are slowing down and stopping. These are largely reflected in the operational cost of fuel and the cost of lost time.

The research will focus on strategies for using the available information to minimise the total society cost, which is the combination of the operational and delay costs.

To give an idea of the scale of the problem, a 2013 New Zealand Transport Agency Research Report estimated the annual cost of traffic delays in the Auckland region alone at $1.25 billion.

Funding is currently being sought for the research project.

For more information contact Dr Paul Teal on 04-463 5966 or paul.teal@ecs.vuw.ac.nz

Scholarships for the Master of Engineering (ME) in Software Defined Networking

21 May 2015 - 19:48 in Research

The School of Engineering and Computer Science is offering two full-time Master scholarships (domestic tuition fees plus a 1-year stipend of NZ$20,000) to excellent candidates to work on the following topics:

  • "Performance Evaluation and Analytical Modelling of SDN and OpenFlow-based Networks and Systems". The successful candidate is expected to have a good foundation in theoretical performance analysis techniques, viz. and queuing theory. Knowledge of common network simulation platforms (e.g. OmNet++, QualNet, etc) would be advantageous. He/she will also have the opportunity to spend time in Kyoto University, Japan, to work with world leading experts in performance analysis.

  • "Traffic classification in Enterprise Networks using Software Defined Networking". The successful candidate is expected to have a good fundamental knowledge of networking and strong hands-on skills required to validate his/her research results on a real network testbed. Knowledge of traffic classification techniques for supporting quality of service in the Internet would be given preferential consideration.
Interested applicants, please contact Professor Winston Seah via email attaching your transcripts, publications list, and CV. If you are suitable, you will then be provided with the information on how to apply for admission into our ME degree programme. Contact: winston.seah@ecs.vuw.ac.nz.