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  • Computer Scientists, Others Brief IBM on UC San Diego Research

    Two faculty members with appointments in the Computer Science and Engineering department were among those professors and university administrators making presentations  to a delegation of senior IBM researchers who visited UC San Diego in mid-October. The delegation of five IBM executives was led by the company's senior vice-president for research, John Kelly, who expressed keen interest in the broad, diverse areas of research already underway on campus. Against the backdrop of the Qualcomm Institute's high-tech wizardry in Atkinson Hall, the IBM group received in-depth briefings on contextual robotics, microbiome research, and the university's Smart Cities collaboration with the City of San Diego.

    In her introductory remarks, Vice Chancellor for Research Sandra Brown emphasized that UC San Diego is strongly positioned to lead and partner in large-scale projects -- especially those that are integrative in nature and require a 'deep dive' into research areas. Brown added that UC San Diego has become a 'living lab' to test technologies resulting from productive relationships with private industry, and an impressive record for creating spinoffs, startups and other drivers of economic growth.

    CSE and Pediatrics professor Rob Knight, who directs the Center for Microbiome Innovation on campus, spoke to the value of medical and clinical 'big data' and associated insights as the basis for a possible partnership, citing existing partners Illumina as well as Jansson / Johnson & Johnson. Separately, CSE Prof. Larry Smarr, who directs the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), cited UC San Diego's prominent role in big data research associated with medicine, and suggested that the university could potentially apply IBM technology to 13 million patients.

    In addition to computer scientists, IBM executives heard from social scientists and engineers. Jacobs School of Engineering Dean Al Pisano led the presentation on contextual robotics, stressing the campus’s “encompassing vision” of the technology’s possibilities and promise, and Social Sciences Dean Carol Padden emphasized the key role that cognitive science plays in the field of robotics. The conversation also turned to aging, deep learning, brain development, wearable sensors, big data and UC San Diego's multidisciplinary vision. Noted Vice Chancellor Brown: "UC San Diego does a great job of integrating the scientific research done here, and with our healthcare partners, into the community."

  • CSE Expands Presence at 2016 Contextual Robotics Forum and Technology Showcase

    The idea of enabling humans to do more is central to the 2016 Contextual Robotics Forum at UC San Diego, which will take place this Friday, October 28 at UC San Diego. Leaders in robotics research and manufacturing will convene to discuss Shared Autonomy: New Directions in Human-Machine Interaction. “We chose the theme because we are getting to the era of deploying robots in all places – but in almost every case, there needs to be a human interacting with them,” said Henrik Christensen, director of the Contextual Robotics Institute at UC San Diego. “We invited global and local thought leaders to discuss the question, ‘How do we build robots that empower people to do things that they couldn’t do before?’”  The Forum is jointly sponsored by the Jacobs School of Engineering, the Division of Social Sciences, and the Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego (which will host the conference in its Atkinson Hall headquarters).

    The university hired Christensen in July 2016 to lead the Institute and serve as a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in the Jacobs School. In his talk to the Forum, Christensen will discuss big trends in robotics – where the field is going, and how it plays into the broader ecosystem of intelligent homes, workspaces and appliances.

    (Pictured l-r: Christensen, Riek, Gupta, Rosing, Kuester and Kastner)

    Other CSE faculty will be on hand, and a handful are slated to present as part of the Forum's Technology Showcase (which will run from 2:45pm to 4:30pm). CSE Prof. Laurel Riek will demonstrate human-robot teaming and healthcare robotics. CSE Prof. Rajesh Gupta will jointly present machine- learning projects with Cognitive Science professor Zhuowen Tu (related to the Northrop Grumman Autonomy Challenge Project). CSE Prof. Tajana Rosing will showcase "drones that sniff out forest fires."  Structural Engineering professor Falko Kuester, who has a faculty-affiliate appointment in CSE, will have his Drone Lab team doing demos on the second floor of Atkinson Hall, and CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner and some of his students will be displaying various underwater robotics systems with a focus on computer vision for underwater platforms. 

    Kastner is a co-director of the student Engineers for Exploration program, as is Qualcomm Institute research scientist Curt Schurgers (the latter will present the program's unmanned vehicle survey of the Belizean jungle in the Technology Showcase). Other exploration-themed projects include the SphereCam (for underwater 360-degree imaging), developed by CSE second-year Ph.D. student Antonella Wilby. The SphereCam (at left) triggers recording if it recognizes the specific clicking sound made by the endangered vaquita porpoise as part of its echo-location vocalization. The clicks are in the 122-150kHz range and can be picked up by an ultrasonice hydrophone in the SphereCam. In future, the SphereCam can also be repurposed to find and record other underwater species with unique signature vocalizations.

  • Exploiting Structure in the Stable Matching Problem

    Computer Science and Engineering Ph.D. candidate Daniel Moeller is scheduled to stage the final defense of his dissertation this week on the topic of "Exploiting Structure in the Stable Matching Problem."  His advisor, CSE Prof. Mohan Paturi, will chair the panel that includes fellow CSE professors Sanjoy Dasgupta and Russell Impagliazzo, as well as ECE Prof. Massimo Franceschetti and Joel Sobel, a professor in the Department of Economics.

    Date: Friday, October 28
    Time: 11am
    Location: Room 3109, CSE Building

    Stable matching is a widely studied problem in social choice theory. For the basic centralized case, an optimal quadratic time algorithm is known. However, we present several notions of structure and use them to provide tighter convergence bounds and faster stable matching algorithms for structured instances.

    First, we consider the decentralized case, where several natural randomized algorithmic models for this setting have been proposed that have worst case exponential time in expectation. We describe a novel structure associated with a stable matching on a matching market. Using this structure, we are able to provide a finer analysis of the complexity of a subclass of decentralized matching markets.

  • Understanding the Visual Dynamics of Opinions and Purchases

    CSE Professor Julian McAuley will speak on Wednesday as part of the Design Lab's Design@Large Fall 2016 lecture series. His topic: "Understanding the Visual Dynamics of Opinions and Purchases".

    Date: Wednesday, October 26
    Time: 4:00pm - 5:15pm
    Location: Room 1202, CSE Building

    Abstract: Services such as Amazon, Yelp, Netflix etc. aim to personalize content to users by means of so-called "recommender systems." Such systems work by modeling users' previous activities (ratings, purchases, clicks, and so on) in order to estimate how they will respond to new content in future. In this talk, McAuley will give a high-level introduction to such systems, and discuss in particular how the visual appearance of items can be modeled for applications such as clothing recommendation. Understanding the visual dimensions of people's opinions can help to provide better recommendations, but also to understand how visual preferences (i.e., "fashions") have changed over time.

    Bio:  Julian McAuley has been an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science and Engineering department at the University of California San Diego since 2014. Previously he was a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University after receiving his Ph.D. from the Australian National University in 2011. His research is concerned with developing predictive models of human behavior using large volumes of online activity data.

  • Cognitive Science Professor Teaches Statistical Data Analysis

    She is a professor of Cognitive Science, but UC San Diego associate professor Angela Yu is inviting Computer Science and Computer Engineering students to take one of her courses on statistical data analysis. She will teach an undergraduate course (COGS 118D: Mathematical Statistics for Behavioral Data Analysis), and a graduate course (COGS 243: Statistical Inference and Data Analysis), both during the Winter 2017 quarter.

    Talking about the graduate course, Yu (at left) notes that "the course profides a rigorous treatment of hypothesis testing, statistical inference, model fitting, and exploratory data analysis techniques used in the cognitive and neural sciences."  Both frequentist and Bayesian techniques will be covered, and Yu says that students "will acquire an understanding of mathematical foundations and hands-on experience in applying these methods using Matlab." The undergraduate course explores statistical methods for analyzing behavioral data. Students are expected to use both classical and Bayesian statistical methods for estimation, hypothesis testing, regression and model comparison. Emphasis will be evenly distributed between mathematical understanding of statistical methods, and common applications.

    The courses are also applications-oriented, but students should have sufficient mathematical understanding to enable sound choice of statistical methods in different situations. Indeed, only students who are comfortable with calculus, linear algebra and elementary probability should enroll. Although the winter quarter doesn't launch until January, Yu has already set up preliminary course websites. Although the subject matter of both courses is connected, the graduate and undergrad classes meet separately and have different formats. 

  • CSE Alumnus, Lead Engineer for Pokémon GO, Back on Campus

    Next time you see someone playing Pokémon GO, the popular mobile phone-based game, keep in mind that a Computer Science and Engineering alumnus, Edward Wu (B.S. '04) leads the groundbreaking game’s technical team.

    Wu is a senior product manager at Niantic, the company that makes Pokémon GO and was spun off in October 2015 from Google, where Wu worked previously.  He earned a dual bachelor’s degree in computer science and physics, and what he learned at UC San Diego is the basis of his success as an engineer, he said during a talk on campus Oct. 13 organized by the Center for Networked Systems (CNS). “I learned the core algorithms, the core fundamentals here,” Wu said. “There is no substitute for that.”

    Wu stayed in touch with CSE Prof. Geoffrey Voelker on and off since 2004, and it was Voelker who invited Wu to speak on campus as part of CNS's Fall 2016 research review. “Ed is an example for all our students to show that what they’re learning prepares you to go out into the world and make a difference,” said Voelker. “The world is now a different place because of Pokémon GO.”

    In his talk, Wu gave an overview of all the engineering and troubleshooting that has to happen for users to catch Pokémon, get supplies, and battle in gyms on their smartphones, at any time and in any place from the United States to France, to Australia. “The key element is overlaying a single, consistent reality over the real world,” Wu explained.

    This is all the more challenging because the game has been downloaded by more than 500 million people. Making Pokémon GO work for even a small fraction of these users is no small feat. Wu and his team spent most of July 2016 in a sleepless state while they were launching the game around the world. Demand was 50 times more than Niantic projected.

    But Pokémon GO is more than just a game, Wu said. “It’s about going outside, going on walks and meeting people in the real world,” he said. The game requires players to walk around and hit up designed spots, called Pokéstops, to get supplies. Players need to physically be near the gym where they want to do battle. Players have logged more than 4.6 billion kilometers (about 2.8 billion miles) between the game’s launch in July and August of this year—that’s half the distance between Earth and Pluto.

    Niantic also recently introduced a feature that allows players to get rewards to power up and evolve Pokémon for every kilometer (about 0.6 miles) they walk with their favorite Pokémon. Wu’s walking buddy is Psyduck, which looks like a cross between a yellow duck and a platypus, walks upright and has psychic powers.

    During his CNS talk, Wu recalled how he tried his hand at developing a multiplayer game for the first time in CSE 125, a computer science class taught by Voelker. Wu and the rest of a student team created a real-time tactical combat game they called “Geteilte Stadt,” German for “a city divided.” During the class, he learned how to collaborate and work with others on complex technical problems, he said. He learned how to code, by himself and with others, and how to resolve disagreements around technical issues. “It was invaluable,” he said. Wu wore a tuxedo during the CSE 125 final presentations, when all teams demonstrated their games.

    Wu was a Jacobs Scholar as an undergraduate at UC San Diego—a select group chosen for their academic achievements, leadership potential and commitment to community service. Jacobs Scholars receive full tuition and living expenses, as well invitations to cultural and other social events hosted by Joan and Irwin Jacobs, and access to a network of current and former Jacobs Scholars. In 2003, he was also a Calit2 Summer Undergraduate Scholar.

  • CSE Highlights Research at Frontiers of Innovation Symposium

    The second annual UC San Diego Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program (FISP) Symposium will take place on October 18 from 8am to 5:45pm at the Price Center. The symposium will showcase interdisciplilnary research carried out by postdocs, graduate and undergraduate student researchers with funding from the campus itself. Two types of presentations are scheduled: oral presentations, and poster sessions (for one-on-one interaction with the student researchers). The oral presentations will run 15 minutes each for undergraduates, 25 minutes for grad students and postdoctoral researchers (in both cases, leaving 5 minutes for Q&A at the end of each talk). 

    CSE students set to deliver oral presentations at the FISP Symposium include Sharad Vikram, a first-year graduate student specializing in machine learning under his mentor, CSE Prof. Sanjoy Dasgupta. His topic: "Air Quality Monitoring with Cheap Hardware."  Vikram designed a cheap air-quality sensor that monitors CO, NO and other pollutants with the goal of better understanding and eventually improving air pollution patterns over a large area (e.g. San Diego County). "We are currently collecting a dataset of sensor measurements from some select locations in Los Angeles," said Vikram. "Current sensors are expensive and immobile, but will produce more reliable and precise measurements than those from a sensor with commodity hardware. Future challenges include remote calibration of sensors to produce robust measurements and inference of air pollution in areas without sensors." Using machine learning and statistical inference, Vikram aims to solve such problems.

    Dual computer science and mathematics major Carolyn Breeze and two other undergraduates in anthropology, Rosemary Elliott Smith and Taylor Harman, worked together on the interdisciplinary At-Risk Cultural Heritage project funded by a University of California Catalyst award. The students were mentored by principal investigator Tom Levy, who directs the new Center for Cyber-Archaeology and Sustainability (CCAS), based in the Qualcomm Institute. The joint FISP project was presented as part of an all-themes session because of its broad applicability to all FISP target areas. The project, "At-Risk Cultural Heritage and Archaeological Data Management: The ArchaeoSTOR Solution," involves a web-based database (above left) called ArchaeoSTOR that helps researchers safely store artifact metadata, location data, photographs, and even point-cloud data (produced using LIDAR laser scans). The students traveled to Greece this past summer with Levy to participate in excavation of a looted Mycenaean tomb at the site of Kastrouli near Delphi. According to their abstract, "the Kastrouli excavations proved to be a perfect field test for the applications of ArchaeoSTOR that our team developed [because it allowed them to] dramatically improve the functionality of the database and preserve vast amounts of precious data associated with the cultural heritage site." 

    Given the inherently interdisciplinary nature of FISP research projects, not all the students working under CSE mentors were computer science students themselves. For instance, CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell mentored nanoengineering Ph.D. student Chen Zhang (right), who was developing "Small Molecule Accurate Recognition Technology" (SMART) while also working in the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The tool itself was developed to speed up marine natural products discovery, i.e., natural products found in the ocean. "By testing different spectra using this algorithm," says Zhang, "we can rapidly generate hypotheses about the relationship of new molecules to those used for the training -- based entirely on their nuclear magnetic resonance properties."

    CSE professors Ryan Kastner, faculty-affiate Falko Kuester and Scripps Prof. Stuart Sandin together mentored Clinton Edwards, a Scripps grad student. Edwards (left) will present on a "Platform for Ocean Imaging: Building Capacity for Visualizing, Analyzing and Communicating Underwater Ecological Data." The project targets documentation of large plots of seafloor habitats -- measuring hundreds of square meters -- by speeding up the post-processing that is so time-consuming and computationally intensive. "We have begun to develop and test platforms to address the intensive collection, storage and processing steps required to facilitate rapid extraction of key metrics from 3D digital maps of the seafloor," writes Edwards in his abstract. "These maps will enable new insights in community ecology by increasing the scale of observation by over an order-of-magnitude [scale] larger than what is currently available."

    Kuester is also the moderator of an undergraduate panel on enriching human life and society, and he mentored the first speaker of the session: UC San Diego media studies major and newly-minted alumna, Emily Zheng (B.A. '16). Her talk will be on "Media in the Field". Zheng (right) is a media intern in Kuester's CISA3-CHEI (Cultural Heritage Engineering Initiative). She was responsible for producing content based on CISA3-CHEI expeditions. In her presentation, Zheng will focus on media produced on expeditions to San Marino and Chaco Canyon. "As a part of CHEI, my team collects data for the purposes of 3D reconstructions. This is done through techniques such as LIDAR scanning, SFM [Structure from Motion], CaveCams, and UAV imaging," notes Zheng. "My work concerns the recording of the labor behind data collection as it happens in the field to show the techniques and challenges of working in variable and changing situations." (Zheng was also peer-mentored by Dominique Meyer, a previous recipient of a FISP scholarship to work  with Kuester.)  

    "What I found impressive is that our FISP students applied their research at not just one, but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, conducting fieldwork at home and abroad, in San Marino and Italy," observed CISA3-CHEI director Kuester. "They also presented their work at national and international conferences, and they leveraged opportunities with two other NSF and National Geographic-funded archaeology projects outside of UC San Diego. These undergraduate trainees left quite a legacy over just the past year." 

    CSE lecturer and Qualcomm Institute (QI) research scientist Jurgen Schulze and ECE Prof. Truong Nguyen jointly mentored ECE second-year Ph.D. student Ji Dai on a study of "Stereo Panorama Generation from Point-Cloud Re-projection." Dai (left) will propose an "algorithm that can produce stereo panoramas with minimized vertical disparity and parallax error. The algorithm only needs input stereo image pairs and the camera positions at which the image pairs were captured. The algorithm also provides users the freedom of choosing desired viewing location and angle." They can also choose a preferred baseline.

    For information on CSE involvement in the FISP poster sessions, see separate article.

    Download the complete program PDF with abstracts for all presentations.

  • Dual Poster Sessions Showcase CSE Research at FISP Symposium 2016

    At least 72 posters will be on display when UC San Diego students share their research results during two poster sessions during the Frontiers of Innovation Scholarship Program (FISP) Symposium on Tuesday, October 18 in the Price Center. (Click link at bottom to read a preview of oral presentations at the symposium.)  Hour-long poster sessions are scheduled to start at 12:30pm and 4:45pm, respectively, in Price Center Ballroom A. Posters are only on view during one session not both. (Consult the FISP program for details.)

    The presenters will include CSE fourth-year Ph.D. student Mohsen Malmir (right), who will present "Music Generation by Deep Recurrent Neural Networks."  He was mentored by CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell and Music Prof. Shlomo Dubnov. Malmir developed algorithms that learn to generate new music by learning from annotated music. The student trained "deep recursive neural networks (DRNNs) to generate sequences of tones along with their temporal information," says Malmir, adding that he aimed to "analyze the structure of the trained network and the learned sequences to find relations with higher level structures in music." Subsequent to the project, Malmir proposes to make the music dataset and relevant codes available to the research community for further development.

    CSE computer science junior Allan Yeh (left) will present a poster on "Interacting with Chemical Software." Yeh has been developing a molecular database in which new molecules can be uploaded for users to download and use in their own molecular simulations. Says Yeh: "The FISP scholarship has helped give me a better understanding of how my knowledge of computer science can be applied to the world at large."

    Structural Engineering professor and CSE faculty-affiliate Falko Kuester mentored multiple poster presenters and speakers from different majors, including electrical and computer engineering as well as visual arts.

    ECE senior and Qualcomm Institute intern Dimitri Schreiber (right) will present a poster on "CAVECamX: Autonomous Stereo Spherical Panorama System."  CAVECamX is a small, binocular, two-axis gimbal system used for creating high-resolution 3D photospheres, combined with GPS and inertial measurement unit (IMU) data, enabling better coregistration internally within a single photosphere, and externally between heterogeneous datasets, including fusion with point clouds generated from photogrammetry and LIDAR" laser scanning. "This decreases human processing time by automatically recording location and orientation of the dataset, which would previously be recorded manually and therefore likely left out or lost," says Schreiber. "The attitude data will help fully automatic stitching of stereoscopic datasets without the commonly associated motion sickness by constraining the system." Noting that CAVECamX is small and consumes little energy, the student adds that it "enables remote visualization of archaeological sites, allowing researchers to be virtually immersed in the captured scene without having to travel across the globe."

    Kuester also mentored two Visual Arts majors -- Samuel Balatbat (below left), and Bertha Yue (below right) -- both working on 3D visualization projects involving the Chaco canyon archaeological site in New Mexico.

    Balatbat's project, "Stereoscopic Photospheres of the Historical Site of Chaco in New Mexico," involves stereoscopic photospheres, i.e., pairs of images captured by either a CAVEcam or CAVECamX. "These images have full 360-degree depth coverage, making it possible for archaeologists and viewers to be virtually present at sites," according to Balatbat's abstract. The visualization can happen through either head-mounted displays (such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) or through the Qualcomm Institute's large-scale CAVE display systems (WAVE, StarCAVE, NexCAVE, etc.). Balatbat will showcase some of the stereoscopic photospheres captured at the Chaco site and processed for 3D viewing.

    Bertha Yue's research also focused on the New Mexico site. Her poster will explore "Using Photogrammetry to Create a 3D Model of the Chaco Pueblos in the American Southwest." (Her research abstract was deleted from the FISP Symposium program "owing to proprietary information.")

    Read more about oral presentations on the FISP Symposium agenda.

  • Computer Vision Papers Presented at ECCV 2016 in Amsterdam

    The European Conference on Computer Vision runs Oct. 8-16 in Amsterdam, and UC San Diego's Center for Visual Computing (VisComp) is heavily represented at the international forum that is among the premier academic gatherings on computer vision. Two CSE professors -- VisComp director Ravi Ramamoorthi and Manmohan Chandraker -- were among the authors of eight VisComp papers presented at ECCV 2016.

    Professor Ramamoorthi was the senior author on "A 4D Light-Field Dataset and CNN Architectures for Material Recognition." The paper was joint with colleagues from UC Berkeley as well as recent CSE faculty arrival Manmohan Chandraker and visiting industrial fellow Ebi Hiroaki from Sony, one of VisComp's founding industry partners.) The paper focused on the use of deep learning for recognizing materials using 4D light-field (LF) photography taken with a Lytro Illum 4D LF digital camera. Pictured at right: In recognizing materials, top grids show 4D light-field predicts more accurately than 2D inputs, while bottom grids show 2D more accurate. Conclusion: light-field recognition performs best when object information is missing or vague, so must rely on local texture, viewpoint change or reflectance information available with 4D light-field imagery.
    "Our main goal [was] to investigate whether the additional information in a light-field (such as multiple sub-aperture views and view-dependent reflectance effects) can aid material recognition," noted the authors, who reported a seven percent boost with the best-performing convolutional neural network (CNN) architecture compared with standard 2D image classification. "Our dataset also enables other novel applications of light-fields, including object detection, image segmentation and view interpolation."
    Another of Ramamoorthi's papers was co-authored by colleagues at the University of York (UK), and Sapienza-University of Rome (Italy). University of York's Will Smith was a sabbatical visitor at UC San Diego from York in Winter 2016 when the research took place. The collaborators presented a method for estimating surface height directly from a single polarization image simply by solving a large, sparse system of linear equations. The paper, "Linear depth estimation from an uncalibrated, monocular polarization image," is available online. 
    In addition to collaborating with Ramamoorthi, CSE Prof. Manmohan Chandraker had a paper at ECCV 2016 on a "Deep Deformation Network for Object Landmark Localization." The work was done while Chandraker was still a research scientist at NEC Laboratories America, before taking up his professorship in CSE earlier this year. His coauthors on the paper were also working in NEC Labs' Department of Media Analytics at the time.
    The Center for Visual Computing is an interdisciplinary research unit, and other faculty with papers at ECCV 2016 included Electrical and Computer Engineering's Nuno Vasconcelos and Cognitive Science professor Zhuowen Tu. Tu has an appointment in CSE as well, so he can supervise CSE Ph.D. students, as he did with first author and CSE Ph.D. student Saining Xie (at left) on a joint paper about "Top-Down Learning for Structured Labeling with Convolutional Pseudoprior."  The authors proposed a new method for structured labeling by developing convolutional pseudo-prior (ConvPP) on the ground-truth labels, and they reported "state-of-the-art results on sequential labeling and image labeling benchmarks."

    Learn more about VisComp papers presented at ECCV 2016 on the Jacobs School blog.  

  • Students, Alumni Take Top Spots at San Diego Zoohackathon

    Over the October 7-9 weekend, a small group of programmers participating in the inaugural Zoohackathon had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and see firsthand some of the species the San Diego Zoo Global has rescued from illegal wildlife trade. “The zookeepers brought out two monitor lizards that were brought into the United States illegally and confiscated,” said Utkrisht Rajkumar, a third year computer engineering major at the University of California San Diego. “It added a lot of context to the problems that we were trying to solve.”

    The group hunkered down for the weekend for a two-day invention session aimed at developing usable solutions to problems solicited from wildlife experts around the world. Leading conservation technology zoos in the U.S., UK, Asia and the Pacific are running similar events.

    At the end of the weekend, teams pitched their ideas to an expert panel of judges. The first-ever San Diego Zoohackathon took place at the Institute for Conservation Research in Escondido, Calif.

    One of those problems presented to the participants is that many illegal wildlife products, such as rosewood from protected forest habitats or ivory figurines made from elephant tusks, are confiscated upon arrival in the United States, and often the intent of the traveler isn’t criminal. With this information in mind,  Rajkumar and his team decided to make a website and mobile app called Safe Souvenirs to educate international travelers about which products will be confiscated if they buy them and later try to travel with them. The website can be accessed from airport kiosks before going through security.

    Rajkumar (far left) and computer science classmate Joshric Aurea (near left) hooked up with UC San Diego alumni Shannon Chamberlin (Ed.D., Teaching and Learning, ’14) and Alicia Johal (BS, Biology, ’10) at the event on Friday night, after learning that Chamberlin’s brother-in-law, also present at the event, had experience with iOS app development.

    “Getting to work alongside industry professionals was really special because we got a different perspective,” said Rajkumar, who previously participated in a student hackathon in 2015. “We wanted to come up with a solution that has impact right off the bat.”

    They’ll have that chance – Rajkumar’s team came in a close second, behind Wild Track, a team consisting of Fab Lab personnel and Accel Robotics co-founder and UC San Diego alumnus Nick Morozovsky (Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, ’14).
    Morozovsky’s team sought to improve upon a software tool known as Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, or SMART, the most widely adopted solution for managing law enforcement, ecological monitoring and intelligence in protected areas. While SMART does extremely well at capturing the data collected by rangers and conservationists, no solution exists to support local communities in reporting critical information such as poaching incidents, intelligence on poachers, wildlife trafficking and details of human-wildlife conflict.

    "Many residents of protected areas don't have smart phones," said Morozovsky. "We created a system in which a user can report illegal activity by sending an SMS text message to a number we selected, and the content will be analyzed for language and keywords. The data will then be imported into an existing database for law enforcement."

    The judges selected Wild Track as the winning hack because it addressed the problem at a deeper level, is both sustainable and scalable, and user-friendly. Both Wild Track and Safe Souvenirs won a private behind-the-scenes tour of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.