SCS News in Brief

CMU launches undergraduate robotics major

Students pursuing computer science, engineering or other undergraduate degrees at Carnegie Mellon University now have the option to include an additional major in robotics.

The Robotics Institute, which created the first Ph.D. and master's degree programs in robotics, already offers more undergraduate robotics courses than any other university in the world and for the past 12 years has offered an undergraduate minor in robotics. The additional major responds to the growing interest of students in robotics careers, and to demands by employers for more graduates with a deeper understanding of the field.

"Undergraduates already are an important part of the institute, working side by side with our researchers on some of our most exciting projects," says Matt Mason, director of the Robotics Institute. "Providing the option of robotics as an additional major just seems like the natural next step."

Robotics draws heavily from mechanical engineering, computer science and electrical engineering, among other disciplines. Many of the students interested in the additional robotics major will be pursuing conventional undergraduate degrees in those subjects, says Howie Choset, professor of robotics and director of the undergraduate major. But the program is open to students from any department on campus, he says.

"Robotics is inherently multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary," says Choset, who has also overseen the undergraduate minor. "As robotic technology finds applications in areas ranging from the arts to archeology, we anticipate that students from many disciplines will seek to study robotics and ultimately make contributions to robotics."

The curriculum will include instruction on control systems, movement, machine perception, systems engineering and cognition and reasoning. Hands-on courses will focus on designing, building and programming robots.

Students interested in the additional major should plan to apply for the program during the fall semester of their freshman year, though sophomores also are welcome to apply.

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Scott Institute provides home for campus-wide energy innovation

A new building will change the face of CMU's Pittsburgh campus. But the research that will be done inside that building might change the world's energy choices in years to come.

Sherman Scott (E'66) and his wife, Joyce Bowie Scott (A'65), a CMU trustee, joined university President Jared Cohon, CMU Board of Trustees Chair Ray Lane, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and other dignitaries on Sept. 22 to break ground for Scott Hall.

The new building, being constructed above Roberts Drive near Wean Hall and Hamerschlag Hall, will house the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. Mark Kamlet, the university's provost and executive vice president, and Charles McConnell, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, also participated in the celebration.

Named for Sherman Scott's father, the newly created institute is described as a "major research and education initiative" focused on developing new, clean, affordable and sustainable energy sources. Several SCS faculty are expected to play key roles in research at the Scott Institute, a university-wide effort which will pull together work being done across all of CMU's schools and colleges.

"In energy, Carnegie Mellon is one of the world's leaders in smoothly combining technology and policy-focused research," says M. Granger Morgan, the university's Thomas Lord Professor of Engineering and head of the Department of Engineering and Public Policy. "This allows us to avoid abstract policy discussions and focus on creating strategies that give the private energy sector the right incentives to advance secure, reliable and low-environmental impact energy sources," says Morgan, who will serve as director of the Scott Institute.

Sherman Scott is president and founder of Delmar Systems, which provides engineering and anchoring services for offshore oil and gas drilling platforms. "Energy is a precious resource, and Carnegie Mellon's systems approach can create solutions that ensure we produce and use energy more efficiently," he says. "By bringing together experts from a range of disciplines, Carnegie Mellon is the perfect place to help meet the energy challenges of the future."

Support for Scott Hall has also come from John Bertucci (E'63, TPR'65) and his wife, Claire Ruge Bertucci (MM'65); CMU alumnus Jonathan Rothberg (E'85) and his wife, Bonnie Gould Rothberg; and the Eden Hall Foundation.

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HCII's Harrison named to Technology Review 35

A Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute has been named to Technology Review's list of the top 35 innovators under the age of 35.

Chris Harrison's research focuses on finding alternatives to the keyboard-and-mouse technologies people typically use to control computers. Using combinations of sound and vision sensors, Harrison has devised techniques for people to control electronic devices by tapping on tables, walls or even their own skin.

A native of England who grew up in New York City, Harrison has already developed or helped several products that have been commercialized, or which are in the process of coming to market. Those include Lean and Zoom, which adjusts the magnification of a computer monitor based on a person's distance from the screen; Skinput, a method for controlling devices by tapping buttons projected onto a person's own skin; OmniTouch, a Kinect-based system that turns almost any surface into a touchscreen; and Touché, a new sensing technique that Harrison worked on as part of a team at Disney Research, Pittsburgh.

Harrison came to HCII in 2007 after completing his undergraduate and master's degrees at New York University. "My training and my inspiration come from the people that I work with," he says. "The graduate students in our HCI Ph.D. program are the smartest bunch of students in the world. They inspire me every day, and my adviser, Scott Hudson, does the same. It's not an accident that I'm able to create these new technologies. It's the environment that I'm in."

A panel of expert judges selected the TR35 winners from more than 250 nominations. All 35 winners were featured in Technology Review's September-October issue.

"I can't think of a better addition to the TR35 pantheon," says Justine Cassell, director of HCII. She says that Harrison has a "vision" of how interfaces need to change as our computer environment changes, as well as the technical skill to make his ideas work.. "Computing is everywhere these days, but we often find ourselves using new devices the same way we use our old computer," she says.

Harrison joined other TR35 honorees in discussing their achievements during the HYPERLINK ""EmTech MIT 2012 conference at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge Oct. 24-26.

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Five SCS students named 2013 Seibel Scholars

Five graduate students at SCS have been named to the 2013 class of Siebel Scholars by the Siebel Scholars Foundation.

The program recognizes talented students at the world's leading graduate schools of business, bioengineering and computer science who are chosen on the basis of outstanding academic achievement and demonstrated leadership. Each receives a $35,000 award for their final year of study.

  • Sanjiban Choudhury is a master's student in robotics, with plans to pursue a Ph.D. in robotics. A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur, Choudhury is working on the flight and steering mechanisms of autonomous helicopters. Choudhury is passionate about developing robotics research in India, organizing and leading workshops at the grassroots level.
  • Ruta Desai is a master's student in robotics whose research focuses on legged robotics. She is currently working with Robotics Institute professors Chris Atkeson and Hartmut Geyer on developing controls for automated balance recovery in the presence of large disturbances like trips and pushes. Her research is directed toward better design and control for artificial legs and locomotion in humanoid robots.
  • Min Kyung Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Her research focuses on understanding how people make sense of intelligent, personalized systems—including assistive robots, speech based interfaces and "smart homes"—and designing them to improve people's lives. Her dissertation addresses the question of how users can personalize and control autonomous systems.
  • Martina Rau is a doctoral student in HCII and an associate in the Program for Interdisciplinary Education Research. She conducts research on Intelligent Tutoring Systems with a focus on cognitive science theory. In 2009, she received the best student paper award at the 14th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education.
  • Zeyu Zheng is a master's student in the Language Technologies Institute and is researching the area of domain adaptation. This work builds on successful research he began while doing an internship at Microsoft Research Asia during his undergraduate computer science education at Peking University.

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CS doctoral student Zhou awarded Simons fellowship

Yuan Zhou, a doctoral student in the Computer Science Department, has been awarded a Simons Graduate Fellowship in Theoretical Computer Science for his research into approximation algorithms and optimization problems.

Awarded by the New York City-based Simons Foundation, which supports research into mathematics and basic sciences, the fellowship is designed to identify emerging stars in theoretical computer science. The two-year award covers tuition, fees, travel and other expenses.

A 2009 graduate of Tsinghua University, Yuan is co-advised by Venkat Guruswami and Ryan O'Donnell, both associate professors of computer science at CMU. He also publishes work on other topics of theoretical computer science, including analysis of Boolean functions, algebraic dichotomy theory, algorithmic game theory and quantum information theory.

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LTI-spinoff Safaba offers customized translations for specialized users

A customized language translation system developed by a CMU spinoff provides quicker, better translations that incorporate language or phrases unique to a specific business or field.

The new service from Safaba Translation Solutions LLC allows users to generate automatically translated tests that conform to a client's specialized vocabulary. Alon Lavie, a research professor in CMU's Language Technologies Institute and the president and CEO of Safaba, says the software has built-in appeal for companies that market products in many different international markets.

Commercial machine translation programs can garble slogans, idioms and proprietary information. The Safaba service is tweaked to make sure that special messages aren't, quite literally, lost in the translation.

In addition, because the service is optimized for specific clients and domains, it can provide translations twice as fast as conventional methods, says Lavie (CS'93,'96). "Human translators typically produce about 2,500 words per day. With Safaba's machine translation, we can increase that velocity to 5,000 or 6,000 words per day."

Safaba hosts and maintains software on its own servers that clients can access remotely. Its systems already provide translation for 22 languages, with another five languages set for deployment soon.

In the case of marketing materials and other documents requiring human-level quality, translations by Safaba's system can be fine-tuned by human translators. For customer support documentation, the translations provided by Safaba may be of sufficient quality to be distributed in their raw form.

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Clarke, Veloso featured at Turing 100 celebration

Edmund Clarke and Manuela Veloso, professors of computer science, were among the distinguished scientists invited to give talks at a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing.

The Alan Turing Centenary Conference, held June 22 to 24 at the University of Manchester in England, celebrated Turing, one of the most influential computer scientists of all time.

In 2007, Clarke was a recipient of a Turing Award, the highest honor in computer science. He was one of nine Turing laureates who were invited to speak at the conference and is one of four Turing laureates who are current or emeritus faculty at Carnegie Mellon. Clarke's lecture was entitled, "Model Checking and the Curse of Dimensionality."

Veloso recently became president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. At the Manchester conference, she discussed the development of CoBots—the robots that were recently deployed in CMU's Gates and Hillman Centers to guide visitors and deliver packages. Her lecture was entitled "Symbiotic Autonomy: Robots, Humans, and the Web."

Other invited speakers included Vint Cert, Google senior vice president and Turing laureate; David Ferrucci, who led development of IBM's Watson question-answering system; and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.

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Myers, two alumni recognized for 'most influential' paper

A 2002 report co-authored by Brad Myers, professor of human-computer interaction, and two of his students has been named one of the "most influential papers" of that year by the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing.

Honored along with Myers were co-authors John Pane (E'85, CS'94,'02), now a senior scientist at RAND Corp. in Pittsburgh, and Leah B. Miller O'Brien (CS'02), now at GlaxoSmithKline.

Their paper, "Using HCI Techniques to Design a More Usable Programming System," was published in the proceedings of the 2002 IEEE International Conferences on Human-Centric Computing. It described HANDS, a computer programming system for children, designed for maximum usability using lessons from prior research into human-computer interaction. The paper reported that children using HANDS performed at significantly higher levels than children using a program designed along more traditional lines.

The paper has been widely cited since then by HCI researchers. Sharing the award is an article from David Harel and his colleagues at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science that reported on the use of software to model T-cell activation in the human immune system.

The awards were presented at the VL/HCC Symposium in Innsbruck, Austria.
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Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 |