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UW CSE’s Oren Etzioni on all things AI …

oren-1-2-630x418Oren Etzioni – long-time UW CSE faculty member and CEO of Paul G. Allen’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, has become a GeekWire regular on all things AI.

Most recently, Oren on Georgia Tech’s surreptitious replacement of human teaching assistants with IBM’s Watson. (Can TA unionization be far behind at Georgia Tech?)

In April, Oren on the future of robots and humanity. (No sense in piddling around with small topics.)

A few days before that, Oren on the AI utopia he envisions. (Presumably it includes robot TAs …)

May 15, 2016

UW CSE’s Supasorn Suwajanakorn collects GeekWire Innovation of the Year Award

Supasorn Suwajanakorn onstagePh.D. student Supasorn Suwajanakorn of UW CSE’s GRAIL group took home the coveted Innovation of the Year Award at GeekWire’s annual awards bash—a.k.a. “the Oscars of Northwest tech.” He collected the award, which was voted on by members of the local tech community, for his work with with professors Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman and Steve Seitz on What Makes Tom Hanks Look Like Tom Hanks?, which combines 3-D face reconstruction, tracking, alignment, and multi-texture modeling to create a digital persona from photos mined from the internet.

Suwajanakorn took home the Madrona Prize at UW CSE’s annual Industry Affiliates meeting last October. Learn more about the project, and its potential applications in augmented and virtual reality, in a previous blog post here.

Way to go, Supasorn, Ira and Steve! And thanks to all those who voted for UW CSE! Check out the complete list of GeekWire Award winners here.

May 13, 2016

UW CSE/HCDE student Kaitlyn Zhou elected to ASUW

Kaitlyn ZhouKaitlyn Zhou, a sophomore majoring in computer science and human-centered design and engineering, has been elected to the board of directors of the Associated Student of the University of Washington (ASUW). The ASUW represents UW Seattle undergraduates and their interests through programming, services and advocacy and has a budget of roughly $1 million.

Zhou, who was elected the new director of university affairs, ran on a student-centered platform focused on accessibility, affordability and translating student priorities into administrative action. She is particularly interested in addressing rising student debt; expanding representation of commuter, transfer and non-traditional students in ASUW; and ensuring students’ voices are heard on critical issues such as campus safety and mental health.

This is the latest in a string of service and leadership roles for Zhou. She has served in the ASUW student senate for the past two years. She is also a member of the Provost Advisory Committee, which advocates for student priorities in budgeting, as well as the speaker selection manager for TEDxUofW.

Zhou is also active in research, co-authoring a paper examining rumor and uncertainty on social media that was featured at the recent CHI 2016 conference.

Read about the ASUW election results in the UW Daily article, and learn more about Zhou and her platform here.

Congratulations, Kaitlyn!

May 13, 2016

UW CSE’s Rajalakshmi Nandakumar wins CoMotion Graduate Innovator Award

Rajalakshmi NandakumarUW CSE Ph.D. student Rajalakshmi Nandakumar has been recognized with the 2016 CoMotion Graduate Innovator Award. The award, which was announced during the College of Engineering Awards ceremony yesterday, honors a graduate student or postdoctoral researcher “who best demonstrates creative problem-solving on the road to moving innovative ideas to real-world impact.”

Nandakumar works with CSE professor Shyam Gollakota in the Networks & Mobile Systems Lab on the development of applications in mobile health and human-computer interaction. According to Gollakota, “Rajalakshmi is amazing—she is single-handedly leading our efforts in acoustic-based sensing.”

Those efforts include ApneaApp, which turns a smartphone into an active sonar system for contactless diagnosis of sleep apnea, and FingerIO, a novel finger-tracking system that enables users to interact with smartphones and smartwatches by gesturing on any nearby surface.

“Rajalakshmi is a driving force behind getting ApneaApp out of the lab and into the hands of consumers,” said Deborah Alterman, the CoMotion technology manager who nominated Nandakumar for the award. “After completing the initial research and publications, she wrote a complex real-time data viewer so that industry partners could see the full promise of this technology and spent countless hours working on industry evaluation and testing.

“Rajalakshmi excels at both technical creativity and dedication to maximizing the societal impact of her work.”

Congratulations, Rajalakshmi!

May 13, 2016

UW CSE’s Aleesha Wiest recognized with College of Engineering Staff Award

Aleesha WiestAleesha Wiest, a program operations specialist with UW CSE, was recognized today with a UW College of Engineering Professional Staff Award. Each year, the College honors faculty, students and staff who go above and beyond—be it through teaching, research, or, in Wiest’s case, their vital work behind the scenes that makes faculty, students and fellow staff members look good.

When Wiest joined UW CSE in 2013, she managed administrative projects and budgets for the UW-hosted Intel Science and Technology Center for Pervasive Computing (ISTC-PC) and five UW CSE faculty. One of those faculty members, Ed Lazowska, was in the process of expanding the eScience Institute—at the time, a relatively modest operation with a $600K budget. During Wiest’s tenure, the Institute expanded into a $24M+ operation, with 10 research scientists and an Executive Committee of nine faculty members representing eight UW departments. Eventually, it had no choice but to hire its own grants manager, which enabled Wiest to focus her energies on providing top-notch administrative and grants support to no fewer than nine individual CSE faculty members, plus continuing to support the ISTC-PC with its 10 UW faculty members from various departments and nearly two dozen postdocs, students and staff.

The College’s criteria for nominees includes excellent customer service, resourcefulness, innovation and creativity, and promoting positive morale. Wiest ticks all of those boxes and more. The College asks for two or three letters in support; six faculty and staff wrote in favor of Wiest’s nomination.

As one professor put it: “Aleesha manages to create the illusion that each of these individuals and organizations is her entire focus. No matter what I ask her to do—no matter how little or how big, no matter how straightforward or how complex and ill-defined, no matter how many times I change my mind about what I need on short notice for a site visit or an annual report—she produces it in record time with total accuracy.”

Another wrote, “Aleesha is handling duties typically assigned to multiple people, and she’s doing a wonderful job on each of them. What makes Aleesha so special is that she makes every person feel like there’s nobody else she is supporting, and we continue to wonder how she manages all of these jobs with enthusiasm and a continuous smile on her face.”

Congratulations, Aleesha, on this well-deserved recognition—and thank you for all that you do for us!

May 12, 2016

UW researchers transform a piece of paper into a smart interface with PaperID

A multiple-choice poll using PaperIDResearchers in the University of Washington’s UbiComp Lab have devised a way to turn a piece of paper into an interactive interface. PaperID—which was developed by UW CSE Ph.D. student Hanchuan Li, EE Ph.D. student Josh Fromm, and CSE and EE professor Shwetak Patel in collaboration with colleagues at Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University—leverages inexpensive RFID sensors to integrate real-world items into the Internet of Things.

From the UW News release:

“Researchers from the University of Washington, Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University have created ways to give a piece of paper sensing capabilities that allows it to respond to gesture commands and connect to the digital world. The method relies on small radio frequency (RFID) tags that are stuck on, printed or drawn onto the paper to create interactive, lightweight interfaces that can do anything from controlling music using a paper baton, to live polling in a classroom.

“‘Paper is our inspiration for this technology,’ said lead author Hanchuan Li…’A piece of paper is still by far one of the most ubiquitous mediums. If RFID tags can make interfaces as simple, flexible and cheap as paper, it makes good sense to deploy those tags anywhere.'”

A woman conducts music with a PaperID wandEach RFID tag has a unique identification that can be picked out by a reader device. With PaperID, a person disrupts the signal between tag and reader by touching, swiping or another interaction. Algorithms capable of recognizing specific movements then interpret the resulting signal interruption as a command, such as switching on a light or selecting the answer to a multiple-choice question.  The system can also track a tagged object’s velocity to enable gesture-based sensing and control, like waving a wand in mid-air.

“‘These little tags, by applying our signal processing and machine learning algorithms, can be turned into a multi-gesture sensor,’ Li said. ‘Our research is pushing the boundaries of using commodity hardware to do something it wasn’t able to do before.'”

The team—which also includes Eric Brockmeyer, Liz Carter and former UW CSE postdoc and EE Ph.D. alum Alanson Sample of Disney Research, and professor Scott Hudson of CMU—will present PaperID tomorrow at the CHI 2016 conference in San Jose, California.

Read the complete UW News release here, and the research paper here. Watch a video demonstration here.

Photo credits: Eric Brockmeyer/Disney Research

May 11, 2016

K-12 Math and Science teachers! Join UW CSE at our CS4HS summer workshop!

CS4HS participants

Teachers who attend our summer CS4HS workshop give it high marks

Registration is now open for UW CSE’s popular CS4HS professional development workshop for educators to be held July 6-8 on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus.

CS4HS is designed for teachers who have no previous computer science knowledge or programming experience. Aimed at middle and high school math and science teachers, CS4HS offers three action-packed days of insights and best practices that empower educators to incorporate computational thinking into their teaching and inspire their students’ curiosity about this rapidly expanding field.

Workshop participants learn computational problem solving and acquire the vocabulary to share these concepts in the classroom. They also gain an understanding of the relationship between computer science and other disciplines and how to convey the field’s impact on people and communities in a way that engages and excites students.

Don’t take our word for it, though—check out the testimonials from past CS4HS participants:

“I was super impressed with the caliber of speakers and information…This was a ‘class act’ in every way. Even the food was impressive!”

CS4HS participants in one of CSE's labs

CS4HS participants visit one of UW CSE’s research labs

“As a high school Math teacher I was curious and excited to learn how this workshop on Computer Science might prove useful in my class. In the end, I can say absolutely that this workshop changed my teaching.”

“This was the most fun I’ve had in a professional development, EVER!”

Educators earn 20 clock hours from the Washington Science Teachers Association for attending the workshop. That, plus a continental breakfast and lunch each day, a welcome reception on the evening of the opening day, parking or transit reimbursement, and dorm accommodation for out-of-town participants, is included in the $50 registration fee.

CS4HS is a joint undertaking between UW CSE, Carnegie Mellon University, and Tim Bell’s CS Unplugged. Since 2007, nearly 500 Washington educators have completed the workshop in order to incorporate computer science into their classrooms. Teachers interested in attending CS4HS this summer can learn more and register here.

May 10, 2016

UW CSE robot hand teaches itself to manipulate objects

Emo Todorov, Vikash Kumar, Sergey Levine

Left to right: Emo Todorov, Vikash Kumar, and Sergey Levine

Researchers in UW’s Movement Control Laboratory have built a dexterous robot hand that learns from experience, enabling it not only to perform tasks that are typically challenging for robots, but also improve its performance without human intervention. In contrast to a typical robotics application in which each individual movement must be programmed, the autonomous learning system developed by CSE Ph.D. student Vikash Kumar, CSE and Applied Mathematics professor Emo Todorov, and CSE professor Sergey Levine enables the robot to refine its movements as it practices a task.

From the UW News release:

“‘Hand manipulation is one of the hardest problems that roboticists have to solve,’ said lead author Vikash Kumar…’A lot of robots today have pretty capable arms but the hand is as simple as a suction cup or maybe a claw or a gripper.’

“By contrast, the UW research team spent years custom building one of the most highly capable five-fingered robot hands in the world. Then they developed an accurate simulation model that enables a computer to analyze movements in real time. In their latest demonstration, they apply the model to the hardware and real-world tasks like rotating an elongated object.

“With each attempt, the robot hand gets progressively more adept at spinning the tube, thanks to machine learning algorithms that help it model both the basic physics involved and plan which actions it should take to achieve the desired result.”

The robot hand used to demonstrate the team’s autonomous learning system was developed in by Kumar, Todorov and UW CSE Ph.D. alum Zhe Xu (now a postdoc at Yale). Levine, a pioneer in the use of deep learning to create neural network controllers for robots, worked on the project while completing his postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley prior to joining the UW CSE faculty this year.

“‘Usually people look at a motion and try to determine what exactly needs to happen —the pinky needs to move that way, so we’ll put some rules in and try it and if something doesn’t work, oh the middle finger moved too much and the pen tilted, so we’ll try another rule,’ said senior author and lab director Emo Todorov…

“‘It’s almost like making an animated film — it looks real but there was an army of animators tweaking it. What we are using is a universal approach that enables the robot to learn from its own movements and requires no tweaking from us.'”

The team will present its findings at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2016) later this month in Stockholm, Sweden. Read the research paper here, and the news release here. Watch a video demonstration here, and check out coverage by Wired, CNN MoneyGizmagGeekWire, Fox News, and ZDNet.

A robot hand that learns by doing? That deserves a high-five!

May 9, 2016

UW CSE celebrates scholarship and fellowship donors

Karanbir Singh

Karanbir Singh thanks donors for supporting UW CSE undergraduates

UW CSE’s Scholarship and Fellowship Donor Recognition Luncheon is an annual tradition and one of our favorite events of the year. On Thursday, we held our 2016 luncheon to honor the individuals, families and organizations whose generosity keeps a CSE education within reach for undergraduate students regardless of means, and also enables us to recruit the most talented graduate students to our research program. With their support, UW CSE’s 29 endowed scholarship funds and 19 endowed fellowship funds are assisting 98 UW CSE undergraduate and graduate students this year to obtain a first-rate education and research experience.

Each year, we invite two recipients—one undergraduate and one graduate—to share their personal stories of how they came to UW CSE and what their scholarship or fellowship has meant to them. At the 2016 luncheon, Karan Singh and Annie Ross shared their stories and offered thanks on behalf of all of the students who have benefited from our donors’ support.

Singh is a third-year undergraduate student and recipient of the Burkhardt Family Endowed Scholarship. He serves as a teaching assistant for CSE’s introductory programming courses and has been accepted into the combined B.S./M.S. program. Singh told of his path from pre-med to computer science, when he was inspired to trade pipettes for programming. He looks forward to putting his computer science education to good use in order to improve education and health care.

Annie Ross

Annie Ross thanks donors for giving student researchers the gift of time

Ross is a first-year Ph.D. student and the holder of the Wilma Bradley Endowed Fellowship. She works with CSE professor James Fogarty and CSE adjunct faculty member Jacob Wobbrock of the iSchool in the area of human-computer interaction. Ross discovered computer science after taking a CS course for the sake of a technical challenge while majoring in film production. She decided to pursue her Ph.D. in human-computer interaction as it gives her an opportunity to combine the creativity and human connection she found in film with her love of math and science.

Ross cited the supportive atmosphere as one of the reasons she chose UW CSE. But it was her fellowship that gave her the freedom to explore research areas that personally interest her which has defined her graduate school experience. Ross closed her remarks by recalling a conversation she had with her benefactor that perfectly illustrates the lasting impact of our donors’ generosity on our students.

“I had the absolute pleasure of having lunch with Ms. Bradley, the donor for my scholarship, earlier this year. Something she said really rang true with me: ‘One of the greatest gifts we can give to one another is time,’” said Ross.

“I’d like to take a moment to thank all of the generous donors who, through your fellowships and scholarships, have given us time to explore our interests and focus on our passions.”

Read about our terrific donors and the students they support in the luncheon program here.

Watch a video here of the remarks by Karan Singh and Annie Ross.

Our heartfelt thanks to all who support UW CSE and our students!

May 6, 2016

UW researchers shine at CHI

CHI 2016 logoUW faculty and students are gearing up for the Association of Computing Machinery’s CHI 2016 conference that begins this weekend in San Jose, California. As the top conference for human-computer interaction research, CHI offers a terrific opportunity to showcase the breadth and depth of the University of Washington’s expertise in HCI and design as well as the strength of our interdisciplinary collaborations. UW CSE professor James Fogarty put together a terrific overview of UW-authored papers featured at this year’s conference for the DUB website—including three Best Paper Awards representing the top one percent of submissions.

Katharina Reinecke

Katharina Reinecke

UW CSE professor Katharina Reinecke co-authored one of the winning papers, Enabling Designers to Foresee Which Colors Users Cannot See, with professors David Flatla of University of Dundee and Christopher Brooks of the University of Michigan. For that project, Reinecke and her fellow researchers collected data through LabintheWild to examine the effect of real-world lighting conditions on people’s ability to differentiate colors in websites and infographics. The team then developed an image-processing tool, ColorCheck, that enables designers to identify color pairings that may pose a problem for some users of digital content.

Of the nine UW-authored papers that earned Honorable Mentions—given to the top five percent of submissions to CHI—five were co-authored by CSE faculty and/or students. The projects deal with an array of HCI-related topics, including accessibility, health sensing, gesture tracking, and virtual reality:

Finexus: Tracking Precise Motions of Multiple Fingertips Using Magnetic Sensing, by UW Electrical Engineering Ph.D. alum Ke-Yu Chen, CSE and EE professor Shwetak Patel, and Sean Keller of Oculus Research, is a system that uses magnets to precisely track finger movements for a more elegant and immersive virtual reality experience (more on Finexus here).

FingerIO: Using Active Sonar for Fine-Grained Finger Tracking, by UW CSE Ph.D. student Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, EE Ph.D. student Vikram Iyer, CSE affiliate faculty member Desney Tan of Microsoft Research, and CSE professor Shyam Gollakota, enables users to interact with smartphones and smartwatches by writing or gesturing on any surface or in mid-air using sonar (more on FingerIO here).

Incloodle: Evaluating an Interactive Application for Young Children with Mixed Abilities, by UW Human Centered Design & Engineering Ph.D. student Kiley Sobel, CSE Ph.D. student Kyle Rector, HCDE graduate student Susan Evans, and HCDE professor and CSE adjunct faculty member Julie Kientz, presents a picture-taking app that advances our understanding of how interactive technology can facilitate inclusive play among children with diverse abilities.

Researcher-Centered Design of Statistics: Why Bayesian Statistics Better Fit the Culture and Incentives of HCI, by UW CSE Ph.D. students Matthew Kay and Greg Nelson, and professor Erik Hekler of Arizona State University, demonstrates how Bayesian methods will lead to a more user-centered approach to statistical analysis in HCI research.

SpiroCall: Measuring Lung Function over a Phone Call, by UW CSE Ph.D. students Mayank Goel and Eric Whitmire, EE Ph.D. students Elliot Saba and Josh Fromm, former high school intern Maia Stiber, UW EE Ph.D. alum Eric Larson (now a professor at Southern Methodist University), CSE and EE professor Shwetak Patel, and the late CSE professor Gaetano Borriello, is a tool for measuring lung function using any phone, anywhere in the world (more on SpiroCall here).

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Several more papers authored by CSE adjunct faculty and friends were designated among the best of CHI—all told, UW authors contributed a total of 39 papers to this year’s conference, representing 10 UW departments or programs and more than two dozen external university and industry partners. See the complete list of UW CHI papers here.

Way to go, team!

May 5, 2016

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