With a system design that promises to revolutionize safety and rescue protocols in wilderness areas, a team of students from Poland's Poznan University of Technology won the 2004 IEEE Computer Society International Design Competition (CSIDC) in Washington, D.C.
Their "Lifetch" system is a GPS-based unit for hikers or other outdoor enthusiasts to carry into areas beyond the reach of ordinary communications. An on-board RF transceiver periodically transmits to a central monitoring station data on the hiker's position, temperature, acceleration, and light levels. The units would also use ad hoc networking to communicate with one another and the monitoring station.
The members of the Poznan team, Wojciech Jaskowski, Krzysztof Jedrzejek, Bartosz Nyczkowski, and Stanislaw Skowronek, will share the $15,000 first-place team prize. The "Lifetch" project also garnered the $3,000 Microsoft Multimedia Award, which recognizes the most interesting, innovative, exciting, and appropriate use of multimedia.
Teams from Poznan University have finished in the top three at all but one of the CSIDC's past four competitions, including a first-place finish in 2001. Photos of these winning teams are posted on the Poznan campus.
Competition at this year's CSIDC finals was especially tough. Said judge Paul Maj of Edith Cowan University in Australia, "While the Poznan team was really a clear winner, it was very difficult to place the other projects. The quality of the entries was uniformly high."
More than 200 teams entered the initial phase of CSIDC 2004. An overarching theme, "Making the World a Safer Place," guided the entrants, though few other restrictions were imposed beyond a $400 spending limit for hardware.
Unlike other computer design competitions, which focus on software programming or similar tasks that can be completed in a single day, the CSIDC is the only long-term, project-based challenge open to undergraduates. Student teams competing in the CSIDC spend more than six months preparing for the final round of competition.
Said CSIDC chair Alan Clements of the University of Teesside in England, "In the CSIDC, student teams function like industry. This is giving students a chance to show teamwork. In the real world, ideas aren't created and marketed by one person."
CSIDC Chair Alan Clements (left) presents top honors to the team from Poland's Poznan University including mentor Jan Knigt, Wojciech Jaskowski, Krzysztof Jedrzejek, Bartosz Nyczkowski, and Stanislaw Skowronek.
Each year, competing teams go through three steps to reach the CSIDC finals. Shortly after beginning work on their projects, teams submit an interim report for judges to review. Projects not meeting minimum requirements are dropped from further consideration. As the live finals round draws near, teams submit a 20-page report providing a prospectus of their projects. A panel of judges then invites the 10 most promising teams to compete at the CSIDC finals.
Humboldt University team mentor Nikola Milanovic, a past student competitor at CSIDC, discussed how the Computer Society event compares to other student projects in computing. Said Milanovic, "There is another computer programming competition that gives you about five hours to complete an assigned task. This one takes [several] months. At the university, there are no resources for this type of thing. We really get a chance here to learn from our mistakes. There is no other competition like it."
During the two-day world finals event, competitors have two opportunities to present their projects to the judging panel. An informal day of poster displays, including time for interviews and Q&A, preceeds an intensive day of scheduled presentations by each team. Winners are announced at an awards dinner on the second night.
On day one of CSIDC 2004, the finalist teams showcased their projects in displays that featured models, charts, brochures, and demonstrations of both hardware and software. The judges had the opportunity to circulate in small groups, questioning the competitors and informally evaluating the conception and execution of the prototypes. Teams promoted their projects to judges and other observers by handing out pamphlets and press releases.
The Lahore University of Management Sciences, for example, provided promotional materials that described their "SensUS Structure Security System" as being a "one-box solution to ... safety and security concerns" in high-rise steel-framed structures. The system consists of a wireless network of sensors that track the structural health of a building. Team member Tashfeen Suleman noted that, "it's a bit complex here, but when it goes to market, it will be packaged to be more appealing." One goal of the CSIDC is for teams to produce prototypes with commercial development in mind.
The Iowa State team produced a four-color brochure that briefly detailed the capabilities and intent of their "Spatial Cue" device. The brochure also included a graphical representation of how the system would function in the field. Said Douglas Houghton of the Iowa State team, "The primary focus is urban search and rescue. Our system will let you put the message where you need it, when you need it."
On day two of the CSIDC finals, teams gave formal presentations before a panel of judges. This year Major Fernando Maymi, who teaches software engineering at the US Military Academy at West Point, served as chair of the judging panel.
Said Maymi, who has been involved with the CSIDC for three years, "The quality of the teams' efforts continues to improve. I was pleased last year. But this year, I am floored! The competition is getting tougher every year.
"Not only is it getting tougher, but the diversity is increasing. There are more countries involved, and the projects are becoming unique," Maymi continued. "Some have come with strong industry support, and others have been very good at scrounging. If they don't have what they need, they'll find a clever way to do it."
Competitors at CSIDC reported some of the same sentiments. Said Kirill Orlov of the University of Virginia team, "If we found that something we wanted to do was outside the spending limit, we tried to find a way to approximate that functionality with inexpensive, off-the-shelf technology."
Orlov, whose team contributed a water quality monitoring system called "The Polluter Must Pay," also commented on how real-world applicability played a central role in their development strategy. "If something would be too expensive for developing countries," he stated, that would contradict the competition's goal of creating devices that provide a benefit to society.
Judges evaluate entries based not only on their technical merit but also on their fidelity to the year's theme. Entries at CSIDC 2004 were judged on the basis of the following criteria:
• originality, innovation, and social usefulness of the project (30 percent);
• system specifications, algorithms, and implementation, including the design and construction of any tools that were developed in the course of the project (20 percent);
• achieving the design objective, including compensating for any known limitations (20 percent);
• creativity and ingenuity in the design and implementation (15 percent); and
• usability, manufacturability, marketability, and maintainability, including validation testing, performance measurements and evaluations, and their thoroughness (15 percent).
The judging panel for the CSIDC 2004 finals included judging panel chair Fernando Maymi, the US Military Academy at West Point; Andy Bernat, the Computing Research Association; Elizabeth Burd, the UK's University of Durham; Bob Cook, Georgia Southern University; Simon Ellis, Intel; Ann Gates. the University of Texas; Robert Graham, Toshiba; Shakeel Mahate, CSIDC sponsor ABB; Paul Maj, Australia's Edith Cowan University; Mike Lutz, the Rochester Institute of Technology; and Marnie Salisbury of MITRE. Other judges served as reviewers of the reports submitted at two points earlier in the project year.
Judges Paul Maj, Mike Lutz, Ann Gates, and Simon Ellis; Lahore team.
2005 Computer Society president Gerald Engel; Georgia Southern University's Bob Cook.
Lead judge Fernando Maymi; Microsoft's Janie Schwark
CSIDC Chair Alan Clements, of the University of Teesside.
Instituto Militar de Engenharia team.
Lahore University team.
Parth Thaker, University of Virginia; Judges Shakeel Mahate and Marnie Salisbury.
Politehnica University team with Microsoft's Schwark.
CRA executive director Andy Bernat; Poznan University team.
After a day of watching 35-minute presentations from each team, the judges had only two hours to decide on how to place the top 10 teams. At the awards dinner, CSIDC chair Clements announced that the Poznan University team had taken the first-place honors.
"We're very happy about winning," remarked Poznan presenter Krzysztof Jedrzejek. "The other teams were very competitive."
In second place was Politehnica University of Bucharest, with "eXpress! Help," an emergency locator system intended as an add-on to existing mobile phones. The system would automatically relay the location of a subject to neighboring devices via a low-range Bluetooth module. Map coordinates relayed to rescue services then direct responders to the subject. Bucharest team members Andrei Mihai, Marian Mihailescu, and Monica Toma will share a $10,000 cash prize.
Third place honors went to a team from Iowa State University for "Spatial Cue." This PDA-based system would allow users to place messages in three-dimensional space, based on a series of GPS coordinates. When a user enters the proximity of these coordinates, a visual or auditory cue would be transmitted to his or her PDA. Applications could include warning messages at disaster sites or more prosaic communications like shopping reminders linked to stores.
Iowa State University team members Shahzaib Younis, Douglas Houghton, and Melanie Davis will share a $6,000 prize. The Iowa State team also received the $3,000 Microsoft Software Engineering Award, which recognizes the team whose project exemplifies the best application of proper software engineering principles.
Clements presented the seven remaining teams with certificates of honorable mention and team prizes of $2,000. Those teams were Humboldt University, Germany, for the "Person Loss Avoidance System for Mobile Applications (PLAS.MA);" the Military Institute of Engineering, Brazil, for "Dangerous Load Monitoring Alarm System;" Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan, for "SensUS Structure Security System;" National Taiwan University, Taiwan, for "Adaptable VIsionary System for Earthquake Resolution (ADVISER);" Tribhuvan University, Nepal, for "TremorFlash;" University of Pretoria, South Africa, for "Intelligent Elderly Care (iEC);" and the University of Virginia, for "The Polluter Must Pay."
CSIDC organizers intend the competition to be an opportunity for undergraduate students from around the world to engage in direct competition, underscoring the global nature of the Computer Society's mission. Of the ten finalist teams in Washington, D.C., this year, only two were from the United States. This provided an additional challenge to many of the competition's finalists, who had to give both oral and written presentations of highly technical work in a second language.
"CSIDC is exciting and fun," said IEEE Computer Society 2005 president-elect Gerald Engel. "This is really a flagship event for the Society. It's one of the best things we do, and it generates enthusiasm for the profession. In the end, it's one of the things that makes us want to be volunteers."
Primary financial support for CSIDC is provided by Microsoft, which has committed funding through the 2006 competition year.
According to Ivan Joseph, one of two Microsoft observers at this year's event, his company supports the competition as part of its efforts to reach out to both practicing computer professionals and emerging student leaders.
"This is a 'warm touch' for us," said Joseph, "It allows us to meet one on one with those who are the future of the profession. It's a tribute to the Computer Society and the efforts of its volunteers. Our investment in academia is something that keeps the computing ecosystem healthy by emphasizing a broad set of skills."
Janie Schwark, also from Microsoft, remarked, "Microsoft supports CSIDC because it's something we truly believe in. It's an international platform for raising the profile of the computing profession."
Further support for CSIDC 2004 was provided by the IEEE Foundation and Zurich-based engineering firm ABB.
The annual IEEE Computer Society International Design Competition relies heavily upon the efforts of volunteer judges throughout all stages of the contest. For further information regarding CSIDC, including instructions for entering the contest or volunteering as a judge, visit www.computer.org/CSIDC/.
CSIDC 2004 volunteer judges and organizers (from left to right): Marnie Salisbury, Elizabeth Burd, judging panel chair Fernando Maymi, Simon Ellis, Mike Lutz, Bob Cook, Robert Graham, CSIDC Chair Alan Clements, Paul Maj, Andy Bernat, Ann Gates, Shakeel Mahate, and Microsoft representative Janie Schwark.