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UW researchers develop a way to stream high-def video from low-power devices

Prototype video camera mounted on eyeglasses

Photo credit: Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Video streaming technologies have traditionally had to make trade-offs between portability and power, with high-definition streaming heavily reliant on the latter. Now, thanks to a team of researchers in the University of Washington’s Allen School and Department of Electrical Engineering, the ability to stream high-definition video wirelessly and on the go — without the need for bulky batteries — is in sight. Using a technique called analog video backscatter, the researchers have developed a way to bypass the power-hungry hardware and computational requirements of typical HD video streaming. Their approach reduces the power required to stream HD video by up to 10,000x compared to existing technologies.

Not only does the team’s work create new opportunities for HD video streaming from low-power devices, but as professor Shyam Gollakota, director of the Allen School’s Networks & Mobile Systems Lab, notes, it also defies the prevailing wisdom on the limitations of backscatter technology.

“The fundamental assumption people have made so far is that backscatter can be used only for low-data rate sensors such as temperature sensors,” Gollakota explains in a UW News release. “This work breaks that assumption and shows that backscatter can indeed support even full HD video.”

Typical digital streaming cameras rely on heavy batteries and hardware components for processing and compressing HD video. Devices designed to lighten the load and make streaming more mobile, such as Snap Spectacles, have had to sacrifice quality to achieve the desired portability. Gollakota and his colleagues — Allen School Ph.D. student Mehrdad Hessar, EE Ph.D. alumni Saman Naderiparizi and Vamsi Talla, and Joshua Smith, director of the Sensor Systems Laboratory and Milton and Delia Zeutschel Professor in the Allen School and Electrical Engineering — get around having to make the same compromise by diverting the power-hungry functions from the camera to another device, such as a mobile phone.

Analog video backscatter works by feeding analog pixels directly from the camera’s photodiodes to the backscatter hardware. The system relies on a process called pulse width modulation to convert the pixel information in each frame from analog to digital, generating a series of pulses that vary in duration according to the brightness of each pixel — a concept reminiscent of how the cells of the brain communicate.

Left to right: Shyam Gollakota, Saman Naderiparizi, Mehrdad Hessar, and Joshua Smith

Left to right: Shyam Gollakota, Saman Naderiparizi, Mehrdad Hessar, and Joshua Smith. Not pictured: Vamsi Talla. Dennis Wise/University of Washington

“Neurons are either signaling or they’re not,” says Smith, “so the information is encoded in the timing of their action potentials.”

Smith and his colleagues devised novel compression techniques to reduce the bandwidth and power required to transmit the analog video signal. For intra-frame compression, they employed a method they refer to as zig-zag pixel scanning. Unlike analog television broadcasts that transmit each row of pixels from left to right — a process known as raster scanning — the team’s approach involves scanning pixels from left to right and right to left in alternating rows. This method, which takes advantage of the inherent redundancy in pixel values while decreasing discontinuity, effectively reduces the bandwidth required for wireless transmission.

To achieve greater inter-frame efficiency, the researchers employ a form of distributed compression in which the power-hungry computation is delegated to the reader device. The camera transmits an averaged set of adjacent pixel values — collectively known as a super-pixel — to the reader, which compares the values of the incoming frame with those of the previous frame. If the difference in value of an incoming super-pixel exceeds a predetermined threshold, the reader requests all of the corresponding pixel information. By once again leveraging redundancy, the team’s approach reduces the amount of analog pixel data transmitted between camera and reader.

Using a combination of analog video backscatter and new compression techniques, the team was able to simulate HD streaming at 720p and 1080p while consuming between 1,000 and 10,000x less power than existing systems. In addition to their HD prototype, the researchers built a low-resolution wireless camera system to demonstrate analog video backscatter’s potential for security, smart home systems, and other applications for which operating distance — rather than HD quality — is of paramount importance.

Having proved their concept, the researchers envision a time when cameras will no longer be constrained by their power needs. They provided a sneak preview of this battery-free future by demonstrating how to stream HD video using power harvested from ambient radio frequency signals at distances up to eight feet. The team is working with Jeeva Wireless, a UW spinout that was co-founded by Gollakota, Smith and Talla, to commercialize the technology.

The researchers presented their paper describing analog video backscatter at the 15th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI 2018) earlier this month in Renton, Washington.

Read the UW News release here, and visit the project website here. Check out related coverage in Gizmodo, TechCrunchSilicon RepublicEngadget, Digital Trends, and


April 19, 2018

Allen School and CMU researchers introduce SPRITEs for nonvisual access to graphical website content

Jennifer Mankoff

Jennifer Mankoff

Many web users have become accustomed to navigating page content with the help of spatial and visual cues such as navigation bars, tabs, and icons. But for those who are blind or low-vision, the proliferation of visually rich, graphical user interfaces (GUIs) make it challenging to locate and consume information online — even with the help of a screen reader or braille display. Now, thanks to Allen School professor Jennifer Mankoff and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University, help is literally at hand with new Spatial Region Interaction Techniques (SPRITEs) that leverage a standard piece of equipment – the keyboard – to access interactive elements onscreen.

SPRITEs is a set of tools that to enable non-sighted users to access web content that may be implicitly conveyed to sighted users but is integral to browsing and navigation for all users. Whereas most most websites tend to organize content in accordance with Gestalt psychology principles — for example, grouping similar items in close proximity to each other, or the consistent placement of items in familiar locations — most commercially available screen readers are set up to access only simple page elements such as headers, links, and lists. By combining a screen reader with SPRITEs, however, non-sighted users can quickly and easily access more robust content contained in elements such as menus, tables, and maps.

As Mankoff explains, SPRITEs is designed to supplement, not supplant, screen readers to enhance the user experience and keep up with current trends in website design.

“We’re not trying to replace screen readers, or the things that they do really well,” Mankoff says in a UW News release. “This study demonstrates that we can use the keyboard to bring tangible, structured information back, and the benefits are enormous.”

The aforementioned benefits include a significant improvement in users’ ability to complete online tasks thanks to the way SPRITEs maps the keyboard to various elements of a site. The researchers focused on the corners and edges of the keyboard — with the exception of the function keys, which are reserved for browser-level controls — to make it easy for the user to find the keys that they need. In keeping with their user-centric approach, the team assigned the scrolling function to the right-most column of keys, thus enabling the user to hold onto the edge of the keyboard and easily keep track of which key they pressed last. Once a user finds what they are looking for as the screen reader speaks each object, the user interacts with their target by double-pressing a key.

Certain categories of content — for example, grouped content such as menus and search results, or elements such as tables and maps — are assigned to the numerical row of keys, with those at either end reserved for scrolling. This functionality enables non-sighted users to engage with information that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, for them to access using existing accessibility tools alone.

SPRITEs keyboard illustration

The SPRITEs keyboard layout

The researchers evaluated SPRITEs in a user study involving 10 blind or low-vision individuals experienced with accessibility tools for the web. Participants were asked to complete a set of tasks using their preferred screen reader, and then asked to complete a similar task using SPRITEs. Use of the latter produced a three-fold improvement in task completion rates in five of eight tasks, including those related to navigation, menu interaction, and tables. There was also evidence that, even in this limited study, participants began to develop a mental model of the spatial or hierarchical structure of a page as it related to the keyboard.

With SPRITEs, the researchers have found a way to extend the advantages of Gestalt-driven web design — which sighted individuals tend to take for granted — to an entirely new population of users.

“Rather than having to browse linearly through all the options, our tool lets people learn the structure of the site and then go right there,” Mankoff notes.

Mankoff and her co-authors at CMU — Ph.D. students Rushil Khurana and Elliot Lockerman and recent bachelor’s alumnus Duncan McIsaac — are presenting their paper on SPRITEs at the CHI 2018 conference in Montreal, Canada next week. Mankoff plans to continue refining SPRITEs and building in robust functionality before making it available to the public as part of WebAnywhere, a web-based screen reader developed by Allen School Ph.D. alumnus Jeffrey Bigham, now a faculty member at CMU, and Allen School professor emeritus Richard Ladner.

Read the UW News release here, visit the project web page here.


April 18, 2018

Making your college choice?

Here’s a lovely video created by a University of Washington senior to encourage his kid sister to choose UW over other schools …

April 12, 2018

Husky 100 celebrates Allen School undergraduates for their contributions to the campus community

Four Allen School undergraduates — Amanda Chalfant, Aishwarya Mandyam, Melissa Medsker (Galloway), and Kimberly Ruth — have been selected for the 2018 class of the Husky 100. This annual program recognizes students across the University of Washington’s three campuses who are making the most of their “Husky Experience” and making a positive impact on the UW community both in and out of the classroom.

Amanda Chalfant

Amanda Chalfant is a senior majoring in computer science who will graduate with interdisciplinary honors in June. Throughout her time at the Allen School, she has exhibited a strong commitment to leadership and service, particularly in her mentorship of current and prospective students. Chalfant served as a teaching assistant for the Women in Computing seminar — a role in which she functioned more like a co-instructor, so great was her knowledge and enthusiasm for the class — and more recently, as a peer adviser to her fellow undergraduates. She also has been a passionate advocate for student wellness and diversity as a member of Allen School’s Student Advisory Council and serves as the scholarship chair of Alpha Delta Pi sorority.

In addition to her campus activities, Chalfant has demonstrated her technical excellence through multiple software engineering internships, including stints at Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Following graduation, she plans to join Microsoft full-time as a software engineer working on the Azure team.

“Whether interning at top Silicon Valley companies, taking courses on subjects I love, mentoring students from all backgrounds or planning events for the Allen School on topics I care about most, I have thrived immensely through every challenge and opportunity that has come my way at the UW,” said Chalfant.

Aishwarya Mandyam

Aishwarya Mandyam is a junior majoring in computer science and philosophy who has exemplified UW and Allen School values through her strong leadership and commitment to diversity. She has served her fellow students as an officer of the UW chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery — first as event coordinator, and more recently, as president — and encouraged students to explore technology as a force for good in her capacity as finance director for Dubhacks. She led the development of an Allen School honor code in consultation with faculty, staff, and peers aimed at cultivating a more inclusive, collaborative community, and served as a student ambassador to the Allen School’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

In addition to her service-oriented activities, Mandyam applied her technical expertise to the development of a low-cost neural orthosis, NEOGrasp, which won first place in the Neural Engineering Tech Studio competition organized by the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. Previously, she contributed to the development of the telemetry system for the Washington Hyperloop team and was selected as a TUNE House Scholar.

“I thrive and work my best at the intersection of people and technology,” Mandyam said. “I’m now learning how to apply the skills I learn in class to lead organizations like UW ACM, innovate in biotechnology and build inclusive communities.”

Melissa Medsker (Galloway)

Melissa Medsker (Galloway) is a senior majoring in computer science and human-centered design and engineering who will enter the Allen School’s fifth-year master’s program in the fall. Since she made the switch from pre-med to computer science, Medsker has enthusiastically embraced opportunities to contribute to the Allen School community through both education and research. She has served as a teaching assistant for multiple courses, including introductory Java programming, web programming, computational theory, data structures and parallelism, and the Women in Computing seminar.

Medsker has contributed to improvements in teaching and learning outside of the classroom, including implementation of a new student grading tool and the Practice-It Java learning tool. She also engaged in undergraduate research under the guidance of professor Zachary Tatlock in the Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group, where she focused on the application of programming language tools and techniques to optimize 3D printing as part of the Incarnate project.

“[M]y Husky Experience has been defined by discovery and a growing appreciation of the value of taking risks,” Medsker said. “I look forward to continue this experience in a master’s program, working toward a career in academia where I can pursue teaching while engaging in interdisciplinary research in CS, biochemistry and STEM education.”

Kimberly Ruth

Kimberly Ruth is a junior majoring in computer engineering and mathematics. She got her research career off to an early start working with professors Tadayoshi Kohno and Franziska Roesner in the Allen School’s Security and Privacy Research Lab, where she focuses on privacy and security issues associated with augmented reality. She collaborated with fellow lab member and Ph.D. student Kiron Lebeck on the development of Arya, a new AR system that protects users against buggy or malicious output — a project for which she taught herself the Unity graphics engine and co-authored a paper that appeared at last year’s IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy. She has since taken the lead on a new project focused on security and privacy of multi-user AR platforms and was named a Goldwater Scholar in recognition of her work.

Outside of the lab, Ruth is helping her fellow students to succeed as a peer tutor for the Allen School’s Foundations in Computing course and inspiring the next generation through Go Figure, an initiative she founded to spark middle school students’ interest in math.

“My Husky Experience has been shaped by opportunities in research, tutoring, organizing and mentoring,” said Ruth. “As an undergraduate researcher, I strive to answer questions that have never before been explored.”

Read more about the Husky 100 class of 2018 here, and learn about previous Allen School honorees in 2017 here and 2016 here.

Congratulations to Amanda, Melissa, Aishwarya, and Kimberly — and thank you for your many contributions to the Allen School and UW!


April 10, 2018

National Science Foundation recognizes Allen School graduate students for research excellence

NSF GRFP logoFour Allen School Ph.D. students have been recognized for exceptional research as part of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Each year, the NSF celebrates the most promising student researchers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from across the nation. Allen School students Terra Blevins, Matthew Johnson, Eunice Jun, and Max Willsey helped to carry on the University of Washington’s tradition of excellence in the “Computer and Information Sciences & Engineering” category as part of the 2018 competition.

Terra BlevinsFellowship winner Terra Blevins is a first-year Ph.D. student working with professor Luke Zettlemoyer in the Allen School’s Natural Language Processing group.

Blevins’ most recent project with Zettlemoyer and postdoc Omer Levy explored whether deep recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are capable of learning low-level linguistic features such as syntax when trained on traditional NLP tasks. She and her colleagues investigated four tasks — machine translation, semantic role labeling, dependency parsing, and language modeling — and determined that RNNs are learning syntactic features even in the absence of explicit supervision. Her latest work, which is in its early stages, focuses on multilingual language modeling.

Matthew JohnsonSecond-year Ph.D. student Matthew Johnson, who also won a fellowship, focuses on computer networking research. He is a member of the Allen School’s Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab, where he works with professor Kurtis Heimerl on projects related to the management and security of community-owned cellular networks.

Johnson’s current work aims to address the challenges associated with distributed management and network optimization within the context of community cellular networks. He also contributes to a project exploring the feasibility of crowdsourcing the maintenance and repair of rural cellular infrastructure by engaging members of the affected communities.

Eunice JunFellowship winner Eunice Jun is a second-year Ph.D. student who works in human-computer interaction with Allen School professor Katharina Reinecke. Her research interests span collaborative learning, citizen science, artificial intelligence, and large-scale online experimentation.

Jun’s recent work has focused on gaining a better understanding of the motivation and behavior of participants in online experiments using LabintheWild, a platform for conducting large-scale experiments of user abilities and preferences. Through her research, Jun aims to promote the design of creative learning opportunities for participants while simultaneously supporting researchers in easily collecting novel kinds of data when conducting online experiments.

Max WillseySecond-year Ph.D. student Max Willsey earned an honorable mention for his application of programming language techniques to problems in computer architecture and synthetic biology.

Willsey’s recent work includes Puddle, an open-source operating system for microfluidics developed in collaboration with professor Luis Ceze and members of the Molecular Information Systems Lab. Puddle aims to make laboratory automation cheaper, more reliable, and easier to use. He also works alongside professors Ceze, Rastislav Bodik, and Alvin Cheung as part of the Sampa group applying programming language techniques to the hardware design process.

The Allen School honorees were joined by Hugh Chen of the UW Department of Statistics, who earned a fellowship for his work with Allen School and Department of Genome Sciences professor Su-In Lee on techniques for combining machine learning with big data to improve human health, and Alexander Kale, a Ph.D. student in the Information School.

NSF awarded a total of 122 fellowships and 71 honorable mentions in the “Comp/IS/Eng” category this year. The competition for NSF fellowships is always fierce; more than 12,000 applicants from across the country this year vied for 2,000 fellowships across 11 science and engineering fields. In the past five years, the NSF has recognized a total of 45 Allen School student researchers through its fellowship program.

Read the NSF announcement here and learn more about the program on the GRFP website here.

Way to go, team!


April 9, 2018

Postdoc Laura Pina honored for contributions to student mentorship

Laura PinaLaura Pina, a postdoctoral research associate in the Allen School and Human Centered Design & Engineering, was recognized this week with the 2018 Postdoc Mentoring Award from the University of Washington Graduate School. This annual award honors the vital contributions of postdocs in educating, inspiring, and guiding student researchers.

Pina — who works on human-computer interaction with Allen School professor James Fogarty and HCDE professor and Allen School adjunct faculty member Julie Kientz — was selected from a field of 34 postdocs from five schools and colleges across campus. According to the Graduate School’s Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Pina earned recognition not only for her technical leadership but also her patience and compassion in mentoring aspiring researchers. It credited Pina for setting high standards for her mentees, and for investing her time and attention in helping them to achieve those standards.

“[Pina] works to instill confidence and celebrate successes along their scientific journey,” the office noted in its award announcement. “She is truly a model citizen and someone we know will be [a] successful scientist. She has made UW a better place by supporting undergraduate and graduate students throughout our community.”

Pina’s research focuses on the design and development of technologies that advance human health and wellness. She is particularly interested in promoting family health — including “family informatics,” which encourages parents and children to track their health together — and designing more effective tools for improving sleep quality, tracking personal fitness, diagnosing chronic health conditions, and other issues affecting health and wellness. According to the students and faculty who supported her nomination, Pina’s research is especially noteworthy for tackling problems faced by underrepresented groups that otherwise tend to be ignored. For example, she has explored the barriers that prevent immigrant and low-socioeconomic families struggling with chronic illness from gaining access to digital wellness and other resources.

Pina has mentored 16 students across seven projects that span multiple units on campus. In addition to her work in the lab, Pina serves on the Allen School’s Postdoc Committee and helps broaden participation in computer science and academic research through her work with first-generation graduate students and with Latinx families who need assistance with navigating the college application process.

The review committee also recognized a dozen finalists for the Postdoc Mentoring Award, including Allen School postdocs Yonatan Bisk, who works with professor Yejin Choi in natural language processing, and Nigini Oliveira, who works with professor Katharina Reinecke in human-computer interaction.

Congratulations, Laura!


April 6, 2018

Allen School’s Joseph Redmon wins Google Ph.D. Fellowship

Joseph RedmonJoseph Redmon, a Ph.D. student working with Allen School professor Ali Farhadi on computer vision research, has been named a 2018 Google Ph.D. Fellow. Redmon, who is one of only 39 students across North America, Europe, and the Middle East to be selected for a fellowship, was recognized in the “Machine Perception, Speech Technology and Computer Vision” category for his efforts to develop faster, better, and more useful computer vision tools for real-world applications.

The latest and most powerful computer vision tools typically require significant investments in hardware and training time. In addition to being expensive to implement, new techniques also tend to be fine-tuned for particular tasks; this makes it difficult for users to adapt them to new domains and data sets. Even with sufficient resources, existing tools can take seconds or even minutes to process a single image — rendering them unsatisfactory for many emerging applications, from autonomous vehicles to augmented and virtual reality. Redmon aims to eliminate such barriers to make it more practical for researchers in a variety of domains to employ state-of-the-art computer vision techniques.

One of his most visible projects is YOLO (You Only Look Once), a unified model for fast, accurate object detection in real time. YOLO treats object detection as a single regression problem, applying a single convolutional network to simultaneously predict multiple spatially-separated bounding boxes and associated class probabilities. Using the system, you need only look once at an image before being able to predict what objects are present and where they are located within that image — hence the name. The paper describing YOLO — which Redmon and Farhadi co-authored with former Allen School postdoc Santosh Divvala, now a research scientist at the Allen School for Artificial Intelligence, and Facebook researcher Ross Girshick — earned the OpenCV People’s Choice Award at the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR 2016). Redmon and Farhadi followed that up with an Honorable Mention at CVPR 2017 for YOLO9000, a new version capable of identifying more than 9,000 different object categories in real time. YOLO9000 also introduced a novel multi-scale training method to offer users an easy tradeoff between speed and accuracy.

While an intern at AI2 — and later, spinout company — Redmon worked with Farhadi and research scientists Mohammad Rastegari and Vicente Ordóñez on XNOR-Net, which introduced binary approximations for standard convolutional neural networks to enable fast and efficient object recognition and detection on mobile devices. While CNNs are reliable in their accuracy, their power-hungry, memory-hogging nature means they are only really practical on expensive, GPU-based machines. With XNOR-Net, Redmon and his colleagues were able to reduce the amount of computational resources required for running accurate natural image classification on mobile CPUs and other low-power devices. Prior to his collaboration with AI2, Redmon completed an internship at Google Brain, where he contributed to a state-of-the-art system for real-time robotic grasp detection.

Since 2009, the Google Ph.D. Fellowship program has recognized and supported exceptional graduate students working in core and emerging areas of computer science. Previous Allen School recipients include Tianqi Chen and Arvind Satyanarayan (2016), Aaron Parks and Kyle Rector (2015), and Robert Gens and Vincent Liu (2014).

Read more about the 2018 fellows on the Google Research Blog here.

Congratulations, Joseph — and thanks to Google for generously supporting student research!


April 5, 2018

Allen School students Nelson Liu, Kimberly Ruth, and Andrew Luo recognized in 2018 Goldwater Scholarship competition

Allen School juniors Nelson Liu, Kimberly Ruth, and Andrew Luo have been recognized as part of the 2018 Goldwater Scholarship competition sponsored by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship & Excellence in Education Foundation. The Goldwater Scholarship program is one of the oldest and most prestigious scholarship programs in the nation focused on supporting exceptional undergraduates who aim to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering fields.

Nelson Liu

Scholarship winner Nelson Liu is majoring in computer science, statistics, and linguistics. Since fall 2015, he has worked with professor Noah Smith of the Allen School’s Natural Language Processing group on various research problems in NLP and machine learning. He earned a 2017-2018 Washington Research Foundation Fellowship for his research into the limitations of recurrent neural networks and a 2016-2017 Mary Gates Research Scholarship for his work on building models of sound symbolism in language.

Liu has completed multiple research internships off campus, including stints at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) and the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) at the University of Southern California. While at AI2, Liu earned an “AI3 award” for his outstanding contributions as part of the team working on Project Aristo. Those contributions included his work on deep learning methods for domain adaptation in reading comprehension and the development of the AllenNLP platform. At ISI, Liu worked on low-resource neural machine translation as part of their Natural Language Group. Liu plans to obtain a Ph.D. in computer science and pursue an academic research and teaching career focused on natural language processing and machine learning.

Kimberly RuthKimberly Ruth, who also won a scholarship, is pursuing a double major in computer engineering and mathematics. She works with professors Tadayoshi Kohno and Franziska Roesner in the Allen School’s Security and Privacy Research Lab, where her research focuses on privacy and security of emerging augmented reality platforms. In collaboration with Ph.D. student Kiron Lebeck, she contributed to the prototype for Arya — a system that protects users from buggy or malicious output by augmented reality applications — and helped design and conduct a user study focused on multi-user scenarios with the Microsoft HoloLens. Ruth is now spearheading further work on security and privacy for multi-user augmented reality. She also completed an internship with Google’s security and privacy engineering team.

Ruth previously was named a finalist in the Computing Research Association’s Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards competition and earned both a Mary Gates Research Scholarship and a Washington Research Foundation Fellowship for her work in AR security. Outside of the lab, Ruth works as a teaching assistant for middle and high school students taking online classes in math and Python programming. Ruth plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science on her way to a research career in computer security and privacy.

Andrew LuoAndrew Luo, who earned an honorable mention, is a double-major in computer science and bioengineering. For the past two years, he has worked in the UbiComp Lab with Allen School and Electrical Engineering professor Shwetak Patel and Allen School Ph.D. student Eric Whitmire on the development of machine learning techniques for automatic detection of user errors in spirometry. The goal of his research is to improve diagnosis and monitoring of patients with diminished lung function while expanding availability of testing in low-resource and remote settings by reducing the need for professional supervision. Luo previously worked in Department of Bioengineering professor Ying Zheng’s lab to design, program, and build a 3D printer for producing sacrificial carbohydrate glass lattices for use in vascular biology research. He also completed an internship at the Institute for Systems Biology, where he developed data simulations to aid research in gene set analysis and enrichment techniques. While at the institute, Luo served as a teaching assistant for a workshop on the use of machine learning to characterize cancers based on biomarkers.

Luo previously earned an Emerging Leaders in Engineering Scholarship and a Mary Gates Research Scholarship and completed a software engineering internship at Facebook. He hopes to join an industrial research lab after completing his education and devote his research career to accessible health sensing.

The fourth and final nominee from the University of Washington in this year’s competition, Tyler Valentine of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, earned a scholarship in the Geosciences category. The Goldwater Foundation fielded a total of 1,280 nominations from colleges and universities throughout the United States in 10 fields. In addition to CISE and Geosciences, the foundation supports students in Chemistry, Engineering, Life Sciences, Materials Research, Mathematical Sciences, Medicine, Physics & Astronomy, and Psychology. Since 1989, the program has provided more than 8,100 scholarships totaling $65 million dollars.

Read the Goldwater Foundation’s press release here, full list of 2018 scholarship winners here, and the list of honorable mentions here. Read a related UW News story here.

Congratulations to Nelson, Kimberly, Andrew, and Tyler on their outstanding achievement!


April 3, 2018

University of Washington students win regional cybersecurity competition

Team Hillarious members holding the PRCCDC trophy

Team Hillarious, left to right: Saagar Saini, Brandon Kim, Stephen Bray, Rowan Phipps, Justin Inouye, Melody Kadenko, Xander Lent, Emma Casper, and Nick Huber (Not pictured: Dan Arens, Kayla Butler, Jin Oh, and Julia Houppermans)

A team of University of Washington students captured first place in the 2018 Pacific Rim Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (PRCCDC) last weekend to secure a place at the national championships next month. The multi-disciplinary group from Seattle — known as Team Hillarious* — emerged victorious from two action-packed days of competition designed to test their practical skills, teamwork, and time management against 11 other teams from colleges and universities across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Each year, PRCCDC selects a theme that will test students’ ability to identify and fend off cybersecurity attacks from live opponents while maintaining a simulated network modeled on that of a small company with multiple servers and common internet services. The theme of this year’s competition, which was held at Highline College, was supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Teams attempted to keep their SCADA system and all services running — including responding to incoming customer service requests — while a group of industry professionals playing the role of hacker repeatedly attempted to disable their mail and web servers, database, file sharing, and more. The teams were scored on their ability to detect and respond to these outside threats while balancing security needs with business needs.

SCADA system setup

The members of Team Hillarious include Allen School undergraduates Kayla Butler, Emma Casper, Brandon Kim, Xander Lent, Jin Oh, and Rowan Phipps; Dan Arens of Atmospheric Sciences; Justin Inouye of the Information School; Saagar Saini of Mathematics; and pre-major students Stephen Bray, Julia Houppermans, and Nick Huber. The team is advised by Melody Kadenko, a research program director in the Allen School. They have a brief respite before joining their peers from nine other regions at the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) in Orlando, Florida, on April 13th. This will be UW’s seventh appearance at NCCDC since 2009.

Way to go, team — and good luck at nationals!

*This is not a typo: The UW team got its name at a competition several years ago, when a team of hackers frustrated by our students’ ability to defend against their attacks left the team a note that read, “You think you’re so hillarious, don’t you?” And so the legend of Team Hillarious was born.


March 30, 2018

Allen School faculty and alumni recognized with Google Faculty Research Awards

Research at Google iconEach year, Google invites proposals from faculty at universities around the world as part of its Google Faculty Research Awards program, which supports cutting-edge computer science research in areas of mutual interest. In the company’s most recent competition, five Allen School faculty members — Magdalena Balazinska, Shyam Gollakota, Hannaneh Hajishirzi, Michael Taylor, and Xi Wang — earned awards for their efforts to advance the state of the art in data management, mobile computing, natural language processing, and systems and hardware design. In addition, several members of the Allen School’s extended family received awards, including adjunct faculty member Julie Kientz and collaborator Jason Yip of the UW Information School, and Ph.D. alumni Yoav Artzi and Nicola Dell.


Magdalena Balazinska

Magda BalazinskaMagdalena Balazinska is a member of the Allen School’s Database Group and director of the University of Washington’s eScience Institute. Her research interests include data management for data science, big data systems, and cloud computing. She earned an award in the “Augmented and Virtual Reality” category to support the development of a new system for managing virtual, augmented, and mixed reality data at scale. The goal is to enable powerful new virtual reality video applications by moving beyond existing capabilities in multimedia processing. Specifically, the system provides a declarative query interface coupled with powerful underlying query optimizations. Balazinska’s collaborators on the project include Allen School Ph.D. students Brandon Haynes and Amrita Mazumdar, former postdoc Armin Alaghi, and professors Luis Ceze and Alvin Cheung.


Shyam GollakotaShyam Gollakota

Shyam Gollakota, who leads the Allen School’s Networks & Mobile Systems Lab and received an award in the “Mobile” category, focuses on the development of new capabilities in computer networking, user interfaces, mobile health, and ubiquitous computing. He is particularly interested in the use of backscatter to enable battery-free computation and communication. Gollakota’s research has contributed to the creation of 3D-printed objects that connect to WiFi without electronics, the world’s first battery-free phone, and the development of new “smart” capabilities for a variety of objects and settings, from medical devices and clothing, to agriculture and urban environments.


Hannaneh HajishirziHannaneh Hajishirzi

Hannaneh Hajishirzi, who will be joining the Allen School as an assistant professor this summer, received an award in the “Natural Language Processing” category. Her research aims to address the problem of open-domain question answering using maximum similarity search. Inspired by a combination of log-time document retrieval techniques used by today’s search engines and the emergence of modern end-to-end trainable question-answering systems, Hajishirzi will develop practical, scalable methods for word-level question answering that reduce latency and computational costs compared to existing, more complex pipeline systems. Potential real-world applications for this work include the news media, search engines, and government. Hajishirzi is currently a research assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at UW and adjunct in the Allen School.

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor holds a joint appointment in the Allen School and Department of Electrical Engineering at the UW. He earned an award in the “Systems” category to support his work with the Bespoke Silicon Group. Taylor’s research focuses on rapid hardware design. His team has been researching ASIC Clouds, a new kind of datacenter that uses specialized chips to reduce the energy of the rapidly growing class of planet-scale computations.


Xi WangXi Wang

Xi Wang is a member of the Allen School’s Computer Systems Lab and Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group whose research focuses on building secure and reliable systems. He earned an award in the “Other” category to support his work on the development of provably secure operating systems using formal verification techniques.


Julie Kientz and Jason Yip

Julie KientzJason YipJulie Kientz, a professor in Human-Centered Design & Engineering, and iSchool professor Jason Yip earned awards in the “Human-computer Interaction” category for their work with  HCDE Ph.D. student Kiley Sobel on Inclusive JME, a project exploring the design of cooperative technologies that foster productive joint media engagement (JME) among children with and without disabilities. The team plans to develop a prototype version of YouTube Kids that supports inclusive co-viewing and evaluate its potential as a model for future applications that support cooperation and learning among children of differing abilities and needs.


Yoav ArtziYoav Artzi

Yoav Artzi earned his Ph.D. in 2015 working with Luke Zettlemoyer in the Allen School’s Natural Language Processing group. Now a faculty member at Cornell University, Artzi received an award in the “Natural Language Processing” category. His research aims to advance systems for context-dependent natural language understanding, with a specific interest in learning from situated interactions.


Nicola Dell

Nicola Dell

Nicola Dell, who earned an award in the “Privacy” category, also completed her Ph.D. in 2015. She worked with the late professor Gaetano Borriello and professor Linda Shapiro as a member of the Allen School’s Information & Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab before joining the Cornell University faculty. Her research encompasses human-computer interaction and technologies that address the social, technical, and infrastructure challenges faced by people in low-resource settings.


Google funded a total of 152 projects out of 1,033 proposals received from faculty at more than 300 universities worldwide. The awards provide graduate student support and the opportunity for winning faculty and their students to work directly with Google researchers and engineers. Read Google’s announcement here, and view the complete list of award recipients here.


Congratulations to all of the winners — and thanks to Google for supporting UW research!


March 26, 2018

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