Office of Undergraduate Education

News - 2013 EECS REU

07-11-13

MEDIA CONTACT: Jared Brickman, Communications Assistant, WSU-Wide Undergraduate Programs, 509-335-8070, UCHCCommMar.4@wsu.edu

SOURCE: Nirmalya Roy, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, 509-335-6602, nirmalya.roy@wsu.edu

Plugged In: WSU Smart Environments Summer REU Explores Green Living; Healthcare Applications

PULLMAN, Wash. — For some, the act of getting to a physical therapist’s office is almost as difficult as the exercises therein.  Smart environments research at Washington State University seeks to offer a simple, yet elegant solution: do the exercises at home with information about the movements monitored and sent to the physician’s office.

This is just one of several projects undergraduates are tackling this summer as part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) hosted by the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Other topics include green computing, sustainability, consumer feedback and marketing, and the psychological impacts of living in a smart environment.

Brooks Kindle and Catherine HornbackLeading this program is Nirmalya Roy, a clinical assistant professor in EECS in the College of Engineering and Architecture.  His personal philosophy: technology only succeeds if it works for the person using it.

One project Roy is acting as mentor for, in addition to the physical therapy solution, is the development of smart plugs for appliances.  Using power signature analysis, the project aims to pinpoint which appliances use the most energy and tracks the amount used individually.

“When you get your monthly phone bill, you can see whom you’ve called and for how long, resulting in the charges you may have incurred,” Roy says.  “We want to be able to do something like that with your electricity bill – showing you which appliances are using the most power and giving you information that could lead to easy lifestyle changes to lower energy consumption.”

While many students in the program come in with basic programming and computer science knowledge, Roy noted that many were still in the early stages of their research careers.  The REU acts as a first chance for hands-on work with a faculty mentor.

In addition, faculty enjoy the opportunity to explore research areas for which they otherwise would not have the time, funding, or student support.  Findings can lead to successful grant proposals and journal publications.  The experience itself acts as a window into the graduate studies available in the school, Roy says.

Vignesh and LynnAdvertising for applications to the REU program began back in Fall 2012, Roy says; offers were made in March to students.  More than 100 applicants applied.  Due to the amount of NSF funding and mentorship availabilities, ten students were selected.

“It was a very competitive selection process,” says Roy.  “As a result, we have very bright students in the program, and they come from all over the country.”

The traveling undergraduates hail from Cornell, San Jose State University, University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), and the University of Utah.  Two of the students, Brooks Kindle and Joseph Taylor, are from WSU.

 “We’ve motivated them by offering interesting projects,” says Roy, “and they have really made them their own.  At the end of the ten weeks they will be presenting their findings and hopefully writing a research paper.  That’s what we like to see from this: real experience for the students and excitement regarding research.


Student Projects

Using information retrieved from Google Nexus 10 data, Catherine Hornback of UMBC is attempting to build a positioning and movement model.  This would allow healthcare professionals to track users, figuring out where they are and what they are doing, based on GPS and movement information, resulting in healthcare monitoring data.

Utilizing technology created at UC Berkeley, Vignesh Ramachandran of San Jose State University is looking into smart monitors for power consumption of appliances.  The end goal is an algorithm that could show how much power an individual appliance on a power strip is consuming over time.

Working on a different aspect of the same project as Ramachandran, Joseph Taylor of WSU is looking at the hardware end of the smart power consumption monitors.  He says that much of the technology developed at Berkeley is either older or too expensive, and coming up with a less expensive alternative is the goal.  In addition, he wants to help incorporate the monitoring device into already-existing wiring systems.

WSU student Brooks Kindle is working on a strap sensor for patients of physical therapy, such as stroke victims.  The devices measure how well these patients perform on specific exercises, ultimately leading to information that could make for better or faster recovery.  He adds that this would be helpful when constant monitoring from a healthcare professional is not possible or necessary.

Mining endless data from Twitter is Lynn Gao of the University of Utah.  She is using tweet and retweet metrics to form graphs and understand their structure.  The end goal is find new ways to display anomalies in graphed data.

Separating complex, or macro movements, into smaller micro movements is a project being completed by Rachel King of WSU.  For example, breaking down the process of making a sandwich into its smaller actions can help to classify the complex activity to smart technologies that are tracking behaviors.  Kings notes the most difficult aspect is that two complex activities sometimes have similar micro actions within them, meaning there is still more fine-tuned work to be done to identify between making coffee or scrambling eggs, for example.

Timothy Potteiger of UMBC is analyzing the power performance of various types of computer processors.  As a result, his hope is to help in understanding which types of power sources various CPUs need to run efficiently.

Working with new Leap Motion technology, Luna Zhang of Cornell University hopes to expand the knowledge of a system that is still relatively new.  The motion system is meant to eventually be incorporated into everyday living for various groups that need exercise.  People with physical therapy needs and the elderly could most benefit from the technology, says Zhang.

A computer engineering major from UMBC, Denzel Hamilton is working with a remote-operated quadcopter drone designed by the company Parrot.  His research is to design image processing in such a way that the drone can maneuver along paths and follow other moving objects without being preprogrammed or remotely flown. 


For more information about this and other summer research programs, please visit the websitefor the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Nirmalya Roy

Nirmalya Roy

Roy earned his Ph.D. in computer science and engineering from The University of Texas at Arlington in 2008.  He was a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin, and then worked in Singapore as a research scientist at the Institute for Infocomm  Research. 

Since joining WSU at the start of 2012, Roy has taught courses in data structures and has already started to mentor a small handful of students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.  After this summer, however, Roy will be heading to UMBC to become an assistant professor in their information systems.


2013 Student Researchers


Catherine Hornback

Catherine Hornback


Vignesh Ramachandran

Vignesh Ramachandran


Joseph Taylor

Joseph Taylor


Brooks Kindle

Brooks Kindle


Lynn Gao

Lynn Gao


Luna Zhang

Luna Zhang


Denzel Hamilton

Denzel Hamilton


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