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ECS end-of-year Honours presentations impress

27 Nov 2015 - 11:22 in Achievement


Outer space, traffic and music were just some of the topics covered as students, staff and industry partners celebrated the culmination of a year of hard work at the Dean's Sessions end-of-year Engineering and Computer Science Honours students' presentations recently.

The inspiring student presentations included solutions for visualising astronomical data, a Wellington traffic visualisation tool, and the re-design of a commercial power amplifier.

“These presentations are the final milestone in many of our students' academic careers – they represent a huge amount of work, inspiration and determination,” said Dr Kris Bubendorfer, senior lecturer and Honours supervisor for ECS.

Eight students presented their work - Christopher Hawkins, Tony Butler-Yeoman, Andrew Lensen, Josianne Hyson, Michael Winton, Jarrod Bakker, Dayle Jellyman and Hamish Colenso.

They were chosen because of the appeal their work has for the wider community. Each presentation was marked not only on content, but also on each student’s ability to field detailed questions about their research from the audience.

The presenters spoke confidently and professionally as they shared their research outcomes with the audience, supported by their classmates who came to see them in action.

“With so much talent here, we’d like to see our students studying for as long as possible, before they’re snapped up by industry partners - including those present today,” said Professor Dale Carnegie, Dean of Engineering.

After the presentations, those same industry partners asked the students “Where to from here?” regarding the next steps for their projects.

Some students used the event as a way to connect with industry and foster links for future employment, while others plan to return to study at Victoria as Masters and PhD students.

Dr Bubendorfer says that whatever path the students choose, “We are incredibly proud of our students and wish them all the best in their future endeavours.”

Championing cybersecurity: Victoria partners with global leader

16 Nov 2015 - 10:04 in Achievement


Victoria University of Wellington has entered into an agreement with local firm Total Risk, a partner of the Software Engineering Institute’s CERT Program at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, in what is considered to be a major development for cybersecurity in New Zealand.

“Cybersecurity has been identified as one of the greatest commercial threats facing New Zealand, with business and government largely lacking the individual expertise to protect themselves against this ever-developing danger,” says Geoff Todd, Managing Director of Viclink, the University’s commercialisation office.

“The collaboration with CERT means Victoria is working with the gold-standard organisation in the field. This isn’t just good for the University, it’s good for New Zealand.”

The Software Engineering Institute is a not-for-profit Federally Funded Research and Development Centre (FFRDC) at Carnegie Mellon University, specifically established by the United States Department of Defense to focus on software engineering and cybersecurity.

The relationship with Total Risk means Victoria will be aligned with one of only nine CERT-certified partners globally, and the only one in New Zealand.

“The significance of this collaboration cannot be understated,” says Victoria’s Dean of Engineering Professor Dale Carnegie. “It gives Victoria the impetus to push on with a multidisciplinary cyber programme, and a CERT-certified one at that, which should prove very attractive for both local and international students.”

Victoria’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford is delighted with the agreement.

“This initiative presents an extremely exciting prospect for Victoria University and Wellington in particular. However, it also translates into a highly valuable asset for the wider Asia-Pacific region and sits well with the University’s strategic objective of contributing to New Zealand’s digital future.”

The collaboration gets underway in the near future with a series of events in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, with Kristopher Rush, a Technical Director from CERT, addressing CEOs and CIOs on cyber vulnerabilities.

ECS researchers awarded in 2015 Marsden Fund grant scheme

12 Nov 2015 - 10:28 in Achievement


Victoria University's School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) is excited to announce that two academic staff and top researchers have been awarded funding for research projects in the prestigious Marsden Fund grant scheme for 2015.

The fiercely-contested Marsden Fund supports excellence in science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities in New Zealand by providing grants for investigator-initiated research. It is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Government.

A total of $53.5 million in Marsden funding was awarded to New Zealand researchers this year. Victoria University received 13 grants, equal to more than $8 million in funding, cementing the University's reputation as a leading research institute.

ECS Professor Mengjie Zhang's successful project is entitled “Genetic Programming for Dynamic Flexible Job Shop Scheduling”. To support his research he has been awarded $550,000, distributed over three years, in the latest round of grants. The grants pay for salaries, student and post-doctoral scholarships, and research consumables.

Victoria’s Vice-Provost (Research) Professor Kate McGrath says the University is particularly proud of recipients who have received multiple Marsden funding over the years. This includes Professor Zhang, who is celebrating his fourth Marsden Fund grant.

“Marsden funding recognises excellence in leading-edge research. To receive multiple Marsden Fund grants is an outstanding achievement,” says Professor McGrath.

ECS's second Marden Fund grant for 2015 went to Senior Lecturer Dr Hui Ma. Her project, “Distributed Data-Intensive Service Composition”, was awarded a Fast-Start grant of $300,000. Fast-Start awards are designed to create research momentum for early-career researchers. Dr Ma was one of a number of women recognised as Principal Investigators of successful proposals, a number which rose from 39% last year to 44% this year.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce describes the advantages of supporting top-level research within New Zealand.

“The Marsden Fund invests in investigator-led research that seeks to generate new knowledge with long-term benefits for New Zealand,” Mr Joyce says.

“The Government recognises that funding for such research can generate substantial returns to society over time. The Fund continues to play an integral role in a high-performing science system focusing on excellence and impact, promoting New Zealand as a destination for top scientists and R&D investment.”

Going forward with Google

28 Oct 2015 - 11:17 in Research


Victoria University has further solidified its place at the forefront of research in one of the most innovative emerging technology areas—software defined networks (SDN).

After forming a software defined networks research group in 2014, Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science has gone on to sign a three-year research agreement with Google to embark on SDN development, maintenance and teaching.

Traditionally, networking hardware is manufactured with specific software in mind, but standardising the way that software interacts with hardware allows developers the freedom to go beyond what is standard in the field.

“This means software developers can write programs for their own specific networking needs, and they are less restricted by the set-up of the hardware, which is more conducive to innovation,” says senior lecturer Dr Ian Welch.

“The flexibility of SDN technology means network modifications can be made more readily, and system threats dealt with rapidly and effectively. Even better, we can make networks more reliable by applying well-understood techniques from software engineering, such as unit testing and formal methods. Overall, this makes for a commercially nimble, cost-effective solution because it allows maximisation of the use of bandwidth and is potentially more secure and reliable than existing technologies.”

According to Google’s representative software engineer at Victoria, Josh Bailey, companies such as Google, Facebook or Amazon wouldn’t be in business without the vital role of network engineers.

“SDN is set to revolutionise things further by allowing better management of things such as cloud services, big data and consumer-interfacing technology, and it provides attractive options for scaling up business operations,” says Josh.

“This means SDN technology is set to be a growth industry and a serious option for any student considering network engineering.”

The three-year research agreement with Google provides a platform for Victoria to grow its profile in SDN teaching and research, with the goals of bringing more students into this emerging field and partnering with other academic and commercial organisations.

Training in computer science

20 Oct 2015 - 12:33 in Research


When Benjamin Powley first played with a train set as a small boy, he could never have imagined he’d be using a similar set to complete a university Honour’s project.

Benjamin, who is currently studying a Bachelor of Science with Honours (having already completed a double major Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Mathematics), is one of the first to test out a new model railway purchased by the School of Engineering and Computer Science for student projects. He is using it to develop safety-critical control software that simulates a real-world, automated train network (such as the Paris Metro’s ‘Line 14’).

“I have to manage the scheduling of multiple locomotives, and safely route them through a network of tracks using the Java Model Rail Interface (JMRI),” Benjamin explains. “The safety challenges involve ensuring that no two trains are in the same section at the same time, and that all points are correctly set to ‘open’ or ‘closed’ each time a train enters a new section.”

As part of the project, Benjamin must programme both a handheld controller and a simulator—reflecting the real-life situation for software engineers who must always test their programmes before implementing them. “The handheld controller is a bit different to what you’d find on your average train set—this one has a special interface so that I can plug in my own programme and send instructions to the trains,” Benjamin says. These messages are sent across a voltage line to sensors on the track, which communicate with chips attached to each train.

At the end of the year, Benjamin will evaluate his work and formally present the results with a written report and a series of test runs. “I need to demonstrate a range of complicated scheduling, so I’ll put increasing stress on the network by adding more trains to run simultaneously,” he says. Benjamin will also use his maths background to build mathematical models for the controller to prove that the properties in the programme are correct and safe.

In addition to the project work, Benjamin says he is also improving his ‘soft’ skills such as time management and how to work as part of a team. “My two supervisors and I meet every week to talk things through and bounce ideas off each other. Their feedback is always incredibly useful.”

The idea to use the model railway as the basis for a project came from one of Benjamin’s supervisors, Dr David Pearce, a senior lecturer in the School of Engineering and Computer Science. “Where possible, I like to set projects that have some kind of real-world application, because students are more likely to relate to, and engage with, them.”

David says that the need for safety-critical software will become increasingly important with the rise of the ‘internet of things’. “More and more devices in the home will be built with wifi capability, making them potentially vulnerable to cyber attacks and hacking—unless they feature safety-critical software.”

David says that Victoria has the edge over other universities teaching the same subjects. “We have our own electronics workshop and technicians, which means we’ve got the facilities and skills to carry out any hardware projects or modifications right here on campus.”

Victoria students succeed at Summer of Tech

12 Oct 2015 - 09:45 in Achievement


Victoria University Engineering and Computer Science students won first and second place in the annual ‘Hackfest' run by Summer of Tech, a not-for-profit programme that connects tertiary students with New Zealand technology employers.

Hackfest gives teams of students a chance to step outside the classroom and apply their skills to solve a technical challenge. This year’s brief was to create devices for the home that can be controlled remotely.

A team of third-year Victoria University students called ‘CatFud’ took first place for their innovative automatic cat food dispenser.

Second year Electronic and Computer Systems Engineering student Shaetrun Pathmanathan, whose team ‘Cactus Flowers’ came second with a plant monitoring system, says the event is a great way to apply skills gained during study.

“Hackfest is about having fun while learning about your chosen profession. At university we get into the nitty-gritty of electronics, and these events give you chance to apply that learning, and think about how these devices work in the real world.”

The team had to work through several challenges as it created its product—a device that could make remembering to water plants a thing of the past.

“Our product detects when the soil is too dry, and pumps the right amount of water in from a pre-filled water bottle.

“Evaluating the hardware we had to use was difficult, and we came up with a real 'No. 8' solution to get basic functionality working. After spending a lot of time designing a water valve I realised we could use a fish tank pump instead!”

Shaetrun’s advice to anyone thinking about getting involved in a Hackathon or Summer of Tech is to jump in, and make the most of it.

“I would attend another Summer of Tech event. It’s a great way to learn about what you could do in the future, and get experience working in teams, making friends, and challenging yourself to come up with creative solutions. Some of my team mates were also offered interviews for internships.”

Find out more about Summer of Tech

Student video competition awards creative entries

05 Oct 2015 - 11:20 in Achievement


The School of Engineering and Computer Science recently challenged its students to create short videos showcasing what they like most about studying Engineering through a competition named ‘What Flicks your Switch?’

Students submitted videos covering a wide range of topics, from engineering projects to what it is like to study at Victoria University.

First place winners Henry Williams, Robby Lopez and Michael Pearson showcased the development of the robot they entered into the annual Australasian National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition (NIARC).

Postgraduate student Henry Williams said entering the video competition was a chance to share his enthusiasm for making robots.

“Building stuff is fun, especially robots, and at Victoria we have had the opportunity to make some pretty awesome stuff. We are especially proud of what we have achieved at NIARC each year.”

Second place winner Liam Dennis, who is studying software engineering, was inspired to enter the competition to further his love of film-making. He wanted to show the benefits of students from engineering and computer science working alongside, and incorporating, other disciplines.

“I wanted to show that the greatest joy can often be found at the intersection of fields, where we combine different skills to improve the way we live now and in the future.”

The winning team took home $1000 of electronic equipment while the second place winner received $500 of electronic equipment.

Check out the winning video and the runner-up and keep an eye out for upcoming competitions and events.

Superlens promises new insights

28 Sep 2015 - 11:09 in Research


Observing the real-time interaction of virus particles is one of the many benefits expected from Victoria University of Wellington research into the design of a new far-field superlens, or optical omniscope.

Dr Ciaran Moore from the School of Engineering and Computer Science will be leading the project as the recipient of a $300,000 Marsden Fast-Start grant.

Current superlens microscopes cannot simultaneously resolve both very small and large features, measured in terms of smaller or greater than 1/200th of the width of human hair. Moreover, they can only observe these features in one dimension, resulting in images consisting of parallel lines.

The optical omniscope aims to address both these issues, meaning differently-sized features can be observed together and in two dimensions, allowing for more detailed observations of nanostructures and nanoparticles interacting with their environment.

"The optical lenses we have now can only give us a blurry image of a nanostructure. It's like looking at an object through frosted glass. You can see that something is there, but not the finer detail," says Dr Moore.

"Other techniques with higher resolution are available, but these can damage the nanostructures."

While still in the early stages of development, Dr Moore says the optical omniscope has a number of potential benefits across a range of scientific applications.

"Presently, medical samples have to be extensively treated—usually cut into thin slices then bleached or doped with fluorescent markers—before they can be examined. But the optical omniscope removes the need for pre-treating, which will save time and result in faster diagnoses.

"Pre-treating can also kill medical samples—by eliminating the need to pre-treat, the sample remains live. That means you could take high-resolution images of a living sample and watch organisms develop or change over time, or see what happens to them when they are in contact with toxic material."

Dr Moore says the optical omniscope could also help speed up the manufacture of computer processors. "The wide field of view contains information about both the very small features as well as the larger ones, so you would be able to check a larger section of each microchip more quickly. By being able to manufacture them more quickly, the cost should then come down too."

Dr Moore hopes that the prototype optical omniscope will improve access to high-end microscopy equipment, thereby leading to new discoveries in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

"If we can make this technology better and more accessible, then more is being seen, which could have a significant impact on the rate of scientific discoveries."

Dr Moore has been working with Victoria University's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, where nanoscience research is undertaken.

Marsden Fast-Start grants are administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand and come from a special pool of funds set aside for emerging researchers (up to seven years after the conferment of a PhD).

For more information contact Ciaran Moore on 04-463 5233 x8931 or

Avalon Intermediate technology pilot programme a huge success

22 Sep 2015 - 09:22 in Achievement


It's a few minutes before nine on a Friday morning at Avalon Intermediate School in Lower Hutt. In the school hall, representatives from Victoria University's School of Engineering and Computer Science are adding the finishing touches to three interactive learning stations.

The programme is part of the University's 'Introduction to Technology' pilot at the school. The 10-week activity programme gives students and teachers a taste of technology education two mornings a week and it is hoped it will lead to a sustainable programme that can be used in future years.

Right on nine, the doors burst open and year seven and eight students pour into the hall. They bring with them an excited buzz and enthusiastic chatter. John Barrow, Victoria’s Outreach Coordinator, says, “It's great to see how into it the students are”.

Avalon Intermediate is a decile 2 school where, with a large proportion of Māori and Pasifika students on the roll, the importance of technology education cannot be overstated. Teacher Janine Simpson explains that many of the children do not often venture outside the Hutt Valley.

“The technology in these sessions is the most cutting edge they have ever seen,” she says.

Students have already learned about building powerful paper darts, encryption, including coding and decoding messages, building small, autonomous robots called Bristlebots and making their own interactive apps. They have also had an introduction to Scratch, a programming language for children.

Today's theme is virtual reality and the students are in for a treat.

Station one has been set up to allow the students to try the virtual reality headset known as the 'Oculus Rift'. As students take turns riding a virtual rollercoaster, the sounds of whooping, cheering and laughter echo around the hall.

12-year old Naomi Masson says, “I like how it felt so real, like I was on an actual rollercoaster”.

She was also inspired by learning to create cellphone apps. “I want to try it at home.”

At station two students encounter a new invention called Google Cardboard. It's a simple virtual reality which works by attaching a Smartphone to a cardboard viewfinder. Very soon students are running all over the hall experiencing 'mixed reality', a merging of real and virtual worlds, for the first time.

Station three is just as appealing. Students control an avatar on a screen who copies their moves as they dance, wriggle and star jump. The computer programme is called 'MikuMikuDance' and operates with a simple Xbox 360 sensor. Once again, raucous enthusiasm reigns.

The aim is to engage students at a young age and encourage them to consider tertiary education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is clear many of them are already feeling inspired. Even after the bell goes to signal break, students are crowded around the stations, asking questions, pointing, excited to learn more.

Trace Hohipa, also 12, enjoyed the Scratch programming session the best so far. “I liked it because it felt like I was in my own world”.

Teacher Rose Campbell agrees that the programme has been a huge success.

“It's been amazing for the kids to host the experts from Victoria University and have a taste of different types of technology because these kids are the ones entering a technological world.”

Zombie apocalypse how?

18 Sep 2015 - 11:15 in Research


Ever wondered just how a Zombie attack could play out in your town—or what a Zombie apocalypse might actually look like? By the end of this year, it’s quite probable that student Jacob Duligall will be able to answer those questions, and more. He’s currently developing software that will simulate the spread of Zombie disease through a virtual city, turning everyday (virtual) folk into the flesh-eating un-dead.

“As any good Zombie fan will tell you, Zombie-ism is spread by disease,” says Jacob, a fourth-year student who is studying towards a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours, majoring in Software Engineering. “By building a system that models a Zombie apocalypse, I’ll also be able to create a simplified simulation of how real diseases—such as colds or flu, or even Ebola—are spread.”

Able to choose the direction the project will take, Jacob is focusing on enabling the system to deal with a range of diseases, and allowing users to specify how the Zombies behave—rather than the alternative, making a more accurate model of the virtual city. He will, however, devote some time to adding geographic data by laying real maps over the top of the simulation to enhance user experience. “I’ll be able to pick a person’s home town, wherever it is in the world, and overlay the relevant map to show Zombies invading his or her town or home!”

Using Java to implement the system, Jacob says he is really enjoying the visual simulation aspect of the project as it means working at the front-end of software development. “If I make a change to the code, I can almost instantly see a change to what’s depicted on screen. Working at the back-end of development, on servers and gateways, is usually a less visually responsive exercise.”

At the end of the project, Jacob will look for volunteers to test his simulation program, and he’ll write a report evaluating his findings.

Jacob’s supervisor, Roman Klapaukh, says he wanted Jacob to tackle a real-world problem—the spread of disease—and build a system from scratch, using all the skills he’s learnt during the past three years of study. “When he finishes his project, Jacob will have a fantastic block of work to add to his portfolio that shows future employers just what his capabilities are,” says Roman.

Jacob, who is originally from Havelock North, chose Victoria because of its strong focus on, and good reputation for, Engineering and Computer Science. “One of my favourite subjects in Year 12 was computing. We had to build our own educational game, which I really enjoyed, although I didn’t actually learn to write code until I started at Victoria.”

So what are his career plans when he graduates? “I’m hoping to turn my internship at Snapper into a full-time job,” he says. Jacob is already working part-time at Snapper—a New Zealand contactless payment system—after being introduced to the company through his course work at Victoria.

“When we studied agile development as part of our course work, Snapper’s chief technology officer, Norman Cumerford, was one of our mentors,” Jacob explains. “He ended up offering me and three others the opportunity to join Snapper as interns. I’ve been working on mobile app development there during the holidays (and part time during term time) and I'm really enjoying it. It would be the ultimate for me if I could go straight from university into a job I love!”