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Victoria alumna helps give Google Maps the green light

31 Aug 2016 - 12:41 in Alumni


Victoria University of Wellington alumna Anna Friedlander has gone from being a problem-solving, data-driven computer science student, to one of the 57,000 Google employees delivering search-engine functions people can’t imagine living without.

During study for her undergraduate degree at Victoria, Anna was a finalist for Google’s Anita Borg Scholarship, attending a scholars’ retreat at the Google Sydney office.

“I guess it was this experience that got me on the Google Scholars list, but it wasn’t until the second time that I was contacted by a recruiter that I realised it wasn’t a scam and that Google were interested in me,” says Anna, who completed her Master of Computer Science at Victoria in 2013.

Her Master’s research with the radio astronomy group at Victoria focused on developing new methods to automate the process of finding galaxies in astronomical images.

“Data from radio astronomy has one big similarity with other big data today: there is an almost unimaginable amount.

“Radio telescopes produce exabytes of data on hundreds of millions of objects, so automated methods of detection are absolutely crucial. Current methods find bright objects really well, but aren’t as good for finding faint sources, or those that are spread out”.

An exabyte is one billion gigabytes, or 1018 bytes.

After graduating, Anna was offered a position as a software engineer at Google Sydney where she worked in the Geo Monetisation team experimenting with different advertisement formats to optimise their relevance and usefulness.

In mid-2015 Anna transferred to the Google Zurich office where she began working on the book-a-ride (taxi) mode in Google Maps Mobile, a service allowing users to compare ride service options, a project she describes as the highlight of her career to date.

“It’s amazing to know that people in places as diverse as London, Mumbai, New York, Nairobi, Rio, and Wellington have seen and used a function of the app that I helped to develop”.

While the work Anna is doing at Google may be different to her research at Victoria, she says the skills she learnt during her degree have been invaluable to her career.

“Victoria’s focus on working across disciplines and sharing knowledge from those who have different expertise has set me up to work with people who all have different functions across Google.”

ECS Student Success in Robotics Research

20 Aug 2012 - 09:27 in Alumni


Henry Williams is a 22-year old Victoria student pursuing his PhD and making some great headway in the field of robotics.

His current research involves allowing robots to navigate unfamiliar environments and then create an internal mapping system that can be relayed to other robots. This essentially means the robot learns the most efficient way to get from A to B.

He holds first-class honours in a Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Computer Systems, and received a Summer Research Scholarship and a Victoria PhD scholarship to continue his research into robot mapping systems.

What does his research mean?

The implications of Henry's research are that it may enable robots to share mapping information with each other to help them explore unstructured environments, such as collapsed buildings and potentially assist in rescuing people more quickly in disaster situations. Henry’s love of robots and electronics started young. He was a fan of Transformers, electronics and the movie Short Circuit.

He says his studies at Victoria had been a lot of fun:

“The lecturers are really cool. Everyone’s willing to help. Cool projects always going on and a lot of people to hang out with.” He also enjoys his weekly research group, where students can bounce ideas off each other about their creations, even for home projects. Henry’s supervisor Will Browne said of Henry: “He is a first-class engineering student who is as happy building robots and implementing the latest AI techniques on them as he is playing StarCraft or hockey in a local team.”

Along with his team, Henry is building robots that will compete in the 2012 National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition. Teams will showcase their robots against teams from top universities across Australia and New Zealand. The focus for the competition is ‘obstacle avoidance, object handling and navigation.

A bright future is ahead for Henry.

While at Vic, Henry was paid to go with a group of other students to present his research at conference in Australia about evolutionary intelligence. He also worked on a joint programme with the Queensland University of Technology. “Collaborating with guys in the top of my field was really cool,” he said. He has already been seconded to a top university research group in Australia and will continue designing, building and generating intelligence for state-of-the-art robots.

Henry has some parting advice for students intending on studying electronics or robotics at University.

“If you are interested in robots, study Physics and Maths—it may be boring at times but they are really useful”, he said. “If you can pick up any Electronics, Computing or anything relating to that, just go for it.”

And does he think that we should be worried about robots taking over the world?

“With current techniques of programming, it won’t happen ... but then again, who knows where we will be in 10 years?”

Solving a Moving Problem

11 Dec 2013 - 11:55 in Alumni


Victoria University graduand Ben Drayton has come up with a way to help solve the problem of measuring distance to a moving object.

By developing what his PhD supervisor describes as a “world-first technique”, Ben’s research is enabling an emerging measurement technology, called an indirect time-of-flight camera, to function more effectively.

The 24-year-old student from Wellington, who graduates with his doctorate in Electronic Engineering this week, says there are many situations when distance needs to be measured, such as in forensic scene examinations of car crashes, sail profiles in America’s Cup yachts, architecture, mobile robot navigation, film production, and computer gaming.

“When you are dancing around in front of the screen playing a computer game, this technology is the thing which detects your movements,” he says.

The traditional way of measuring distance is to laser scan a scene, point by point, but this method takes a long time. Others have used two cameras and tried to work out the distances by comparing the two images, which is complex.

Ben’s method is far simpler. “It only needs one camera lens, and all of the processing capacity can be put onto a small board so the entire unit is no larger than a standard camera.”

A time-of-flight camera works out distance based on the speed of light, measuring a light signal between the camera and the subject for each point of the image. However, says Ben, errors often creep in when the target, or the camera is moving.

By carrying out a combination of theoretical and experimental research, Ben came up with a solution to the problem—he found a different algorithm that automatically accounts for objects moving with a constant velocity.

“I did a fair number of computer simulations and theoretical derivations to show how it should work, and had a conveyor-belt that I could move objects along repeatedly so I gathered real data using that to verify it. The algorithm eliminated the error,” he says.

“Ben's new algorithm for range-finding cameras will hugely increase the number of applications these cameras can be used for,” says his PhD supervisor, Professor Dale Carnegie for Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science. “He has determined a world-first technique to overcome a number of these motion problems.”

Ben will graduate at a ceremony at 6pm on Thursday 12 December.

Searched by Google

22 Apr 2013 - 11:05 in Alumni

Skills in software development springboard for success

Michael Mudge thought it could have been a hoax when a Google recruiter contacted him after seeing his profile on the professional networking site LinkedIn, but his suspicions were unfounded. The Victoria University of Wellington computing graduate has taken up a position with Google in San Francisco after being headhunted by the owners of the world’s biggest search engine.

Michael initially studied Engineering at Victoria but switched to Computer Science three years into the four year degree. “Although computing is part of the Bachelor of Science degree, there’s a very close relationship between the Science and Engineering faculties at Victoria, so making the swap was easy.”

He went on to complete an Honours degree in Computer Science and enjoyed being involved in cutting-edge research. His topic was in the area of artificial intelligence where he set out to develop algorithms that would make the process of optimisation to evaluate functions simpler and more efficient.Michael became one of a select group of scholars to achieve First Class Honours in Computer Science.

Regarded as a technical maestro, Michael worked as a web developer and a software engineer for several up-and-coming companies after graduating. When Google came calling, he wasn’t immediately available but the company kept in touch and a rigorous round of interviews began in July last year. It culminated in a visit to San Francisco for five-hour long sessions with Google staff.

“It was challenging—I had to write code in front of them and answer questions about my thought processes and problem-solving techniques.” He passed with flying colours and has joined other new recruits from around the world as a Google software engineer and developer.Michael, who is nearly 25, says working for Google is a dream come true. “They’re the best. For a recent graduate, it’s as good as you can get.”

Michael attributes his success to motivation and going the extra mile. “If you want to be good you have to push yourself to succeed, and not just in one area. When you see high achievers, they are well developed people, excelling across a number of fields.”

Remembering Professor Paul Austin

17 Oct 2012 - 11:31 in Alumni


It was with great sadness that the School of Engineering and Computer Science learned that Professor Paul Austin died in Cambridge, England on Saturday the 13th October, following a long battle with cancer.

Paul joined the Faculty of Engineering part time in 2009 as Professor of Control Systems Engineering, while also holding a part time research post at Cambridge University Engineering Department. Professor John Hine remembers that “Paul’s experience with IPENZ and the accreditation process was invaluable in establishing the BE at Victoria”. He was also a member of the Communications and Signal Processing Group.

Paul obtained his BE (Chem) degree from the University of Canterbury, and his PhD from Cambridge University, England. He held senior academic positions at Auckland and Massey Universities during the late 1970s and 1980s, and was a Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge University. His main area of research was systems modelling and optimal control systems design for multivariable systems.

Paul also held a number of consulting engineering positions in the UK and Europe, and was a Director of a small high-technology company in Cambridge. In New Zealand, he developed and managed a joint research project with Industrial Research Ltd in partnership with CHH Kinleith and the Whakatane Board Mill. His particular interest in industry was the development of control systems to enhance energy efficiency and production, and reduce the use of chemicals. He was well known in the New Zealand engineering community, and will be sadly missed.

ECS Graduate Launches Book on Video Gaming

08 Dec 2011 - 14:08 in Alumni

Like many teenage boys, Pippin Barr spent time playing games in arcades, rented SEGA games, and bought a Playstation when it became available. However, it wasn’t until he embarked on a Phd at Victoria University that he realised he could build a serious career around gaming.

He majored in Philosophy and Computer Science, and encouraged by his academic mentor, he went on to do his PhD research on human values in gameplay, graduating in 2009.

He is now a lecturer at Copenhagen University, where he teaches video-game design and programming, a position he describes as his “dream job”, despite the amount of marking involved.

Dr Barr will be back in Wellington soon to promote his new book “How to Play a Video Game”, which investigates the passion some people have for gaming, and tries to communicate something of it to those are aren’t gaming enthusiasts.

Click on the link below to read a Dominion Post article on Pippin Barr, dated 6th December.

Graduate's innovative software goes worldwide

24 Jul 2013 - 13:58 in Alumni

Victoria University computer science graduate Matthew Duignan, who is now working for Microsoft in Seattle, has helped develop a successful Visual strategic planning and outcomes tool 'DoView'.

DoView helps companies visualise outcomes in strategic planning, management, monitoring and evaluation of tasks and is gaining worldwide appreciation:

Please see their website

Or a recent stuff article

It is great to see our Computer Science (and Software Engineering) degrees help our graduates develop innovative software with worldwide applications.

Congratulations to Mark Paston!

06 Jul 2010 - 15:51 in Alumni

Mark Paston

The All-Whites recently returned from a very successful World-Cup campaign, drawing with Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay to go undefeated. New Zealand soccer was thrust into the limelight when a late equaliser against Slovakia gave them an unexpected draw. This was followed up with an outstanding draw against the reigning world champions, Italy.

One player in particular had a fantastic tournament, including numerous critical saves against Italy. He is Mark Paston, who in 2001 graduated from VUW with a BSc in Computer Science (COMP) and Electronic and Computer Systems (ELCO). Mark was also critical in the qualifying game against Bahrain, playing in Wellington, where he saved a crucial penalty shot.

Staff recall that Mark was a good student during his time at VUW. One of his lecturers commented that "He was playing for Napier City Rovers at the time, and had to miss the odd lab for football training. But, he was definitely the most co-ordinated physics student I've seen!"

The School of Engineering and Computer Science would like to congratulate Mark, and the rest of the All Whites, for a great sporting achievement and to wish them all well in the future.

Australasian demand for ICT jobs

15 Apr 2012 - 17:34 in Alumni

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) released the annual Australian ICT Statistical Compendium, showing strong demand for ICT jobs.

The report is a comprehensive analysis of statistical data about ICT economic and social trends.
  • Value of digital economy in 2011 was $100 billion ICT
  • demand forecasts 14,000 extra jobs in 2012 and up to a total of 35,000 by 2013
  • University ICT annual enrolments down in NSW, VIC, QLD, WA & TAS
Alan Patterson, ACS Chief Executive, said the report confirmed Australia's urgent need for coordinated policy focus on ICT given its value and the demands in the broader economy for skills: "The digital economy contributed a significant $100 billion to Australia in 2011", he said.

"Although ICT demand is increasing even in uncertain economic conditions, the number of domestic students choosing ICT as a career is insufficient to meet demand for skills."

"Australia's Higher ICT education enrolments are under half of what they were a decade ago and are continuing to decline as a percentage of all higher education enrolments. With ICT demand of 35,000 extra jobs by 2013, promoting ICT as a rewarding career needs to be a top priority to ensure our developing digital economy is fully funded, sustained and competitive.

"Given the importance of the digital economy to Australia's economic prosperity, and its added value to business, health, education and other sectors, we hope addressing falls in ICT enrolments will be a key focus of 2012 government agendas.

"The compendium also revealed a drop in skilled ICT migration, suggesting Australia's ICT employment requirements cannot be met easily. To accommodate predicted demand, additional emphasis on local uptake of ICT is required," said Mr Patterson.

Strong ICT job demand is also evident in New Zealand, with 100% graduate employment for our first cohort of Engineers.

A tilt in the right direction

10 Feb 2016 - 09:17 in Alumni


A group of Victoria University of Wellington alumni has developed an interactive gaming system to help take the chore out of physiotherapy exercises.

The system—a lightweight balance training board called ‘Tilt’—allows the user to play games by standing on and tilting the board, while at the same time strengthening their muscles and improving their overall balance.

The developers, including Swibo’s Benjamin Dunn, Lukas Stoecklein, Connor Broad and Zac Bird, formed the idea for Tilt at Victoria’s annual Entrepreneur Bootcamp.

Benjamin holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Victoria, while Connor has also studied here. Zac Bird is also a VUW alumni with a Bachelor of Design Innovation.

“We wanted to make it easier for people to carry out their physiotherapy exercises and recover properly, and we realised playing games can be an incentive,” says Benjamin.

“The system uses any smartphone to connect the board to a computer running the games. The phone can then record the board’s movements and measurements, which are analysed by computer software. This helps physiotherapists and sports trainers track the user’s improvements and provide tailored training as time goes on.”

The system is already used by professional sports trainers and could extend beyond this, says Benjamin.

“A lot of people can benefit from these kinds of exercises, including the elderly, children or those with disabilities. It’s very helpful for preventing injuries before they occur. It’s also for people who just want to be a little bit more active and have fun gaming.”

The current three games— NeoZen, Hexile and Unbearable—see users race their friends in space rockets, solve puzzles in an island adventure or fight back against deadly bears.

The team is already developing more games and hopes to begin bulk manufacturing of the boards through their recently launched Kickstarter campaign.

“We see the potential to make a real difference with Tilt and are excited for people to start using it and seeing its benefits,” says Benjamin.

This year’s Bootcamp teams are preparing for their final pitch event on 24 February. The Bootcamp is run by Victoria University and Viclink, the University’s commercialisation office, in partnership with The BizDojo, Deloitte Private and Chapman Tripp.

“The Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp brought our team together, and the combination of our different backgrounds encourages and facilitates collaboration,” says Benjamin.

“That collaboration is what fuels the creativity you need for entrepreneurship.”

Photo credit: Olivia Pitcher

A Family Affair

14 May 2013 - 16:33 in Alumni


A passion for problem-solving leads brothers to collaborate on study and work

Seeing the interesting assignments his brother was doing for his Engineering degree at Victoria University of Wellington confirmed Alex Quinlivan’s decision to follow the same path. John Quinlivan is a third-year student and Alex is in his first year. Both are majoring in Software Engineering.

“We spent a lot of our childhood mucking about with computers and played our fair share of video games,” says John. “Eventually the passion for ‘how does it work?’ extended into the tertiary education field.”

Alex always knew he’d study computer science or engineering because he was drawn to computing and problem-solving.

“When decision time came, I was swayed by the interesting courses that my brother was taking, as well as some of the assignments, which looked like something I’d be keen on doing. The other drawcard was the sheer number of courses you can choose from for a Software Engineering degree at Vic.”

The first-year Autonomous Vehicle Challenge is one of the assignments that hooks students into Engineering, says Lecturer Dr Will Browne. Students have to make a vehicle using a micro-processing board, a gear box and a motor driver. Sensors are added to improve performance in a competition to see whose invention takes top honours.

The hand-sized vehicles—which range from mini-tank lookalikes to sand buggies and go karts—have to look good, be recyclable and able to complete physical tasks such as weight pulling, a drag race, a slalom and navigating a maze. “The challenge happens at the end of the first trimester so students are thrown in at the deep end, but it’s really popular and a great way to get students engaged in many aspects of engineering,” says Will.

Although Victoria’s Engineering degree is relatively new, having siblings and cousins involved at the same time is increasingly common, says Will. “Once other family members get to see some of the hands-on and fascinating projects Engineering students do, they get inspired to follow in their footsteps. “To recommend a university course to your own whānau is a pretty high recommendation.”

Although the Quinlivan brothers are at different stages of their degree they get to take some classes together. That’s because John was Alex’s tutor in the first trimester. “It was a bit of fun having my younger brother in the tutorial,” says John, while Alex enjoyed a few perks from living in the same house as the teacher. “I could hitch a ride in to the early morning labs that started at a ludicrous time of 9am which meant I didn’t have to get up early and wait for public transport!”

Studying engineering together has also deliver benefits outside of the university. John and Alex have developed applications for Android and iOS systems, along with a corresponding website, and already have projects underway with several small start-up businesses.