Soundbyte: Winter 1999
Many friends of the department have indicated to us that we needed a newsletter to inform alumni, local companies, and colleagues, of the progress and exciting research happening in the department. So, it gives me special pleasure to welcome you all to Soundbyte, our new newsletter.
I am also happy to report that the department is continuing to make excellent progress on all fronts. A recent article by the US News and World Report ranked us 22nd. ACM ranked us 16th based on certain types of publications. Research spending has increased eight-fold in the last 6 years. Based on research dollars spent we are now comparable to the best department in the Big 10 state schools (4th among 12 of the CIC Big Ten+ departments). What is even more exciting is that these numbers have steadily moved and reflect the growing strength and recognition of our department. The main reason for this uptrend is a group of young, dynamic and bright faculty members who were attracted here in recent years. The average faculty member is 45 years old, and getting younger every year! Another revealing statistic is that 64% of our faculty have been here less than 10 years. Recruiting will continue to be the most important activity in the department in the next few years. We currently have 5 openings, one of which is related to the new Digital Technology Center, to open in 2001.
The future of the department has never looked brighter. Last year state funding was approved for the construction of a $53 million University-wide Digital Technology Center. There is no doubt that this initiative will have a major beneficial impact on the department. Under the "supplemental" funding plan, the department will gain three "blue-chip" faculty positions, in the general area of networking and internet technologies. The search to fill one of these positions begins this year. If we fill all positions that are now open and the two additional "blue-chip" ones in the following two years, our faculty size would grow by over 25% by the year 2,001.
Great prospects often come with great challenges. One of these challenges is the difficulty in hiring good faculty due to rather stiff competition. A second challenge is that growth may be difficult to manage (issues with space, staffing requirements, etc.). Finally, student enrollments are growing at a brisk pace, close to 12% annually to be exact. The current increase in enrollments is partly related to the transition to semesters, with many students wanting to finish before the end of this academic year. However, there is an intrinsic national trend due to demographics and a healthy job market in the information technology area. The newly established Computer Engineering program is certain to prosper and bring in more students. All in all, this means that enrollments will keep going up in the years ahead. These increased enrollments have to be handled with care and foresight. We recently debated different ways to handle this growth and are still considering various options available that will allow growth without sacrificing on the quality of education.
One of my goals as department head is to ensure that the popularity of the Computer Science field will continue to spur the gains made by the department in recent years. In particular, it is vital that a good balance between research, education and service/outreach activities be maintained. It is also my personal goal to increase the visibility of the department, locally, nationally and internationally. With the recent Digital Technology Initiative and our excellent faculty, our department has the potential of moving to the top 15 CS departments in the nation, possibly even higher, depending on who we are able to bring on board. For this reason, recruiting is indeed the highest priority agenda item for us in the next few years.
Finally, this may be a good forum to solicit your help in identifying good potential candidates for the "blue-chip" positions as well as the other open positions (posted on our web page, see also Page 8 of this newsletter). You will do the department a great service if you can help us identify the right candidates for these positions.
Put together a group of top notch business people representing various fields in the information technology arena, with a sum total of a couple hundred years of combined information technology experience, and what do you get? That's right! You get the computer science and engineering department's advisory group--the Computer Science Associates.
Since the 1970' s the Computer Science Associates have met on a regular basis to lend their expertise and to provide input on industry trends to help create a top-notch Computer Science and Engineering Department. The associate's functions are to: examine issues relative to the programs of the Department; advise, assist and support the Department Head in identifying the needs of Minnesota business and industry, citizens of the region, and society as a whole relative to the programs of the department; evaluate and constructively critique programs and plans of the department; support new programs and plans with the university administration and with the business and industrial community; and promote awareness of the department and its programs in the community.
The current Computer Science Associates committee members are:
- John Borowicz, CSA president, OneLink;
- Dick Hedger, DataCard;
- Steve Adkins, General Dynamics Information Systems;
- Tom Rochat, past president CSA, General Dynamics Information System;
- Marilyn Rochat, Medtronic;
- Al Larson, IBM Rochester;
- Dave Naatz, IBM Rochester;
- Jim Zalazar, General Dynamics Information Systems;
- Don Bennett, Lockheed Martin;
- Rich Daly & Scott Ross, Software Technology Center;
- Tony Tong, Vallon;
- Larry Walker, Knowledge Management;
- George Welles, Imaging Futures;
- Melissa Worthington, Worthington Software Engineering;
- Walt Heimerdinger, Honeywell.
Computer Science Associates...thinking boldly, discussing and visioning trends, and collaborating with talented, enthusiastic faculty. Together, they are creating state-of-the-art thinking, teaching and research here at the University of Minnesota.
...Without you, our valued alumni and friends, our research work and teaching would not be possible at its current level of excellence. With your support you can help us move the Department of Computer Science and Engineering into the very top echelon of CS&E schools nationwide. Join these alumni and friends by sending in your gift today. Thank you for your support!
Dr. Maria Gini
My area of research is artificial intelligence and robotics. I am mainly interested in intelligent agents, in particular self-interested software agents that achieve their tasks by engaging in negotiations with other agents, and robotic agents that operate in unstructured and only partially known environments.
Even though robots and software agents appear quite different on the surface, they require answering similar research questions such as: how to design software architectures that distribute intelligence among autonomous entities, how to obtain intelligent behavior from systems with limited computing power and limited memory, how to allow agents to make informed decisions and learn despite their limited sensing capabilities, how to accomplish complex tasks by negotiation and/or cooperation.
See Dr. Maria Gini's web page for further information on her research and publications.
Dr. Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos
My work focuses on robotics, computer vision, and sensors for transportation applications. My group studies vision-based robot control and eye-in-hand robotic systems. I am particularly interested in problems such as vision-based robotic grasping, the active derivation of depth maps from controlled motion of a robotic system, the active calibration of the robot-camera system, the problem of automatically detecting moving objects of interest, the use of deformable models for tracking and manipulation of rigid and non-rigid objects, and the computation of the relative position of the target from the camera. Also emphasized is experimental verification of the theory done in the Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Vision Laboratory which has three Datacube systems and the Minnesota Robotic Visual Tracker (a flexible eye-in-hand robotic system). In computer vision, we have developed a method called "shape metamorphosis" for object recognition.
In transportation, I am interested in the use of computer vision techniques for pedestrian detection and tracking, vision-based vehicle following, bicycle counting, monitoring driver fatigue, and monitoring safety in work zones.
See Dr. Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos's web page for further information on his research and publications.
Dr. Richard Voyles
My research interests revolve around the field of "rapidly deployable systems." These are real-time, mechatronic systems and support services that can be quickly developed and quickly re-tasked for new applications. Major research efforts are in the area of programming by human demonstration, skill learning, reconfigurable multi-agent architectures, and tactile sensing and actuation for HCI.
Programming by human demonstration is a new paradigm for programming intended to replace the current approach of generating programs in text form. It is difficult enough to try to describe a complex task in natural language (imagine teaching a child to tie shoes over the phone), let alone in a programming language. In my view, the ultimate goal for programming is to show the robot what to do and have the robot create its own program. The emphasis would then shift from programming experts to task experts. But because each human is different, this sort of system requires the ability to interpret the human's intention to create task abstractions, rather than to just mimic what is observed. Gesture interpretation is a strong component of this aspect of my work as well as other interests in HCI.
See Dr. Richard Voyles' web page for further information on his research and publications.
Drs.Maria Gini and Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos
Photo by Jonothan Chapman
Internationally known for robotics research and education, the department of Computer Science and Engineering houses four sites where state-of-the-art robotics research takes place. These special facilities, linked to specific areas of research and named, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Vision Lab (AIRVL), Undergraduate Robotics Lab, Collaborative Systems Lab (CSL) and the Center for Distributed Robotics, enable students to participate daily in creating the future. Faculty members, Dr. Maria Gini, Dr. Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, and Dr. Richard Voyles, each experts in their respective fields, direct on-going projects with both graduate and undergraduate students.
Over the last few years, the AIRVL has been building an infrastructure for the rapid prototyping of small robotic systems. These facilities include a large number of embeddable microcontrollers, various sensors and actuators, and modular structural components. Common toys, including LEGO® Technic building blocks and remote-controlled car bodies, some modified with attached sensor and actuator components, provide the "modular structural components," as well as cheap, standard interfaces for rapid assembly. To brainstorm on a given project, these components can be quickly assembled to create a wide variety of new robotic systems, exploring alternative solutions to the same problem.
Utilizing these rapid prototyping capabilities, the most prominent project of the robotics labs is sponsored by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The 3-year contract is for the construction of a distributed robotic system of mini-robots for use in surveillance, de-mining and counter-terrorist operations. Tiny robots about the size and shape of a pickle, will be remotely deployed by larger robots about the size of a dog.
Using their small size as camouflage, these "mini-bots" will be able to perform their tasks undetected, keeping soldiers out of harm's way in unpredictable situations. This five-million dollar project is a collaborative effort among three academic departments (Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering) and three local companies (MTS Systems, Architecture Technology Corp., and Honeywell).
Contributing to microtechnologies, this DARPA project must address the difficulties in producing sufficient computational power for vision and intelligent movement on the scale of a centimeter. In parallel, the Computer Science and the Engineering Departments must develop the controller software. However, due to the complexity involved in the construction of such hardware, a robotic platform is not always available for testing. Therefore, rapid prototyping is essential so that both the controller software and the hardware can be developed in parallel.
Another sponsor of AIRVL, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) supports work emphasizing the use of computer vision techniques and their application toward intelligent transportation systems. Through these grants, AIRVL has successfully developed systems capable of pedestrian tracking and of automatic detection of driver fatigue. Also with MNDOT support, AIRVL is developing systems for bicycle counting, vehicle classification, and determination of vehicle occupancy using infrared imaging. Other lab projects include object recognition using "image morphing," automatic target recognition systems, and vision-based robotic reaching and grasping.
As the name implies, the Collaborative Systems Lab focuses on systems that collaborate: either machine-to-machine, program-to-program or machine-to-human. The primary projects involve gesture-based programming and self-adaptive software. Gesture-based programming is a form of programming by human demonstration; instead of programming a robot by typing text in a computer's language, the programmer simply shows the robot what to do and the system generates its own program. Self-adaptive software endeavors to imbue software agents with self-analysis capabilities so they can improve their own performance over time.
Spin-off of these major projects include research in tactile sensors, industrial-based robotic systems, and entertainment robotics. The latter is a collaborative effort with the Art Department to create intelligent puppets, robotic art, and "aesthetic mechatronics." The main attraction of this effort to-date is a 7-foot T-Rex that the team hopes to have walking soon.
The Undergraduate Robotics Lab, which is supported as an instructional facility, gives students the opportunity to experience research first-hand under faculty supervision. The success of the lab is evidenced by the receipt of several UROP grants and NSF Graduate Fellowships by lab participants.
Dr. Gini, a long-standing expert in artificial intelligence and its application to robotics, co-directs AIRVL and directs the Undergraduate Robotics Lab. Also a co-director of AIRVL, Dr. Papanikolopoulos is a leading researcher in robotics and computer vision. A recent addition to the department, Dr. Voyles is an expert in robotics. He directs the Collaborative Systems Lab and co-directs AIRVL. Together, they recently founded the Distributed Robotics Center which is to move to its new facilities in December.
AIRVL, the Collaborative Systems Laboratory, and the Undergraduate Robotics Lab provide support for over 25 graduate and undergraduate students. AIRVL has successfully graduated over 50 Masters and Ph.D. students who now hold prestigious positions in both industry and academia.
by Amy Larson and Paul Rybski
Dr. Victoria Interrante
Dr. Victoria Interrante, the newest member of the Department's staff is a specialist in visualization and computer graphics.
Dr. Interrante received her Ph.D. in 1996 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, advised by Drs. Henry Fuchs and Stephen Pizer. From 1996-1998 she was a staff scientist at ICASE, a non-profit research center operated by the Universities Space Research Association at NASA Langley. Dr. Interrante joined the faculty last July as an assistant professor.
Dr. Interrrante's current research focuses on the application of insights from visual perception, art and illustration to the design of more effective techniques for visualizing 3D data, in particular the study of shape and depth perception, shape-based feature extraction, and the representation of 3D shape through texture. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in visualization and computer graphics and has organized and lectured in tutorials on perceptual issues in graphics and visualization at SIGGRAPH '97 and '98, and IEEE Visualization '96, '97, and '98. She was a participant in the panel discussion at IEEE Visualization '98 entitled "Art and Visualization: Oil and Water?" which won the "Best Panel" Award and was very well received. Dr. Interrante was recently awarded a Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry and Scholarship from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota.
See Dr. Victoria Interrante's web page for more information on her research and publications.
Dr. Vipin Kumar
Dr. Vipin Kumar, professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, has been named the new director of the Army High Performance Computing Research Center (AHPCRC). This appointment is an acknowledgement of Dr. Kumar's extensive and unparalleled work in the area of high performance computing, parallel algorithms for scientific computing problems, and data mining.
The center was established at the University of Minnesota in 1989 by the U.S. Army after a nation-wide competitive selection process. The University received a $65 million dollar grant to conduct research in high-performance computing. In 1995, the Center was renewed for another five years. AHPCRC is the only academic research center funded by the U.S. Army for high performance computing research. Although many computer science faculty have been involved since the inception of the Center, this is the first time the leadership of the center comes from the department of computer science and engineering.
Computer science researchers at the Center have focused on the development of algorithms for solving large-scale simulation problems using high performance computers, as well as for decision support for battlefield visualization. Metis, the software library for partitioning large unstructured graphs developed by Professors Karpis and Kumar at the Center, is used world-wide in a variety of domains including high-performance scientific simulation, VLSI circuit design, and data mining.
The center maintains and operates a 256-node, 128 giga byte Cray T3-1200 parallel supercomputer. This is one of the largest supercomputers available at any academic institution world-wide.
Dr. Kumar has authored over 100 research articles, and co-edited or co-authored 5 books, including the widely used text book, "Introduction to Parallel Computing" (Publ. Benjamin Cummings/Addison Wesley, 1994). Professor Kumar has given numerous invited talks at various conferences, workshops and national labs. He has served as chair/co-chair for many conferences/workshops in the area of parallel computing and high performance data mining.
Dr. Kumar serves on the editorial boards of IEEE Concurrency, Parallel Computing, the Journal of Parallel and Distributed Computing, and has served on the editorial board of IEEE. He is a member of SIAM and ACM, and is a Fellow of the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute.
Dr. Kumar is also the associate head of the department of computer science and engineering.
For more information on Dr. Kumar and his research and publications, please visit his web page.
The Department of Computer Science and Engineering has up to four position openings for the assistant professor level, but highly qualified applicants at higher ranks will also be considered. Specialists from all areas of computer science are encouraged to apply. Requirements include a Ph.D. in computer science or closely related discipline, a commitment to quality teaching, and the potential for carrying out outstanding research. Senior candidates must possess a distinguished record of teaching, research and service.
Applications are invited from candidates with an outstanding record of research accomplishment. Software systems is broadly defined to include software engineering, networking, multimedia, internet technology, electronic commerce, computer security, high performance computing, parallel and distributed systems, databases, graphics and visualization, and human-computer interaction. Applicants must possess a distinguished research record, demonstrated ability in establishing and leading a highly visible research program and possess a strong commitment to quality teaching and mentoring at the graduate and undergraduate levels. A Ph.D. in Computer Science or a closely related area is required. The appointment will be at the rank of tenured Associate or Full Professor and will afford the right individual the opportunity, resources, and flexibility to build a top-notch research program.
You will find complete position descriptions listed at our web site at: http://www.cs.umn.edu/employment.
Soundbyte is published twice a year by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota. Please direct comments or questions to:
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