SCS in the News

Reunion marks quarter-century of Andrew

It was the project that turned Carnegie Mellon into the most-wired campus in the world, and on Nov. 6 and 7, the university celebrated the 25th (plus one) anniversary of the Andrew Project with a reunion in Pittsburgh.

"Andrew sort of took everyone by surprise," says Jim Morris, former dean of the School of Computer Science and Carnegie Mellon's Silicon Valley campus. In the early '80s, most computer systems still relied on data terminals linked to central computing facilities. The Andrew Project envisioned an open system that relied on the new personal computers to do most of the processing.

Although other people had tried creating networks of PCs, Morris says, no one had ever done it on such a large scale. "It was on the leading edge of a new computing paradigm," he says. "In some sense, the entire world copied the distributed computer model."

The idea for Andrew sprang from a task force established by former CMU President Richard Cyert, which suggested that the university develop a prototype for a computing environment that could be rolled out on a campus-wide scale. In 1982, Carnegie Mellon and IBM formed the Information Technology Center and set a five-year deadline for creating a distributed computing network providing email, word processing, file sharing and other amenities.

A year later the Andrew Project--named for Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon--was born. By 1986, the Andrew User Interface System had debuted, and within the decade, practically all of the campus' academic, administrative and residential buildings had been wired. Work on "Wireless Andrew" began in 1994, long before the present Wi-Fi standard was adopted.

Many technologies pioneered as part of the Andrew Project inspired commercial software, including the Andrew File System, a secure, scalable, distributed file system that continues to be actively developed and deployed.

Andrew veterans who attended the reunion were welcomed by the reappearance of pink flamingos--a longtime symbol of the Andrew Project--on the top of Cyert Hall (formerly the University Computing Center). The keynote address was delivered by James Gosling (CS'83), a vice president and fellow at Sun Microsystems who's known as the father of the Java programming language.

Gosling was the lead implementer of Andrew's user interface and one of about a dozen speakers who reflected on their experiences. His lecture in the Rashid Auditorium reflected on the history of Java, some of its unusual uses, and future directions for its development--including on mobile devices.

Platzer named to PopSci "Brilliant 10" list

Calling him the "Crash Test Anti-Dummy," Popular Science magazine has named Carnegie Mellon's Andre Platzer to its annual "Brilliant 10" list of the most outstanding young scientists and researchers in the United States.

An assistant professor of computer science, Platzer was cited for his work on verification software that helps prevent accidents is so-called "hybrid" or "cyber-physical" systems--computer applications that have to interact with physical objects in the real world, such as railroads and subway trains, air-traffic control networks and robotic surgery tools.

Platzer developed his method for detecting dangerous errors by applying theories of model-checking pioneered by Edmund Clarke, the university's FORE Systems Professor of Computer Science.

Popular Science compared Platzer's work to seatbelts, antibiotics and fire hoses, saying his research is so vital that "it's hard to imagine how we got along without it."

Platzer, who joined the Computer Science Department in 2008, is among the researchers participating in Carnegie Mellon's new Institute for Computational Modeling and Analysis of Complex Systems. Headed by Clarke, the institute was established this year with part of a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The "Brilliant 10" list, including the profile of Platzer, appears in the November issue of the magazine.

Project explores low-cost electric commuter cars

A research team at the Robotics Institute has converted a 2001 Scion into a low-cost electric commuter vehicle.

It's part of a project called ChargeCar, designed to explore "community-based" approaches to electric vehicle design, conversion and operation, says Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics, co-principal investigator on the effort.

Most electric cars are designed to match the performance of gasoline-powered vehicles, he says. ChargeCar will instead analyze the habits of actual people and then try to develop electric vehicles suited to the needs of the typical urban commuter.

Researchers are also working with Pittsburgh-area auto mechanics to develop local expertise in converting existing autos to electric vehicles, along with a set of recommended conversion "recipes," Nourbakhsh says.

Key to the ChargeCar project is a control system called "smart power management," which uses artificial intelligence to manage the flow of power between the electric car's batteries and a "supercapacitor." Like conventional capacitors, supercapacitors store electrical charges, but they have an unusually high density, and can serve as a buffer between a vehicle's batteries and its electric motors, improving the car's performance and extending battery life, Nourbakhsh says.

The Scion xB will serve as a test bed for developing smart power management techniques, measuring battery lifetimes and refining conversion techniques.
ChargeCar is also gathering commuter data from the public at Researchers will use that data to help them custom-tailor electric car solutions.

The ChargeCar team includes Gregg Podnar, co-principal investigator with Nourbakhsh; research engineer Josh Schapiro; senior research programmer Chris Bartley; project scientist Ben Brown; Intel Labs Pittsburgh senior researcher Jason Campbell; and students Vibhav Sreekanti, Paul Dille and Matt Duescher.

New lab offers better access to open-source software

A new laboratory in the Gates Center for Computer Science will support research and experimentation with free and open-source software.

Jim Whitehurst, president and chief executive officer of Red Hat Inc., joined Carnegie Mellon faculty and staff Nov. 12 for the ribbon cutting at the new Red Hat Computer Laboratory.

The laboratory is actually in two locations--on the third floor next to the R-Bar Café, and on the fifth floor in the Sieworek-Walker Classroom. Together, those locations contain 60 workstations equipped with Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux and will be open 24 hours, seven days a week.

The Red Hat lab replaces a small "Linux Lab" which held only 15 machines. Demands on that lab often outstripped its capacity, says Greg Kesden, SCS director of undergraduate laboratories, and at times four students were lined up to share each workstation.

"We couldn't be happier about our partnership with Red Hat and we are thankful for their generous contribution that will make the computer lab a reality," Kesden said.

Michael Cunningham, executive vice president at Red Hat, called SCS "one of the foremost computer science institutions in the world" and said the company was proud to partner with the university.

Nokia boosts effort to teach literacy in India

A research grant and a supply of 450 cell phones from Nokia will help expand an effort to teach reading and writing skills to students in rural sections of India.

It's an extension of CMU's Mobile and Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies project, known as MILLEE for short. The project is designing educational games that can be played on mobile phones, says Matt Kam, an assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

Cell phones are ubiquitous in the developing world, he says, even in poverty-stricken villages without personal computers or Internet access. For the past six years, Kam and his colleagues have designed games that teach English language skills and which will run on cell phones.

The Nokia donations will allow MILLEE to conduct a controlled study involving 800 children in 40 villages, Kam says. "Our previous, smaller studies have shown that students have significant gains in learning when they use these games," he says.

With a larger, more comprehensive study, Kam says researchers hope to understand how to design and develop phone-based games that could be used by "billions of people" in the developing world.

Collaborators include Maxine Eskenazi, associate teaching professor in CMU's Language Technologies Institute; Leonora Anyango-Kivuva of California University of Pennsylvania; and a group of some 20 graduate students who comprise the backbone of the MILLEE project. Undergraduates at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology in India are contributing to game development.

In addition to the expansion in India, MILLEE is also planning efforts to teach Mandarin in China and English in Kenya. For more information, visit

Robotics grad student wins first QinetiQ fellowship

Daniel Munoz, a first-year Ph.D. student in robotics, is the first recipient of the QinetiQ North America Robotics Fellowship, which will provide him with three years of educational support as well as an internship at the Waltham, Mass., based company.

Munoz, a native of Fargo, N.D., earned a bachelor's degree from Carnegie Mellon in electrical and computer engineering, with a minor in computer science, in 2007.

Candidates for the fellowship included graduate students in all engineering disciplines at the university. A subsidiary of UK-based QinetiQ group, QinetiQ North America's businesses include the former Automatika Inc. and Applied Perception Inc., both spinoffs from the Robotics Institute.

QinetiQ specifically created the fellowship to support CMU students and programs, said William Ribich, president of the company's Technology Solutions Group.
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Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 |