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NC State Team Wins $20,000 First Prize at CSIDC

Pages: pp. 5-8

A student team from North Carolina State University has won $20,000 for its first-place finish in the 2005 IEEE Computer Society International Design Competition. Their winning project, NEAT: Networks for Endangered Animal Tracking, combines GPS technology with wireless sensor networks to produce a system that can track animal movements. The team is the first from the US to take the top honor at CSIDC.


Figure    North Carolina State University team members Ben Noffsinger, Dakota Hawkins, David Coblentz, and Jonathan Lewis, with judge Brian Robinson from ABB.

NC State's NEAT system uses three architectural components: sensor nodes, network nodes, and a base station. Sensor nodes are fitted on animal collars and periodically gather GPS location information. Each sensor node stores data locally until it moves within range of a network node. The stationary network nodes then use radio frequency modules to retrieve the data, storing it until it is downloaded to a base station, which can then forward the information to a personal computer for storage and analysis.

The members of the NC State team, computer science majors David Coblentz, Dakota Hawkins, Jonathan Lewis, and fisheries and wildlife major Ben Noffsinger, will share the $20,000 first-place prize. Noffsinger crafted the ergonomic animal collar used to secure the device to test subjects. Team leader Lewis developed the database and user interface, while Coblentz and Hawkins handled GPS interfacing and network protocols, respectively.

A team from Poznan University of Technology, the home institution of last year's first-place team, received the $15,000 second-place prize with ReadIT, a portable text-to-speech reader for blind people.

Politehnica University of Bucharest received the $10,000 third-place prize for Nomad Positioning System, a user-centric navigation aid that provides route information without using external input. A Politehnica team finished first at CSIDC 2002.


Figure    Yousif Ali (left), and teammate Ghaleb Al-Habian (second from right), of the American University of Sharjah, demonstrate their ABBAS accident simulation system for Sir Syed University team mentor Aleem Alvi and CSIDC observer Sue Clements.

CSIDC's goal is to advance excellence in education by having student teams design and implement computer-based solutions to real-world problems. Teams from China, Columbia, India, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates also competed in this year's finals.

CSIDC 2005

Nearly 200 teams entered the initial phase of CSIDC 2005. An overall theme, "Going Beyond the Boundaries," guided the entrants, though few other restrictions were imposed beyond a $400 spending limit on hardware.

The CSIDC distinguishes itself among many other computer design competitions as being the only long-term, project-based challenge open to undergraduates.

Said CSIDC chair Alan Clements of the University of Teesside in England, "CSIDC is an excellent competition. In fact, it's probably the best computing competition in the world, in terms of scope, depth, and the opportunities it presents to the students."

Underscoring a goal of the competition, to present a typical workplace project scenario to college students, Clements continued, "Student teams function like industry here. We're working to improve the dialogue between university students and faculty and their counterparts in industry."

Each year, competing teams go through three steps to reach the CSIDC finals. First, teams submit initial proposals for judges to review. From that review, judges determine which projects stand a legitimate chance of success. Many teams fail to pass this initial cut.

As the live finals round draws near, the remaining teams submit 20-page reports that provide prospectuses of their projects. A panel of judges then invites the 10 most promising teams to compete at the CSIDC finals.

CSIDC judge Elizabeth Burd of the University of Durham, UK, praised the energy of the competitors. Said Burd, "You feel lots of enthusiasm, lots of interaction. This competition provides a major focus for demonstrating interdisciplinary activity and for promoting group work."

Project Demonstrations

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, precedes an intensive day of scheduled presentations by each team. Winners are announced at an awards dinner on the second night.


On 27 June, the first day of the 2005 CSIDC world finals, teams showcased their projects in displays that featured models, charts, brochures, and demonstrations of both hardware and software. The judges had an opportunity to inspect each project, question the competitors, and evaluate the execution of the prototypes. Several teams handed out pamphlets and press releases promoting their projects.

The Sir Syed University team, for example, produced a four-color brochure that detailed the capabilities and intent of their data glove-based Boltay Haath sign language system. The brochure also included a graphical representation of how the system would function in the field.

Said Suleman Mumtaz Ali, of the Sir Syed team, "A vocally disabled person using sign language is not able to communicate effectively with those who are able to hear. Our system converts Pakistan Sign Language into audible speech, based upon inputs from the data glove. One of the benefits is that there is no need for an interpreter. Also, nonsigners do not need to learn sign language in order to understand the speaker."

However, due to travel and visa complications, Ali was the sole member of the Sir Syed University team to arrive in Washington, DC before the end of the finals, which placed them out of contention for all but an Honorable Mention.


On day two of the CSIDC finals, teams gave formal presentations before a panel of judges. This year Susan K. Land of Northrop Grumman served as chair of the judging panel.

Said Land, who is also the IEEE Computer Society's vice president for standards activities, "All the teams were highly motivated. The decision process was not an easy one."

Competitors at CSIDC reported some of the same sentiments. Said Ben Noffsinger of the North Carolina State team, "It's very exciting, and a little humbling, to be here. These other teams have created some outstanding systems. Still, we're proud, and we hope that our system may eventually be able to do some good."

Judging Criteria

Judges evaluate entries based not only on their technical merit but also on their adherence to the year's theme. Entries at CSIDC 2005 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 thoroughness (15 percent).

Figure    Judges Andy Bernat, Barry Fox, and Shakeel Mahate with Yousif Ali and Ghaleb Al-Habian of the American University of Sharjah team.


Figure    Computer Society President Gerald Engel and CSIDC chair Alan Clements.


Figure    CSIDC lead judge Susan (Kathy) Land.


Figure    CSIDC judges Sharon Morgan and Christine Schober.


Figure    Computer Society President Gerald Engel and Microsoft representative Janie Schwark.


Figure    Maozeng Li of the Beijing University of Technology team and Computer Society Executive Director David Hennage.


Figure    Judge Andy Bernat with Mayur Mudigonda, Ashwin Kumar, Arjun Seetharaman, and Karthik Srinivasan of the SSN College of Engineering and Panimalar Engineering College team.


Figure    Doru Arfire, Catalin Ioana, Marius Muresan, Bogdan Lucaciu, and mentor Nicolae Tapus of the Politehnica University Bucharest team.


Figure    CSIDC chair Alan Clements, Chun Yu, Christopher Hagen, Janice Wong, Andrew Lundberg, and team mentor Zhao Zang of the Iowa State University team.

The judging panel for the CSIDC 2005 finals included panel chair Land, Computing Research Association Executive Director Andy Bernat, Elizabeth Burd from the University of Durham, Barry Fox of the British technology press, Shakeel Mahate from IBM, Sharon Morgan of the University of Manchester, Fernando Naveda of the Rochester Institute of Technology, Christine Schober of Honeywell, Brian Robinson from CSIDC sponsor ABB, and Marnie Salisbury of Mitre. Other volunteer judges helped review the two rounds of reports submitted earlier in the project year.

CSIDC 2005 Results

Following a full day of half-hour presentations, the judges had two hours to decide how to rank the top 10 teams. At the awards dinner on 28 June, CSIDC chair Clements announced the winners, culminating with the announcement that the North Carolina State team had earned first-place honors.

"We haven't seen anything like [this competition] before," remarked North Carolina's Dakota Hawkins. "There are some amazing systems here. So it's a huge honor for us to win."

The second place Poznan University ReadIT system comprises a video camera mounted inside sunglasses, a processing device, a text-to-speech converter, and an earphone. The system extracts text from the video stream and synthesizes it into human-like speech that can be heard via earphone.

Poznan team members Jan Chmiel, Wojciech Switala, Olgierd Stankiewicz, and Marek Tluczek will share a $15,000 cash prize. Teams from Poznan University have often finished in the top 10 at CSIDC, including previous wins in 2004 and 2001.

Third place honors went to a team from Politehnica University, Bucharest, for the Nomad Positioning System. The system computes a traveled path in real time and instantly reports visual mapping information to the user. It can be used either for creating dynamic maps of unknown locations—based solely on the user's movements—or for guided navigation based on existing maps. Politehnica University team members Doru Arfire, Catalin Ioana, Bogdan Lucaciu, and Marius Muresan will share a $10,000 prize.

Clements presented the seven remaining teams with certificates of honorable mention and team prizes of $2,500. Those teams were American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, for ABBAS: Automobile Black Box for Accident Simulation; Beijing University of Technology, China, for Sporting Personal Assistant; Iowa State University, US, for Lost in the Information World: The Janix System; Shanghai JiaoTong University, China, for Currahee Netmeeting System; Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology, Pakistan, for Boltay Haath: Pakistan Sign Language Recognition; SSN College of Engineering and Panimalar Engineering College, India, for VISION: Engineering Solutions for the Visually Challenged; and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia, for ISPI: Intelligent System to Predict Inundations.

Two $3,000 Microsoft-sponsored prizes were also presented to CSIDC finalist teams. The Microsoft Award for Software Engineering went to the American University of Sharjah for a project demonstrating the "best application of good software engineering principles to the design and testing of a prototype." The Microsoft Multimedia Award, which recognizes the most interesting, innovative, exciting, and appropriate use of multimedia technology in the finalist presentation, went to Shanghai JiaoTong University.

International Scope

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 this year's 10 finalist teams, only two were from the US. For many participants, the journey to Washington is their first trip abroad. In addition, many of the competition's finalists had to give oral and written presentations in a language not native to their countries.

Mary Nell Coblentz, an observer from North Carolina State, noted that the teams from other countries "have all done an incredible job. And what makes it really incredible is the language barrier that they had to overcome."

"This is a great program for the Society," said IEEE Computer Society president Gerald Engel. "It really generates enthusiasm for the profession. In 10 years, I'd like to see some of these participants back here as team mentors. In 20 years, I'd like to see one of them replace Alan Clements as chair of CSIDC. In 30 years, I'd like to see one up here as president of the Computer Society."

Committed Supporters

Primary financial support for CSIDC is provided by Microsoft, which has committed funding through the 2006 competition year.

Microsoft representative Janie Schwark remarked, "Microsoft supports CSIDC because it's something we truly believe in. These are some really amazing projects."

Further support for CSIDC 2005 was provided by Zurich-based engineering firm ABB.


The IEEE Computer Society International Design Competition relies on scores 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

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