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Two blocks from the Georgetown laboratory where Herman Hollerith built his seminal census-tabulating machines for the US government, a team of undergraduates from North Carolina State University recently received $20,000 for its first-place finish in the 1–2 July 2006 IEEE Computer Society International Design Competition world finals event in Washington, D.C. The winning project, SunRay, uses ray-tracing techniques, in combination with a numerical model of solar radiation, to calculate the amount of radiation that falls on a 3D form, such as the human body. Last year's winning team was also fielded by North Carolina State.
The SunRay system is intended as a research tool for calculating, visualizing, and analyzing solar radiation data in specific scenarios. The system uses a validated, open source radiative-transfer model to calculate solar radiation across several specific wavelengths that affect human health. SunRay also makes calculations based on atmospheric and geographic information from a worldwide network of weather stations and pyranometers.
The members of the North Carolina State team—computer science and engineering majors Hunter Davis, Josiah Gore, and Blake Lucas, along with physics major Eric Helms—will share the $20,000 first-place prize. Davis was responsible for the development of the graphical user interface, while Gore was responsible for generating and visualizing output data. Lucas handled the ray-tracing module, and Helms the radiative transfer model.
A team from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, in the school's first top-three finish, received the $12,000 second-place prize for ACES-A1 Coal Mine Enhancing System, a safety-monitoring system for subsurface mines. Politehnica University of Bucharest received the $8,000 third-place prize for its Synairgy, a mobile-device-based air pollution monitor. Bucharest teams placed first in 2002, and second in 2003 and 2004.
CSIDC's goal is to advance excellence in computer science and engineering education around the world by having student teams design and implement computer-based solutions to real-world problems. Teams from China, India, Jordan, Poland, Romania, and the US competed in this year's finals.
The 2006 CSIDC finals drew exceptionally well-executed projects. "The North Carolina team really hit a home run with their application of software engineering principles," said chief judge Susan (Kathy) Land of Northrop Grumman. "Still, the high quality of the other nine projects made deciding the rest of the rankings a very difficult task."
In contrast to many other computer design competitions, CSIDC is the only long-term, project-based challenge open to undergraduates. Student teams that compete in CSIDC spend more than six months preparing for an opportunity to make it to the final round of competition. An overarching theme for the 2006 competition, "Preserving, Protecting, and Enhancing the Environment," guided the entrants, though few other restrictions were imposed. Nearly 150 teams entered the initial phase of CSIDC 2006.
Alan Clements, chair of the CSIDC Executive Committee and a professor at the UK's University of Teesside, credited the participants' sophistication. "I was surprised at the depth of the students' knowledge and maturity in appreciating the way the problem fits into the environment and to understand the need for publicity and marketability," he said. "They even appreciate the need to create promotional materials and produce advertising brochures."
Figure North Carolina State University team members Josiah Gore, Eric Helms, Hunter Davis, and Blake Lucas with CSIDC 2006 chair Alan Clements.
Figure Boston University team member Yaniv Ophir explains elements of SmartTrash to judges Jack Cole and Susan (Kathy) Land.
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 observer Jim Moore of MITRE praised the discipline and focus of the competitors. "The level of professionalism is way up. I'm also very impressed by the ingenuity of these projects," Moore said.
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 the first day of the 2006 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.
The Boston University team, for example, arrived at the finals event bearing a full-sized outdoor trash can outfitted with the sensors and transmitters that comprise the field-deployed elements of their SmartTrash system.
"We had some problems shipping it here, but it's the key component of our system," said Yaniv Ophir of the Boston team. "We couldn't present without it."
Boston's SmartTrash system has already gained commercial interest following a demonstration at a New York parks and recreation trade show.
Said judge Jack Cole, of the US Army Research Laboratory, "There is an impressive amount of professionalism here. The students are charged with enthusiasm, and their presentation materials approach the corporate level."
On the second day of the CSIDC finals, teams gave formal presentations before a panel of judges. Teams typically employ PowerPoint slides, videos, and system simulations to highlight the capabilities of their projects. Public speaking skills also figured into the judges' deliberations, with due consideration given to second-language issues.
"All the teams were highly motivated. These projects represent the best of computer science and software engineering education, so the decision process was not an easy one," said Land, who is also the IEEE Computer Society's vice president for standards activities.
Several others who attended the finals had similar thoughts. "The quality (of this year's projects) is the best I've seen," said Clements. "The students' work is utterly remarkable. It makes a very difficult task for the judges."
Said Deborah Cooper, 2006 IEEE Computer Society president, "We're seeing outstanding entries from all over the world. They are truly all winners."
Judges evaluate entries based not only on their technical merit, but also on their adherence to the year's theme. Entries at CSIDC 2006 were judged on the following criteria:
The judging panel for the CSIDC 2006 finals included panel chair Land, Elizabeth Burd from the University of Durham, Jack Cole of the US Army, Van Eden of Microsoft, Jerry Engel of the University of Connecticut, Shakeel Mahate from IBM, Fernando Maymi of the US Military Academy at West Point, Sharon Morgan of the University of Manchester, Fernando Naveda of the Rochester Institute of Technology, Brian Robinson from ABB, and Christine Schober of Honeywell. Hundreds of other volunteer judges helped review the two rounds of reports submitted earlier in the project year.
On day two of the CSIDC finals, 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 2 July, CSIDC chair Clements announced the winners, culminating with the announcement of first- and second-place winners North Carolina State University and Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, respectively.
"We're learning aspects of the business," remarked North Carolina's Blake Lucas. "We're learning how to communicate effectively, and we're learning about the importance of sound implementation and support."
The Beijing team won second place with ACES-A1 Coal Mine Enhancing System. The ACES system is a wireless ad hoc multihop collaborative sensor network that collects and forwards data from a variety of sensors to a central PC for analysis and storage. The sensors monitor air quality and vibrations, helping to identify high-risk environments. Beijing team members Chenpeng Hu, Xingrui Ji, Wang Lei, and Shi Yi will share the $12,000 cash prize.
Third-place honors went to a team from Politehnica University, Bucharest, for its Synairgy system. Synairgy relies on a small portable device that will warn the user when it detects an abnormally high concentration of an air pollutant. The system can also be linked to a Bluetooth-enabled phone or PDA. Bucharest team members Maximilian Machedon, Iulian Moraru, Bogdan Marius Tudor, and Dan Stefan Tudor will share an $8,000 prize.
Clements presented the seven remaining teams with certificates of honorable mention and team prizes of $4,000. Those teams were (in alphabetical order): Boston University, with SmartTrash; California State University, Long Beach, with Swarm-Cast; India's ICFAI Institute of Science and Technology, with Tsunami Tracking System; China's Nanjing University, with AntiHunter; Poland's Poznan University of Technology, with BirdWatch and IntelliForest; and the University of Jordan, Amman, with AviTrack.
Two $2,000 Microsoft-sponsored prizes were also presented to CSIDC finalist teams. The Microsoft Award for Software Engineering went to the North Carolina State team for a project demonstrating the "best application of good software engineering principles to the design and testing of a prototype." Nanjing University received the Microsoft Multimedia Award, which recognizes the most interesting, innovative, exciting, and appropriate use of multimedia technology in the finalist presentation.
Longtime Bucharest team mentor Nicolae Tapus noted that the teams have sharpened their focus. "The technology is changing. Five years ago, Bluetooth was new. Now every project is using it. They are really thinking about commercial success."
CSIDC organizers intend the competition to provide an opportunity for undergraduate students from around the world to engage in direct competition, underscoring the global nature of the Computer Society's mission. Only three of this year's 10 finalist teams were from the US. For many participants, the journey to Washington was 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.
"This is a great program for the Society," said IEEE Computer Society president-elect Michael Williams. "It really generates enthusiasm for the profession. What's especially exciting is that the international response has been tremendous."
Microsoft provides primary financial support for CSIDC and has committed funding through the 2006 competition year.
Microsoft representative Eden remarked that, "Microsoft supports CSIDC because it reinforces the emerging need for proper software engineering methodology. These projects reflect the best of that."
Sponsorship opportunities remain available at several levels. Contact email@example.com for details.
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 www.computer.org/CSIDC.