Jonah Siekmann and Yesh GodseA research paper on robotics authored by computer science researchers at Oregon State University was recently named one of the top four out of more than 2,000 accepted submissions at a prestigious conference.

Students Jonah Siekmann and Yesh Godse presented their research findings at the 2021 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. In their paper, “Sim-to-Real Learning of All Common Bipedal Gaits via Periodic Reward Composition,” they report on their work using simulations to teach two-legged robots how to run, skip, and hop.

The paper is co-authored with Alan Fern, professor and associate head of research in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Jonathan Hurst, professor of mechanical engineering and robotics.

Traditionally, researchers have tried to train bipedal robots to move by first creating a “reference trajectory,” which tells the robot at each moment where its joints and velocities should be. This approach, however, doesn’t work particularly well since it is difficult to figure out the reference trajectories, and it doesn’t take into account the uneven surfaces the robot needs to deal with.

Instead, the researchers’ new approach trains the robot in simulation, and rewards the robot when it is accomplishing the goal, and gives negative rewards when it is not.

“We use an approach that simply specifies constraints on the foot forces and velocities which allows us to specify the different types of gaits and smoothly move between them,” Fern said. “This worked much better than we ever expected.”

Siekmann, a master’s degree student in robotics who earned an honors bachelor’s degree in computer science from Oregon State in 2020, provided some additional insights.

“We were trying to train a neural network to learn various bipedal behaviors from scratch without any kind of motion capture or reference to what those behaviors looked like,” Siekmann explained. “To do this, we used deep reinforcement learning that allows a neural network to maximize a reward function.”

Added Godse, “It turned out that there was a simple mathematical framework for describing the full spectrum of all bipedal gaits and their corresponding reward/cost functions.”

Godse graduated in just three years with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Oregon State in spring 2021 and began working on robotics research as a freshman.

Both Siekmann and Godse are now working as controls engineers at Agility Robotics, the company co-founded by Hurst that develops the robots used in Oregon State’s Dynamic Robotics Lab.

Kai Zeng, a computer science graduate student in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, brought home first place in the Lucid Programming Competition. Zeng competed among 260 participants from across the western United States in the hackathon. The outer space-themed challenge required contestants to solve 12 mathematic and algorithm problems such as Six Degrees of Neil Armstrong and Antimatter Annihilation.

Although he hadn’t done any algorithmic problem solving for a while, Zeng decided to enter the contest just to brush up on those skills. “I think algorithm skills should be exercised regularly,” he said. “I plan to participate in more programming competitions in the future to continue to improve my thinking and coding abilities.”

Zeng is a master’s degree student with a research focus on distributed systems and machine learning, advised by Associate Professor Lizhong Chen.

“Zeng’s excellent programming skills have helped his research significantly,” said Chen.

Photo of Jacob Cook.

Jacob Cook is the definition of an overachiever. This spring he had the rare distinction of graduating with not one but two honors bachelor’s degrees from the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, in bioengineering and electrical and computer engineering, as well as a minor in computer science.

“Successful completion of a dual degree requires unparalleled dedication and discipline to meet requirements for both programs,” said Matthew Johnston, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Cook’s achievements were recognized with the Burgess/Tektronix Award, given each year by the College of Engineering to a senior who has demonstrated exceptional participation in activities beyond academic performance. 

In addition to excelling in two challenging academic programs, Cook also completed a MECOP internship, participated in research for two different labs, served as both an undergraduate learning assistant and a resident assistant, and was an active community member.

“Jacob’s dedication and productive contributions to multiple hands-on research programs is remarkable, and it speaks to his future potential for contributions to the industry,” Johnston said.

Although he put in a huge amount of work on his own, Cook says he was lucky to have had tremendous support from his family. 

“Both my parents are computer engineers who taught me great perseverance and an intense work ethic,” he said. “They raised me to do my best and encouraged me to go to college. Likewise, my grandfather was a businessman who taught me the importance of leadership and interpersonal skills for success. I cannot imagine where I would be without my family, and I wouldn’t have received this award without their help.”

The Burgess/Tektronix Award was initiated in 1990 to honor Fred Burgess, past dean of the College of Engineering. Cook received a plaque and a check for $500 and will be recognized at the fall College of Engineering Celebrate Excellence event in the fall.

Eta Kappa Nu at Oregon State University is an honor society for electrical and computer engineering majors through IEEE. At the end of each school year, the club recognizes two students with awards. This year winners were Yeojin Kim for the Robert Short TA of the Year award, and Noah Koontz for the Sophomore of the Year award.

Robert Short TA of the Year: Yeojin Kim

Photo of Yeojin Kim.

Yeojin Kim was born and grew up in Seoul, South Korea. She went to college at Sogang University where she completed a double undergraduate degree in computer science and engineering, and mathematics. She also worked as an intern for Naver, a South Korean web search engine, and as a software engineer for Qualcomm in Korea. She has served as a mentor for the Institute of International Education’s program Women Enhancing Technology to help female undergraduates studying in STEM fields.

“It is a great honor to receive this award. Sharing things I’ve learned with others during TA activities was one of the most pleasing moments,” Kim said.

Sophomore of the Year: Noah Koontz

Photo of Noah Koontz.

Noah Koontz has been fascinated with the fusion of hardware and software from an early age. In middle school he got his first Arduino and attempted to build an open-source laser tag system with it.

“I’ve been a maker ever since,” he said.

At Oregon State, he has been working at the Open Sensing Lab, which has allowed him to apply his passion and skills to solve real-world problems in agriculture — building internet-connected devices for farmers and researchers to monitor their crops.

“I will continue to seize opportunities to work with embedded systems and solve real-world problems, hopefully having fun along the way,” Koontz said.

Photo of Laurel Hopkins

Laurel Hopkins was awarded the Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology fellowship to support her doctoral research to improve species distribution models. The models link environmental variables to species occurrences and are useful tools for science and conservation.

Hopkins, a graduate student of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State, was inspired by a class project in which she was modeling butterfly occurrences. She realized she could improve species distribution models using deep learning methods to analyze satellite images.

“Deep learning methods are incredibly powerful in extracting semantic information from images, meaning these techniques are well suited to analyze remotely sensed data,” she said.

She will use a large dataset of NASA Landsat images to train deep networks which, based on preliminary results, she expects will produce habitat summaries that are more descriptive than traditional methods, and lead to more informative species distribution models.

 Hopkins will publicly share the image library and deep network architectures so other researchers can use them to advance ecological research.

The award is for $135,000 to support her research under the guidance of Rebecca Hutchinson, assistant professor of computer science, and of fisheries and wildlife.

“I am thrilled to be working towards better understanding how we can limit our footprint and help support biodiversity,” Hopkins said. “It is phenomenal to get this support from NASA because it means that they understand the need and importance of this area of work.”

Travis Whitehead

Guest post by Travis Whitehead

Working at the Open Source Lab has been the highlight of my computer science experience at Oregon State University. It was just by chance that I came across a job listing for the OSL. I had never heard of the organization, and it certainly was not a factor in my decision to pursue computer science at Oregon State University.

I’d been running Linux as my primary operating system since high school, and over time I found myself becoming more and more deeply invested in the ideological underpinnings of FOSS (Free Open-Source Software). I appreciated the transparency of FOSS, and the benefits available through free licenses that allow anyone to use the software, change how it works, repurpose it, and distribute it.

Despite my strong interest in free software, I never imagined myself in the position of getting paid to contribute to open source. At the OSL I learned valuable skills and gained work experience, but the biggest thing to me was that I was able to do work that was ethical and important.

In a world shaped by a for-profit economy, our interaction with software and intellectual property is exclusive. If users cannot afford to pay for software, they are excluded access to the software or must access it illegally. Or worse, we become the products ourselves, subjected to all kinds of data collection and surveillance in exchange for access to services. The Open Source Lab offered me the opportunity to support open-source software projects, ultimately allowing me to contribute to The Commons, and better the world that we live in. It’s been very fulfilling for me to know that our projects create solutions that anybody and everybody may use.

Ethics aside, the work itself has provided me many opportunities to learn things that I couldn’t in the classroom. Experience with configuration management and automation tooling reshaped how I manage my personal systems at home. And I worked in a real datacenter! Tinkering with powerful hardware in a real production environment is way cooler than any academic project.

Looking forward, I hope that the Open Source Lab continues to grow and expand so that more students may have these same opportunities. The OSL is truly one of a kind, and I feel really thankful to have been able to work with the lab for the past several years.

Excitingly, this is my last term at Oregon State. I’ll be going on to work with Tag1 Consulting, where I will continue to tackle exciting infrastructure challenges and contribute back to the open-source community whenever I can.

Photo of scholarship recipients
Scholarship recipients at the Grace Hopper Celebration: (left to right) Elisabeth Mansfield, Stephanie Hughes, Sharlena Luyen, Sumegha Aryal, Clair Cahill, and Kaitlin Hill.

Attending the world’s largest gathering of women technologists was transformational for Stephanie Hughes, a computer science undergraduate. But it wasn’t enough for her.

“I was just one person and I wanted to make sure other women at Oregon State had that experience,” said Hughes who is the president of Oregon State’s women’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM-W OSU).

She teamed up with Sharlena Luyen who was similarly motivated to help women attend the Grace Hopper Celebration.

“I have huge passion for helping women expand their career paths in STEM and when I found out that OSU doesn’t offer any type of funding to send women to go to this conference, I thought something had to be done,” said Luyen a computer science undergraduate who is the outreach coordinator for Leadership Academy and an ambassador for College of Engineering.

Hughes and Luyen worked with staff in the College of Engineering to make the scholarship a reality. The funding was made possible through a joint effort of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the College of Engineering, the OSU Women’s Giving Circle, and the Association for Computing Machinery—Women’s Chapter.

Seven undergraduates in computer science, including one Ecampus student from New York, received scholarships to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration which was held in Houston, Texas this year.

“I loved all the opportunity it provided through internships and professional development, but also meeting other women in computer science and seeing what they are up to was really interesting to me,” said Katlin Hill, a computer science student who received one of the scholarships. At the conference, Hill had nine interviews and received internship offers from Macy’s, Nike, and Juniper Networks.

There were over 500 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees at this year’s conference.

“It was valuable because not all of these companies come to Oregon State’s campus. And not only that, but they were looking specifically for women in computing,” said Luyen who had over 30 interviews with companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, Sonos, Purview Solution, and Northwestern Mutual.

All of the scholarship recipients will be sharing their experiences at an awardee presentation on November 14, 2018 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. People can show their support for promoting and retaining women in computer science by attending the presentation or filling out a Google form.

Zander Work at NW Cyber Camp
Zander Work (right) helps a student at the NW Cyber Camp held at Oregon State University.

A week-long STEM Academy camp to introduce high-school students to cybersecurity was held on the Oregon State University through campus last week. Although it was the first time the camp was held in Corvallis, it is the third year the camp has been operating.

The location was not happenstance. NW Cyber Camp co-founder, Zander Work, just completed his freshman year at Oregon State where he made connections with faculty and graduate students in cyber security who helped teach the courses. Instructors also included alumni and other industry representatives from NuScale Power, McAfee, Splunk, NetSPI, Cylance, and PKI Solutions.

“The students were awesome,” Work said. “Everyone was very engaged with the speakers and they asked a lot of good questions.”

The goal of the camp is to get more students interested in the field of cybersecurity which has over 300,000 unfilled job openings, according to Cyber Seek.

“The camp has definitely shown me a lot more opportunities for what I can do in the future with cybersecurity,” said Grace, one of the camp participants. “There are a lot of different fields you can go into like data science, machine learning, ethical hacking, or security work. That’s been really cool to learn about.”

Jayde, another camp participant, already has plans to join the Air Force and focus on cybersecurity.

“I really liked the hands-on activities and learning about real examples of hacking,” Jayde said.

Both students mentioned it was harder than they were expecting, but in a good way.

“The guest speakers have been fantastic. Everyone is knowledgeable and teach at a rigorous enough level that people don’t get bored,” Grace said.

The 20 students at the Oregon State camp came from Corvallis, Albany, Philomath and Lebanon. The camp overall hosted 110 students this summer including sites in Portland, Gresham, Wilsonville, and Bend.

Rakesh Bobba, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and the faculty organizer for the event said, “It was really fun. We would definitely like to host it at Oregon State again, and hopefully expand it to reach more students.”

Students working at NW Cyber Camp
Students working at NW Cyber Camp held at Oregon State University.
photo Christopher Mendez and Alannah Oleson
Christopher Mendez and Alannah Oleson received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships this year.

Two students of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University received National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships that will provide three years of research funding while they attend graduate school. This prestigious award recognizes and supports outstanding early career graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

Christopher Mendez, a graduate student, and Alannah Oleson, an undergraduate, received the awards for research in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). There were a total of eight students across the U.S. to receive the award for HCI research.

This prestigious award recognizes and supports outstanding early career graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. A total of 2,000 fellowships are awarded per year across all STEM fields.

Both Mendez and Oleson are advised by Distinguished Professor Margaret Burnett who co-founded the area of end-user software engineering, which aims to improve software for computer users who are not trained in programming. Her current research investigates gender-neutral software, uncovering gender inclusiveness issues in software from spreadsheets to programming environments.

Mendez and Oleson are extending Burnett’s research into different areas: Mendez is investigating how technology can empower people of low socioeconomic status; and Oleson is researching how best to teach inclusive software design methods and principles to university-level computer science students.

Mendez is continuing his research with Burnett at Oregon State, and Oleson will be starting graduate school next fall at the University of Washington.

photo of Oregon State team
Oregon State took first place at the regional DOE Cyber Defense Competition 2018. Pictured are (left to right) Zach Rogers, Khuong Luu, Hadi Rahal-Arabi, Yeongjin Jang, Devon Streit (DOE), Zander Work, Cody Holliday, and Aidan Grimshaw

A team of six computer science students at Oregon State University competed for the first time and won the regional Department of Energy Cyber Defense Competition held at Pacific Northwest Laboratory in Richland, Washington.

The competition simulates a real-world situation in which the teams defend a corporate network infrastructure from professional hackers. Each team built a mock infrastructure including a web server, a file server, a database server, email, and other network operations. During the competition, a group of users utilized the services while the hackers launched attacks. The defending teams had to monitor and respond to the cyberattacks throughout the day and were scored on how well they defended their infrastructure and how well they documented what they had done.

The Oregon State team placed first among six teams from the western U.S. at the regional competition, and placed fourth nationally among 29 teams.

“The competition was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun,” said Zander Work, a freshman in computer science who led the team. “The team put in many long nights leading up to the competition to finish hardening our defenses, and it paid off.”

Zander and the other five students who competed — Aidan Grimshaw, Cody Holliday, Khuong Luu, Hadi Rahal-Arabi and Zach Rogers — are all members of the OSU Security Club.

“Although it was a very first time the students participated in such a competition, they did a great job,” said Yeongjin Jang, assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering who advised the team. “I was very happy to see the students working hard for an entire month of preparation, not hesitating to tackle difficult tasks, and working well as a team at the competition venue.”