Computer science graduate student, Vahid Ghadakchi, decided to step out of his normal life one weekend this fall and try something new. So, he put aside his Ph.D. thesis work and attended the Willamette Startup Weekend at Oregon State University — a 50 hour event to inspire entrepreneurship.
Not only did his team win the second place prize for their app, but they are continuing to develop it into a business.
At the event, Vahid was quickly snapped up by business students Dylan Gould (entrepreneurship), Josh Cosio (marketing) and Elijah Mcgowen (finance) for their team. The three came to the event together with an idea for an app that restaurants could use to help bring in business during slow times. Vahid filled the team’s need for a computer scientist to implement their idea.
Initially the team just wanted to have some fun and learn some skills, but once they started market testing the app with businesses and potential users they realized their product could go farther than a weekend contest. Nearly all of the businesses they talked to said they would use the app, and one expressed interest being a beta tester. Customer responses were very positive as well.
Restaurants could use the app, called dEATS, to post discount deals that would last for a limited amount of time, such as 30 minutes. The app would have a count-down timer so customers would know how long the deal would be active. The product would help businesses drive customers to their restaurants during slow times, and customers could get ideas for where to go by checking the app for deals.
The team is planning to apply to the OSU’s Advantage Accelerator to help develop their idea into a business, and is looking for more engineers to join the team to make the business a reality.
Vahid said that the experience was a great break from working on his thesis and he also learned some valuable skills that go beyond what can be learned in the classroom.
“I realized how important it is for a computer science student to learn to communicate with people in business and other areas, because they have a different perspective that can help you develop a better product,” Vahid said.
Phylicia Cicilio’s project to help a rural Alaskan community improve the reliability and cost of their electric power microgrid will be funded by the Evans Family Graduate Fellowship in Humanitarian Engineering at Oregon State University. The fellowship will pay for her travel next summer to Alaska to meet with the community and work out the details of the project.
“I’m really excited to travel there and work with the people. I’m from rural Vermont, so I love rural communities,” said Cicilio, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, advised by Professor Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez.
Cicilio’s move to Oregon State this fall marked a switch in her career. Her undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering, but after a year of working in the field she realized that electrical engineering would allow her to better pursue her broad interests in renewable energy.
The project in Alaska will allow her to integrate her focus on renewables with her other interests in energy storage and microgrids, and her desire to help rural communities. Although she has not yet settled on which community she will be helping, there are several options where she can make an impact.
“People in rural Alaska pay 15 times more than everyone else in the U.S., so one goal could be to see how inexpensively we can produce electricity,” she said. “They also live a subsistence lifestyle and don’t deal with money, so paying for utilities can be a problem. Having a system that can be run by the people would be a huge benefit.”
Although Matthew Johnson knew he wanted to be an engineer eventually, he felt compelled to accomplish another goal first — become a Marine.
“I was 12 when 9/11 happened and that had a big impact on me. I felt like I wanted to serve and make a difference,” said Johnson, a computer science student at Oregon State University. He chose the infantry in U.S. Marine Corps because he felt they were the best of the best.
Johnson served as a Marine for four years, including a deployment to Afghanistan, and then started on his goal of becoming an industrial engineer. But after one term at Oregon State, a job opening for a police officer in Sweet Home caught his attention. “I felt like I wasn’t done serving yet,” he said.
It turned out to be a job he really enjoyed because he could see the positive impact the police force had on the community, such as reducing the methamphetamine problem in the area. He considered making the police force a career, but after his son was born he decided a high-stress job was not the right fit for his role as a new father. So Johnson returned to Oregon State to complete his degree in industrial engineering but as he progressed through the program, he realized his favorite classes were the ones related to computer science.
“I had no computer science experience before my industrial engineering coursework, so that was my introduction to it. And my favorite part was the algorithms — being able to think through a logical set of steps to solve a problem,” he said.
Johnson switched his major to computer science, and after just two terms, he took a job with the Open Source Lab (OSL) as a software engineer. The OSL is part of the Center for Applied Systems and Software (CASS) and provides industry, government, and university clients with software development, testing and hosting solutions.
A key benefit for working at the OSL was having the opportunity to work on industry projects to experience the workflow. He also honed his software development skills and was exposed to many computer languages. In addition, working at the OSL has given Johnson a chance to connect with other computer science majors which is sometimes difficult for a non-traditional student who goes home to family (he now has two children) after a full day of school and work.
This year Johnson was awarded a scholarship from CBT Nuggets, which has allowed him to buy things needed for school like a new laptop. “Making that transition from a full-time job was really hard especially with a family. So, having that extra income every term makes a humongous difference,” he said.
Johnson is so convinced that switching to computer science was a good decision that he is encouraging his younger brother to come to Oregon State and major in computer science once he is out of the Marines. It would continue the Beaver tradition in his family — both his parents graduated from Oregon State, his mother in marketing and his father in industrial engineering.
Although there were a few twist and turns on his way to computer science, Johnson is looking forward to the possibilities the career holds for him.
“I definitely want to develop software in the future — whether it be a place like Intel, or a software specific place like Puppet Labs or CoreOS, I’m not sure yet. And someday, after I get a lot of experience, I’d like to start my own company,” he said.
Pranjal Mittal was initially thwarted from studying computer science in college, but never lost his excitement for it. Now a master’s student in computer science at Oregon State University, he was honored this year with an Intel fellowship.
Mittal wanted to pursue computer science as early as high school, but the determining factor for his major was an entrance examination for the Indian Institute of Technology. After studying for two years for the exam that one million people take, he was selected to be an electronics engineering major instead of his first choice.
But he did not give up his passion for computer science. He was able to take courses in computer science while in college and sought out other opportunities to learn on his own. He started by building websites for college events and then moved on to writing more complex web applications.
It was what he did next that changed the course of his career.
During his junior year, he was confident enough in his programming skills to apply for the Google Summer of Code, a global program that offers stipends to students to work remotely on open source projects with a mentoring organization. The project he applied for was with Oregon State’s Open Source Lab (OSL) to work on tool for the Ganeti Web Manager. He enjoyed it so much that he returned to the OSL through Google Summer of Code the following year. The experience of working with the people at OSL encouraged him to apply to graduate school at Oregon State.
“The Open Source Lab is very famous in the open source community and I thought if an Oregon State lab and its members were so amazing then the university should be amazing too,” Mittal said.
At the time of his decision to move to the U.S. for graduate school, Mittal had other opportunities. He already had a job with Citrix in India, and he and three other teammates were finalists in the Google Cloud Developer Challenge, which led to an opportunity to develop the application into a commercial product.
He decided to pursue a master’s because it was an opportunity to advance his knowledge in computer science and it also offered him a chance to be a teaching assistant. It was his first teaching experience and he has really enjoyed helping new students learn about web and cloud computing.
As part of his fellowship with Intel, Mittal will mentor three senior capstone project teams (nine students) who are working on a cloud computing project; an extension of the work he did as an Intel intern. “It feels great to be a link between Oregon State and Intel for further industrial collaboration on research and development,” he said.
Mittal is also conducting research work in cloud computing related to container-based clouds and plans to write his master’s thesis in this area.
“Most of the technology you see today is somehow connected to the cloud, it is the backbone of so many fields, making it an area in which even small research advances can have a huge impact,” he said.
This summer I had the awesome opportunity to intern in Spain. Working with IE3 Global (OSU’s partner organization for international internships) and another organization in Spain, I was accepted to an internship at the brand new Global Sports Innovation Center (GSIC) in Madrid! The GSIC is a new Microsoft Innovation Center that aims to bring more technology into the sports industry. It operates as a business accelerator and as it continues to grow, it has been constantly adding new startups, associates and strategic partners.
When I arrived in the middle of June, the center had only been open for a month, and it still seemed rather unsure of what it might turn into. I showed up at the center the Monday after finals week ready to get to work but without any clear idea of what the GSIC did. Admittedly, showing up at an unfamiliar company in an unfamiliar country is a bit uncomfortable, but it’s also thrilling. I’ve studied Spanish for many years and I was excited to apply it to my new position.
Being such a new project, the center only has a few employees. It’s situated in the same block as the Palacio de Deportes (Barclaycard Center) and it consists of three floors, with a technology showcase at street level and business operations on the floors above. The showroom presents technology from Microsoft and other partners, which includes several Xbox Ones, multiple Windows Phones and Surface Pro tablets, and large flat screen TVs displaying promotional videos. However, the biggest crowd draw is without question the massive Formula One car located in the front window. I spent most of my time on the upper floors, where white architecture with modern design make them appealing spaces for the center’s partners to hold meetings and large events.
As a GSIC intern, I was allowed to join meetings in which new startups became partners, communicate with current partners to organize events, and I even sat alongside members of the media when Microsoft held their press conference to present Windows 10. While any new job comes with some grunt work, and I had my fill of translating documents to English and data entry assignments, I eventually got the opportunity to work on web tasks for the center. I started a new website to promote communication between the center’s many partners and I also met with the company that developed the center’s website so that I could contribute several necessary improvements.
Living and working in a foreign country is an incredible experience and I recommend that anyone who has such a privilege should take full advantage of the opportunity. I was able to expand my understanding of the work culture, not only in Spain, but in other parts of the world as well. With the vast number of international partners that came through the GSIC, I learned how global businesses can collaborate to realize mutual benefits and got to see technology prototypes before release. I improved my language abilities, explored the country in my free time, and met people that will remain friends and business contacts for the rest of my life.
Kyler Stole grew up in Beaverton, OR, where he attended the International School of Beaverton and graduated with an IB Diploma. As the son of a mechanical and a chemical engineer, Kyler is proud to be part of EECS at Oregon State. He is also a member of the International Degree (ID) program and the University Honors College. He is now in his junior year at OSU and preparing to embark on his first MECOP internship while also working on his undergraduate thesis.
He has worked with both software and web development and helps to maintain the EECS portion of the OSU website in his role as an EECS Peer Mentor. He especially enjoys projects where he can mix programming logic with graphic design, and hopes to become a full-time iOS application developer.
Outside of academia, he’s very passionate about soccer and spends a lot of his time playing pick-up games on the intramural fields. He also enjoys other sports and outdoor activities including basketball, hiking, running, and riding his bike. To fulfill ID requirements and improve his Spanish, he has lived in Costa Rica and Spain during the past summers, and hopes to continue travelling after he graduates.
For the second year in a row, the Oregon State University’s branch of AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) took first place in the payload competition at the Intercollegiate Rocketry Engineering Competition held in Green River, Utah. The team also placed third in the overall competition in the advanced category that targets an altitude of 25,000 feet — their launch reached 17,611 feet and a maximum speed of Mach 1.4.
The competition, hosted by the Experimental Sounding Rocketry Association (ESRA), had 41 rockets launched this year by 36 different colleges representing seven countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, India, Turkey and the U.S.).
Oregon State’s team stood out in the competition for building nearly all of the components themselves. In fact, computer science student, Soo-Hyun Yoo said he had a hard time getting the judges to notice the extra work the team put in.
“All of the other teams at the competition had an aerospace program and bought off-the-shelf components. There were a very limited number of teams who built their own software and electronics and so very few people were asking about those things. I had to try really hard to make sure they realized the significance of having our own system that we can build on and modify to fit various needs,” he said.
Yoo said that a few of the payload judges were very excited about their original components and it was what likely earned them the payload award again this year. The award is prestigious because it includes all the teams in the competition from both the basic and advanced categories, and comes with a $700 prize. Since the award has been offered just two times, Oregon State is the only team to win it.
The payload is the main purpose of sounding rockets, which are designed to conduct scientific experiments. The Oregon State team built a deployable payload in the nose cone of the rocket that deploys at the highest altitude and uses propellers to accelerate downward to counteract aerodynamic drag force and achieve microgravity in order to conduct experiments in a zero gravity environment.
This year’s team built significantly on the success of last year’s rocket which won the basic category (targeting 10,000 feet) in 2014 at their first competition. Four sub-teams contributed to this year’s rocket: a payload team, a structures team, a propulsion team, and an aerodynamics and recovery team. At Oregon State’s 2015 Engineering Expo the payload team won the industry award for electrical and computer engineering and earned honorable mention recognition for the Boeing Engineering Excellence Award.
Elliott Fudim, an electrical and computer engineering student who joined the club as a senior, hopes that other students will discover the club sooner than he did and have more years to advance the rocket.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. And it’s important to keep on setting the bar higher,” Fudim said.
Yoo agreed, “I don’t think many students at OSU can say they made something that broke the speed of sound. It’s pretty cool stuff.”
Both Fudim and Yoo said that aside from the cool factor of being able to build a rocket, the experience of working on a cross-disciplinary team was more realistic to what they will experience working in industry. Additionally, working on a rocket that deals with extreme conditions such as speed and temperature offered interesting challenges.
“The limited test cycle in which we only get a few chances to launch and the cost of failure is high, was a learning experience. Getting it right the first time was stressful but also exhilarating,” Yoo said.
The team performed on-ground tests of the various systems and also practiced their launch setup to make sure everything went smoothly on competition day (view photos). Their only full-flight test was performed in Brothers, Oregon near Bend where they could secure a waiver from the FAA for air space.
For future competitions, the club has begun developing an experimental hybrid rocket motor. The current rocket is a solid propellant rocket with a simple ignition – “you light it and it just goes,” explained Yoo. The hybrid rocket will have a throttle to adjust the thrust depending on need.
This year’s team was able to compete with the support of their sponsors: Advanced Circuits, CadSoft EAGLE, and the College of Engineering at Oregon State. “We couldn’t have done this without them,” Fudim said.
Tanner Cecchetti has always been a tinkerer, even as a child. His first experiments used simple technology such as tissue and corks to create tiny parachutes. Now, an electrical and computer engineering student at Oregon State, his focus is on mobile technology, and especially jailbroken iPhones.
His interest was encouraged by his mother who initially started her degree in computer science before switching to accounting. She bought him video editing software in fifth grade when Cecchetti was part of a video editing team at school, and she made sure he had a cell phone when he was 10 years old because she wanted him to start playing with that technology. The many hours he spent tinkering with technology lead to success when in high school he earned second place for three years in a row at a state-wide team-based programming competition.
“The coolest thing I’ve ever done with programming was to write a program that got a couple million downloads, which was super exciting,” Ceccetti said. The program was part of a business to create game cheats for Runescape that he and partners ran for a year in high school.
Also in high school he volunteered to manage the website for Relay for Life of Sherwood, Oregon. It was a project he initially viewed as a way to get some practical experience, but it became more than that.
“It felt good to be involved with that cause, raising money for cancer research, because cancer is what took my dad, so it was personally significant to me,” Cecchetti said. His father passed away when he was in fourth grade.
Although Cecchetti has less time for tinkering as a college student, he found time to create a tweak for jailbroken iPhones that has over 10,000 downloads, and an app that turns an iPhone into a mouse and keyboard for any device. He also designed and built an inexpensive sound effects system using a Raspberry Pi for the submarine at the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology.
In his first two years at Oregon State, Cecchetti earned scholarships for academic achievement including making the Dean’s list and receiving a scholarship from Pacific Power. “I have to pay for school on my own, so scholarships certainly make it easier for me financially but it also makes my decision to stay in school a lot easier knowing my burden of debt will be less,” he said.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Cecchetti won the 2015 Eta Kappa Nu Sophomore of the Year Award at Oregon State. “Tanner stood out for his commitment to service, academic excellence and passion for problem solving. His impressive personal projects showed he was going above and beyond what was being done in the classroom,” said Oregon State Eta Kappa Nu president, Tanner Fiez.
Although Cecchetti’s experience has mostly been in computer programming, he chose to major in electrical and computer engineering because he was interested in learning about hardware which would be more difficult to learn on his own. He initially thought he would pursue a career in designing cell phones but his experiences at Oregon State have opened up more options for him and he is not yet settled on a career path. For now he is content to continue to learn and tinker with technology.
Amber Horvath, computer science student, received honorable mention for the Undergraduate Research Student of the Year Award at Celebrating Undergraduate Excellence (CUE) 2015. Students from all majors presented posters of their research or creative work.
Horvath, advised by Dr. Margaret Burnett, presented a research study entitled, “Principles of a Debugging-First Puzzle Game for Computing Education.”
Abstract: Although there are many systems designed to engage people in programming, few explicitly teach the subject, expecting learners to acquire the necessary skills on their own as they create programs from scratch. We present a principled approach to teach programming using a debugging game called Gidget, which was created using a unique set of seven design principles. A total of 44 teens played it via a lab study and two summer camps. Principle by principle, the results revealed strengths, problems, and open questions for the seven principles. Taken together, the results were very encouraging: learners were able to program with conditionals, loops, and other programming concepts after using the game for just 5 hours.
Students in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) won three of the four overall awards at the Engineering Expo 2015. Additionally, the Industry Advisory Board for EECS recognized six other outstanding projects.
Boeing Engineering Excellence Award
The Boeing Engineering Excellence Award distinguishes a project team that delivers a robust and innovative solution with a clear focus on enabling potential customers to excel in their markets and missions.
Winner: EyeRobot. Team: Amber Hartman, Benjamin Narin and Kai Ovesen.
This project aims to help people with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or similar diseases in which people lose motor control. Using eye gaze, the Electrooculography (EOG) headset provides an emergency stop for those who cannot physically hit a button. The project is in collaboration with researchers at the Personal Robotics Lab at Oregon State University who are developing a wheelchair that can drive itself using way points set by eye-tracking equipment. The head set measures electric potential across the eyes from two sensors placed on the temples.
Tektronix Commercialization Award
The Tektronix Commercialization Award winners will be evaluated based on the level of innovation and potential impact in the market.
Winner: Custom Car Head Unit. Team: Jordan Belisle, Megan Kamiya, and Trevor Buys
This custom car head unit for controlling the car stereo is a low-cost upgrade that has multiple audio input options and other connection capabilities including WiFi. The system also collects car data and generates web displayed reports on driving patterns.
People’s Choice Award
The People’s choice award was voted on by attendees to the Engineering Expo.
Winner: Eye Gaze System. Team: Sultan Alyamani, Trevor Fiez and George Vartanov.
This device is designed for individuals who have motor restrictions. Our goal for this project is to create an inexpensive eye gaze directional detector. Current eye-gaze systems use expensive technologies that are limited in their utility.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Industry Award Winners:
First place: OSU Rocketry – Payload Electronics. Team: Elliott Fudim, Tyler Giddings and Sagar Rotithor.
The OSU Rocketry team has built a rocket capable of ascending a 10 pound payload to 25,000 feet for the 2014 Experimental Sounding Rocketry Association (ESRA) intercollegiate competition. The Payload Electronics Team designed a payload that will conduct experiments and collect data during the rocket launch.
Second place: Persistence of Vision Globe. Team: Harry Bloom, Matthew Eilertson and Masa Kawaharada.
This functional persistence of vision (POV) globe utilizes LEDs spinning on a spherical frame in order to create a three-dimensional optical illusion of the Earth. The human eye can only retain an image for one twenty-fifth of a second. By flashing LEDs at precise increments as they rotate at a rapid speed, we can trick the human mind into seeing continuous lines of light, which will project an image. POV Globe video.
Third place: Smart Disk Wireless Switching Device. Team: Rachael Carlson, Alan Huang and Keith Kostol.
Is your light switch in the wrong place? The Smart Disk operates lights wirelessly so you put your light switch anywhere. Smart Disk video.
Computer Science Industry Award Winners:
First place: V2x Systems and Integration. Team: Stephen Austin, Ashley Greenacre, Chris Harper, Faith Steltzer, and Sam Quinn. V2x Systems video.
If cars could talk roads would be safer. This project combines sensors, networking, and an in-vehicle display to make driving safer by sensing when accidents occur and communicating the crash information to emergency responders and other vehicles on the road.
Second place: Camera Test Drone. Team: Loren Brown, Justin Cheng and Ken Hafdahl.
Vibration can be a big problem for cameras mounted on a moving vehicle. This anti-vibration system combines mechanical, electrical, and computer science elements to record and process flight video from a variety of cameras mounted to a quadcopter. Camera Test Drone video.
Third place: World of Fitcraft. Team: Nick Bristow, Tracie Lee and Vedanth Narayanan.
Having trouble getting fit? This app makes a game of exercise; users earn rewards and “level up” on their way to better health. World of Fitcraft video.
An Oregon State University team of computer science and electrical and computer engineering students earned third place at the Intel-Cornell Cup on May 1-2 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The purpose of the embedded design competition is to inspire student innovation. Entry into the event is competitive; only 22 teams from across the country were selected to attend. The chosen teams were provided with $1,500 in funding and the latest Intel Atom board which they incorporated into their project.
Auto Safe, the Oregon State team, designed a system to send information about car accidents to other cars in the area. The device includes sensors to detect crashes and rollovers, and a wireless mesh network to transmit information between vehicles. The device can be plugged in to any car 1996 or newer via the OBD II port. (See video below for a demonstration.)
The event was open to the public, so in addition to presenting to the judges, the team explained their project to crowds of elementary students who were visiting the Kennedy Space Center.
“Our project was really fun for the kids because they could drive the simulator. One girl, who had never played a driving game before, stayed for a really long time,” said Ashley Greenacre, senior in electrical and computer engineering.
Meeting students from other universities and seeing their projects was one of the best parts of the event for the team. Chris Harper, senior in electrical and computer engineering said, “We were all using the same hardware, so it was really interesting to see everyone’s different take on it.”
It was the first time Sam Quinn, senior in computer science, had participated in a competitive event. “It was eye-opening to see the troubles that go on behind the scenes,” he said. The team had to deal with last minute networking problems, but rather than be upset by it, Quinn said that he really enjoyed high pressure problem solving.
The hands-on experiences that the students receive by working as a team to design a product is why Kevin McGrath, computer science instructor and advisor to the team, recruits students to participate in the event every year. “There will always be challenges, and how you overcome those challenges dictates the kind of engineer you are,” he said.