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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


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


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 at your earliest convenience.

Further information about Computer Science Unplugged, including resources and texts for teachers, can be found online at

Research to reduce the cost of traffic

16 Jun 2015 - 09:27 in Research


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

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:

Cochlea model reveals inner workings of the ear

18 May 2015 - 21:56 in Research

A model developed at Victoria University of Wellington has helped researchers conduct intricate experiments into the cochlea, which may lead to improved methods of treatment for hearing impairments.

PhD student Mohammad Ayat’s research involved developing a model of the cochlea, a snail-shaped chamber in the human ear, focused on the cochlear microphonic (CM)—an electrical signal generated inside the cochlea in response to sound.

The model—which includes electrical coupling of the cochlea—is the most detailed one-dimensional model developed to date, and allowed Mohammad to predict some characteristics of the cochlear microphonic.

“Some of these characteristics are different from what many researchers thought in the past, and may have clinical significance once further research is done,” says Mohammad.

Mohammad says the cochlear microphonic signal is a potential tool for diagnosing hearing impairments and investigating cochlear function.

“The CM can provide information about the health of particular sections of the cochlea, which may lead to faster and more accurate methods of adjusting the many settings of modern hearing aids to compensate for areas of weakness.

“The cochlea is hard to study because of where it is in the body and the complex processes at work. Modelling allowed us to bridge these gaps and gain useful information.”

Mohammad, who had no previous experience researching the cochlea, says it took him around eight months to learn its functionality.

“It’s a fascinatingly complex organ and there’s still mystery around how it works. Further modelling and signal processing experiments will lead to better methods of diagnosis, and improved methods of treatment for hearing impairments. It may also lead to the development of bionics-inspired speech recognition systems similar to the human cochlea.”

This study was conducted at Victoria University of Wellington, under the supervision of Dr Paul Teal from the School of Engineering and Computer Science and Professor Mark McGuinness from the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research.

Mohammad graduated with a PhD in Electronic and Computer Systems Engineering on Wednesday 13 May 2015.

Research funding awarded

08 May 2015 - 17:24 in Achievement

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Professor Winston Seah, from the School of Engineering and Computer Science, has been awarded a $30,000 grant from InternetNZ to fund a Masters’ project that aims to address a key challenge for businesses dealing with exploding volumes of data.

More than ever before, says Professor Seah, businesses are reliant on data to function efficiently and effectively. As we continue to digitise information and increasingly rely on the internet for our conversations, moving information around, undertaking transactions and more, business are being faced with new problems in how to deal effectively with the data they gather and use.

The project for which Professor Seah has received funding addresses one of these newly emerged challenges—the scalability issues of traffic classification in enterprise network using software defined networking.

Putting it in layman’s terms, Professor Seah says the project is focused on how businesses understand and apply rules about the information they receive to support their businesses goals. For example, how can businesses ensure customer queries are prioritised over spam and that time-critical tasks are prioritised. “It all depends on how accurately the digital information about those transactions can be understood,” says Professor Seah.

This project has potential benefits for New Zealand companies and Professor Seah has already been approached by a New Zealand company which sees significant potential in this research.

First-year engineering project helps Samoan schools get better connected

05 May 2015 - 15:35 in Achievement

A first-year engineering project at Victoria University will see thousands of students in Samoa have faster, more reliable computer networks in the classroom.

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Engineering 101 students learn technical skills while upcycling the University's old network switches

Students from Victoria’s School of Engineering will be cleaning, checking and upgrading about 160 old network switches that are no longer used by the University.

The upcycled network switches would otherwise be sold as scrap metal.

The project is driven by the not-for-profit Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) based at the University of Oregon, which helps institutes like Victoria set up computer networks across 100 developing countries.

Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science Research Associate and NSRC contractor, Dean Pemberton says while the project allows the engineering students to gain hands-on technical experience in the classroom, the real benefit will be seen in Samoan tertiary institutes.

“A lot of the network switches in Samoa are completely unmanageable. These network switches, once cleaned up, will be faster and allow students to have a more reliable internet connection. They will also enable researchers at those universities to better collaborate with colleagues overseas,“ Dean says.

The Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship

03 Apr 2015 - 00:25 in Event

The Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship is open for applications with a deadline of 27th May 2015.

Anita Borg believed that technology affects all aspects of our economic, political, social and personal lives. In her life she fought tirelessly to ensure that technology’s impact would be a positive one. It was this vision that inspired Anita in 1997 to found the Institute for Women and Technology. Today this organization continues on her legacy and bears her name, The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

Dr. Anita Borg proposed the "50/50 by 2020" initiative, an effort to increase the percentage of women among graduates earning computing degrees to 50% by the year 2020. However, the percentage of Computer Science degrees earned by women is still far from 50% throughout the world.

Through the Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for Asia Pacific, Google aims to encourage women to excel in computing and technology, and become active role models and leaders in these fields.

To be eligible to apply, applicants must:

  • Be a female student enrolled in undergraduate or postgraduate study in the 2016 academic year.
  • Be enrolled in a university in Asia Pacific. Citizens, permanent residents, and international students are eligible to apply.
  • Be majoring in computer science, computer engineering, or a closely related technical field.
  • Exemplify leadership and demonstrate passion for increasing the involvement of women in computer science.

For more information and application details please go to: