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UW startup WiBotic among GeekWire’s 2016 “Seattle 10” hot startups

WiBotic CEO Ben Waters

“From the brick walkways of Pioneer Square to the funky facades of Fremont, there’s a lot of startup action in Seattle.

“So trying to identify the 10 hottest entrepreneurial ventures in the region is no easy task. But that’s what we’ve set out to do with this year’s class of The Seattle 10, which we’re hosting again in partnership with the Museum of History & Industry

“We’re putting our entrepreneurs to work, asking each of The Seattle 10 winners to reproduce their business ideas on giant six-foot by six-foot cocktail napkins that will be unveiled for the first time at the GeekWire Gala on Dec. 7th at MOHAI.”

In 2013, CSE startup SNUPI was among The Seattle 10. In 2014, CSE startup GraphLab was among The Seattle 10. This year, it’s CSE+EE startup WiBotic, out of the Sensor Systems Laboratory of UW CSE+EE professor Joshua Smith. WiBotic provides reliable wireless power to charge aerial, mobile and aquatic robot systems.

Read about all of The Seattle 10 in GeekWire here.

November 16, 2016

Cybercrime-fighters of Batman’s Kitchen cook up a 3rd place finish at CSAW ’16

CSAW '16 Capture the Flag badgeLast week, a team of UW undergraduates known as Batman’s Kitchen became cybersecurity superheroes when they earned third place at the U.S. finals of Capture the Flag at Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW ’16). The CSAW CTF competition, which was hosted by New York University’s Tanton School of Engineering, featured 15 teams battling it out in response to a series of computer security challenges inspired by real-world scenarios that tested their cybercrime-fighting mettle. The New York competition was one of three held simultaneously around the world in what is billed as the largest student-run cybersecurity contest.

The competition, which spanned 36 hours, began Thursday night and ran uninterrupted until late afternoon on Saturday. The grueling schedule meant team members had to take turns sleeping in shifts.

Was it worth it? UW CSE student Alex Kirchhoff, who traveled to Brooklyn to compete as a member of Batman’s Kitchen, says yes.

“CSAW gives us the opportunity to practice computer security skills, meet students from other universities with similar interests, and connect with companies in the field,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by Kirchhoff’s team mates, including fellow CSE major Bo Wang, Physics major Stanley Hsieh, and Atmospheric Sciences major Dan Arens.

“Competing with the best undergraduate teams around the U.S. and Canada is really fun and rewarding,” said Hsieh. Arens was similarly enthusiastic, complimenting the “great teams, challenges, and sponsors” involved in the competition.

After an action-packed weekend of battling cyber-villains, the students are back in classes this week. Three members of the team that went to New York barely have time to reflect on their success before gearing up for their next competition in just a few short days — this time, traveling to Japan.

“I was surprised by how well we did,” said Wang. “Now, I’m hoping for the best for Trend Micro finals this week.”

Wang, Kirchhoff and Hsieh will be joined by pre-engineering student Grayson Sinclair at the Trend Micro CTF competition in Tokyo. The talented members of Batman’s Kitchen are making a habit out of not only representing the UW, but the entire country in these elite cybersecurity competitions.

“This year, Batman’s Kitchen is going global,” said Melody Kadenko, CSE research program director and adviser to Batman’s Kitchen. “We were the only team from a U.S. university to compete at the VolgaCTF finals in Russia earlier this fall, and we will be the only U.S.-based team competing in Japan.”

Batman’s Kitchen is growing in size as well as international visibility. Around 700 current and former students, drawn from the three UW campuses, are involved in meetings and activities. Kadenko selects members to represent Batman’s Kitchen in various competitions from a pool of core CTF enthusiasts who have developed skills in cryptography, forensics, web security and reverse engineering. Going into CSAW, the team ranked 34th out of nearly 11,000 CTF teams worldwide.

Read more about the results of the CSAW CTF here.

Way to go, team — and good luck in Japan!

November 15, 2016

UW CSE earns yet another Best Paper Award at OSDI

osdi-16-logoUW CSE continued our winning ways this week with a Best Paper Award at the 12th USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI ’16). The winning paper, Push-Button Verification of File Systems via Crash Refinement, was co-authored by a team of researchers from UW CSE’s Computer Systems Lab and Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group that includes Ph.D. students Helgi Sigurbjarnarson and James Bornholt, and professors Emina Torlak and Xi Wang.

The paper presents Yggdrasil, an efficient and practical new toolkit that will enable programmers to build reliable storage applications using push-button verification. The toolkit requires no manual annotations or proofs about the implementation code. To define file system correctness, Yggdrasil uses crash refinement, which is amenable to fully automated reasoning with satisfiability modulo theories (SMT) solvers. Yggdrasil offers several techniques to scale up automated verification, including a stack of abstractions and separation of data representations, so that developers can implement file systems in a modular way for verification. Yggdrasil also generates a concrete test case (a counterexample) in instances where it finds a bug in the file system implementation or its consistency invariants.

The team’s Best Paper Award is one of three given out at this year’s conference, which is taking place this week in Savannah, Georgia. It is not the only one with a UW CSE connection: former postdoc Simon Peter, now on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, co-authored one of the other winning papers, Ryoan: A Distributed Sandbox for Untrusted Computation on Secret Data.

With this latest win, UW CSE has completed the trifecta of top systems and networking conferences this year, having also earned Best Paper accolades at NSDI and SIGCOMM.

Go team!

November 3, 2016

Seattle Business explores the region’s – and UW CSE’s – emergence as a high-tech magnet

November 2016 cover of Seattle Business magazineFor its November cover article, Seattle Business magazine examines the factors that contribute to our region’s growing attractiveness to tech companies looking to expand or open new engineering operations outside of their hometowns. The list of firms who have put down roots in and around the Emerald City is a who’s who of fast-growing firms, multi-national powerhouses, and household names, including Airbnb, Alibaba, Facebook, Google, Magic Leap, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Uber. In some cases, the newcomers’ local workforce has grown to hundreds or even thousands of employees — with space for even more.

From the article:

“Eighty satellite offices may not seem like many, given that there are some 12,000 tech firms in Washington state. But the number of branches has grown dramatically in recent years, and they tend to include the world’s most successful companies with astonishingly rapid growth trajectories. More than half of the engineering centers have been established since 2014, according to GeekWire…While they typically start small, many have grown quickly and now play strategic roles for such global giants as Google and Facebook.

“The Seattle tech community, once described as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs because of the overwhelming presence of Microsoft, has gradually become more diversified with the emergence of Amazon and numerous midsize companies like Tableau Software and F5 Networks. The new engineering centers add yet another important source of growth and variety.”

How to explain this astonishing growth? The magazine surveyed economic development, research and industry leaders on what makes our region so enticing. Quality of life (particularly if you like the great outdoors), inexpensive office space, a lower cost of living than the Bay Area — all of these may factor into a company’s decision to open an outpost here.

But the key ingredient in Seattle’s secret sauce, which comes up again and again, is talent — lots of it, according to the article:

“‘We have more software engineers than any city per capita in the nation,’ says Suzanne Dale Estey, CEO of the Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County.

“And even though Silicon Valley is by far the leader in venture capital funding, WTIA CEO Michael Schutzler says, ‘For actual engineering talent, for software development, this is the center of the universe.’

“Yet it’s not just about quantity. University of Washington Computer Science & Engineering Professor Ed Lazowska points out that Seattle area engineers are in the vanguard in a broad range of sectors, from cloud computing and e-commerce to online gaming and virtual reality.

“‘We are, honestly, in a different league,’ says Lazowska. ‘It’s Silicon Valley and Seattle. New York has an extremely vibrant startup culture, but it is much less of a magnet for engineering offices.'”

The article notes that UW CSE has played its part in drawing companies from outside of the region. For example, the magazine recalls the story of then-UW CSE professor Brian Bershad opening Google’s first Seattle office. It also cites the influence of CSE and Electrical Engineering professor Shwetak Patel, whose work on low-power sensing for water and energy monitoring led Belkin International to establish WeMo Labs.

Read the full article here.

November 3, 2016

UW CSE’s Ed Lazowska named to Seattle magazine’s 50th anniversary Hall of Fame

Norm Rice, Patricia Kuhl, Ed Lazowska, Jeff Brotman

UW CSE’s Ed Lazowska (center) with fellow hall of famers (left to right) former Seattle mayor Norm Rice, UW I-LABS co-director Patricia Kuhl, and Costco founder Jeff Brotman. Credit: Hayley Young

“Every city possesses its own, unique spirit — its zeitgeist. It’s what makes a metropolis move, defines its identity and propels it forward. We owe much of ours to our city’s shapers — those leaders, trendsetters and trailblazers who, over the past 50 years, have transformed the town in extraordinary ways…

“The people on these pages — living legends who have made a major contribution during the past five decades — are influential in their own right, but are also just a representative cross section of the many talented visionaries, big thinkers and risk-takers who have shaped our city into the remarkable place it is.”

With that, Seattle magazine introduced its list of the most influential Seattleites of the past 50 years in art, philanthropy, social justice, technology, and more. On that list of movers and shakers who have helped to define our city, which the magazine compiled to mark its 5oth anniversary, is UW CSE’s very own Ed Lazowska. He earns his place in the magazine’s Hall of Fame in the Technology and Business category based on his many contributions as an educator, researcher, volunteer, and advocate.

“His research and teaching of high-performance computing and communications systems, and his service on countless advisory councils and boards helped shape Seattle’s high-tech economy and influence the future of information technology,” noted the magazine.

Lazowska joins Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, the Gates Family, Madrona Venture Group’s Tom Alberg, personalized medicine pioneer Lee Hood, and others credited with helping to transform Seattle into the vibrant center of innovation and economic dynamism that it is today. The magazine is planning a celebration of these luminaries and the city’s past, present and future on November 17 — find event information here.

Lazowska’s inclusion in Seattle magazine’s Hall of Fame is only the latest accolade inspired by his tireless commitment to our department, our university and our region. Last month, Seattle Business magazine named him its 2016 Tech Impact Champion for his achievements and advocacy on behalf of the local tech community.

Congratulations, Ed!

November 2, 2016

UW’s Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman and Eli Shlizerman to timeshare with Facebook

Eli ShlizermanIra Kemelmacher-ShlizermanIra Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, a professor in UW CSE’s GRAIL group, and Eli Shlizerman, a professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, have joined the Research at Facebook team. Facebook’s gain is not UW’s loss, however, as the duo will be splitting their time between the company and campus.

In a welcome post, Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, Facebook’s director of applied machine learning, expressed excitement at what Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, an expert in computer vision and graphics, and Shlizerman, an expert in dynamical networks, will bring to the team.

“Their knowledge will provide new and fun ways for everyone to express themselves,” he said. “We’re excited for them to come onboard.”

One of the projects that caught the company’s eye was Dreambit, a personalized image search engine developed by Kemelmacher-Shlizerman that enables people to explore what they would look like in a variety of styles and situations. The Dreambit system automatically synthesizes the user’s face from an input photo with online search results based on hair style, hair color, age, historical period, country, and more. Given the importance of images to Facebook’s 1.7 billion users, it is not hard to see why the company was eager to tap into the expertise of the program’s creator.

Kemelmacher-Shlizerman said in a post, “We will both continue moving forward [with] our research programs, advise students at UW, and do absolutely awesome projects at Facebook!” At Facebook they will work closely with UW CSE Affiliate Professors Michael Cohen and Rick Szeliski, long-time GRAIL collaborators and founding members of Facebook’s Computational Photography group.

UW CSE’s GRAIL faculty are in high demand these days. Kemelmacher-Shlizerman joins fellow CSE professor Steve Seitz, who splits his time between UW and Google, in bridging academia and industry. Meanwhile, their colleague Ali Farhadi divides his time between UW and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

We are excited to see what this new partnership with Facebook produces. Congratulations, Ira and Eli!

November 1, 2016

When it comes to cybersecurity, UW student team is full of tricks

Ghost in the machineAs National Cyber Security Awareness Month draws to a close, we thought we would treat you to some news on Batman’s Kitchen, UW’s frightfully good team of undergraduate hacking heroes who are preparing once again to battle the virtual bad guys. The team — CSE’s Alex Kirchhoff and Bo Wang, Dan Arens of Atmospheric Sciences, and Stanley Hsieh of Physics — will compete in the finals of the Capture the Flag competition hosted by New York University next month.

CTF is the flagship event of the Cyber Security Awareness Week conference (CSAW ’16), the largest student-run cybersecurity event in the nation. Batman’s Kitchen joins 14 other university teams at the U.S. finals, where they will compete onsite November 10-12 simultaneously with students from around the world gathered at NYU Abu Dhabi and the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. The members of Batman’s Kitchen and their fellow finalists bested a pool of more than 2,000 teams from 109 countries for a chance to compete for the big prize—not to mention some serious cybersecurity bragging rights.

This is the second year in a row that the UW team, which is advised by CSE staffer Melody Kadenko and is currently ranked among the top one percent of CTF teams in the world, has progressed to the finals of CSAW. Based on their achievements to date, it is clear that the members of Batman’s Kitchen have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Good luck at the finals, Alex, Bo, Dan and Stanley!

October 31, 2016

UW CSE and AI2 in the New York Times: “Artificial intelligence at your fingertips”

XNOR diagramThe New York Times published an article over the weekend exploring recent advances in approximate computing in response to a slowdown in Moore’s Law. In the article, UW CSE professor Ali Farhadi, who splits his time between campus and Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, shared the results of work with CSE Ph.D. student Joe Redmon and his AI2 colleagues, Mohammad Rastegari and Vicente Ordóñez, to develop efficient variations of convolutional neural networks for object recognition and detection.

From the article:

“Ali Farhadi holds a puny $5 computer, called a Raspberry Pi, comfortably in his palm and exults that his team of researchers has managed to squeeze into it a powerful program that can recognize thousands of objects.

“Dr. Farhadi…calls his advance ‘artificial intelligence at your fingertips.’ The experimental program could drastically lower the cost of artificial intelligence and improve privacy because you wouldn’t need to share information over the internet.

“But the A.I. system is emblematic of something even more significant for the microelectronics industry as it inches closer to the physical limits of semiconductors made with silicon: It uses 1/32 of the memory and operates 58 times as fast as rival programs.”

The UW CSE-AI2 team’s approximations, Binary-Weight Networks and XNOR-Networks, demand significantly less memory and computational power than standard CNN-based systems but were shown to be highly accurate in natural image classification. Because of this mix of efficiency and accuracy, they could be used to build state-of-the-art recognition systems into portable and wearable devices — which would be a boon for developers of new virtual reality and augmented reality applications. The team revealed its work at the European Conference on Computer Vision (ECCV 2016) in Amsterdam earlier this month.

Read the full article here, and the team’s research paper here. Also see our previous blog coverage of the collaboration between UW CSE and AI2 featuring ImSitu here and GeoS here.

October 31, 2016

UW CSE’s Will Strimling combines a passion for data and politics at FiveThirtyEight

Will Strimling at FiveThirtyEightWill Strimling is a UW CSE undergraduate with a passion for data visualization and politics. This quarter, he has taken a break from hitting the books for an opportunity to work as a Visual Journalism Intern with Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, one of the most influential sites for analysis of the 2016 election. If you are following the race for the Oval Office — and like the proverbial car wreck, who could look away? — you have probably seen some of Will’s charts and interactives.

Kicking off a new feature of the blog in which we interview students with interesting stories to share, we bring you the CSE Undergrad Spotlight, election edition.

CSE: Why did you choose to study computer science?

WS: I believe the invention and application of new technologies is the largest instigator of socio-political change — and because I’m interested in creating things that might have a meaningful impact on society, learning to create technology made sense. Computer science teaches methods for constructing tools through programming, but more importantly provides new lenses and paradigms through which one can reason about the world and solve problems. I think of computer science as the perfect bridge between quantitative methods, engineering, and philosophy — which is a good fit for my interests.

CSE: Why did you decide to intern at FiveThirtyEight?

WS: It allows me the unique opportunity to contribute to important, widely read journalism work during the precarious 2016 presidential election, to learn from some of the best in data visualization, and of course to apply some of what I’ve learned in class and while working on tools in CSE’s Interactive Data Lab.

CSE: What are your responsibilities as an intern?

WS: I help build the larger interactives found on the site for predicting the upcoming election, sports, etc. I also work on static charts for use in everyday articles, and the tools used internally to generate them.

CSE: What is your favorite project you have worked on so far?

WS: One of the charts I created appeared on the Daily Show, which I thought was pretty cool. I really like seeing my work enjoyed, especially when it brings about meaningful discussions.

CSE: How has UW CSE inspired you and helped prepare you for your role at FiveThirtyEight?

The work and achievements of the Interactive Data Lab, where I have helped out a bit over the last year, has definitely had the greatest impact on me and is part of the reason I came to the UW! Professor Jeff Heer‘s Data Visualization class and working in the lab with Ph.D. students Dominik Moritz and Kanit Wongsuphasawat turned me on to new ways of thinking that have continued to have an impact on my studies and my work. This experience inspired me to work on data visualization projects and tools both this summer at Harvard and this fall at FiveThirtyEight — I can’t get enough. I greatly look forward to pursuing this interest further and deepening my involvement with the lab. They have been great teachers and role-models.

Check out some of Will’s work on the FiveThirtyEight blog here, and don’t forget to vote!

October 28, 2016

UW CSE’s Annie Ross excels in ACM Student Research Competition

Annie Ross onstage at the Grace Hopper CelebrationUW CSE Ph.D. student Annie Ross earned second place in the graduate student category of the ACM Student Research Competition at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing last week. In her poster titled “Enhancing the Accessibility of Mobile Apps,” Ross presented research aimed at enabling third parties to repair and enhance accessibility of mobile applications.

While Ross’ work focuses primarily on mobile apps for people who are blind or low-vision, it involves techniques that can be applied more broadly to improve accessibility for a variety of users. Ross undertook the project in collaboration with fellow Ph.D. student Xiaoyi ZhangAnat Caspi of UW CSE’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, CSE professor James Fogarty, and iSchool professor Jacob Wobbrock.

Ross was recognized for her achievement in front of thousands of GHC participants assembled at the Toyota Center arena in Houston, Texas. An estimated 15,000 people attended this year’s conference, which is the largest gathering of women in computing in the world. The ACM Student Research Competition provides an opportunity for students to present original research at ACM-sponsored conferences.

Way to go, Annie!

October 27, 2016

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