All posts by Kathy Pretz

This AWS Machine Learning Manager is Rooting Out Bias in AI Programs

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/this-aws-machine-learning-manager-is-rooting-out-bias-in-ai-programs

THE INSTITUTE Growing up in an all-female household, Nashlie Sephus was a do-it-yourselfer from a young age. She learned to do household repairs and other odd jobs around her Jackson, Miss., home.

“We had to do everything, whether that meant getting on top of the roof to hang the Christmas lights or putting up a new ceiling fan,” the IEEE member says. “It was little things like that which really got me into being curious about how things work.”

Sephus went to sleepaway camps that focused on a variety of topics including math and science. One of those was an engineering camp exclusively for girls. The program was short—two weeks long—but it introduced her to computer engineering, and she decided it was the field she wanted to work in.

Today Sephus is an applied scientist who manages the Amazon Web Services (AWS) machine-learning group, in Atlanta. She evaluates the company’s AI-based facial analysis and recognition tools to root out bias in them, and she is leading the development of a bias-identification tool for machine-learning models.

She also has been working to give back to her hometown by financing the creation of a tech hub in Jackson’s downtown.

CAREER PATH

Mathematics was Sephus’s favorite subject in school. One day her eighth-grade math teacher pulled Sephus aside after class and encouraged her to check out an engineering camp for girls at Mississippi State University, near Starkville. Sephus, who was more excited about the opportunity to spend some time away from home, recognizes that the camp changed her life.

“That was the first time I was really introduced to hands-on topics in each discipline of engineering,” she says. “Not only did I know what engineering was, I [discovered] that computer engineering was fascinating, because all these letters and numbers we were typing into the computer could control so many things around me. I knew that computer engineering was what I wanted to do.”

Because the camp was for girls only, it removed the barrier of “feeling like you’re the only one,” she says. “These were just all girls wanting to learn about engineering, and it made it a much better environment to grow in.”

She says she also learned how to relate to people from different backgrounds—which came in handy when she went off to college and then entered the workforce.

“It’s no secret that in most of my classes—and even in other settings—that sometimes I’m the only female, sometimes the only black person. And at times I may be the only person who was born in the United States,” she says.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Mississippi State in 2007. Instead of going directly into the workforce, she decided to pursue a master’s degree and Ph.D., also in electrical and computer engineering, at Georgia Tech.

Having a doctorate, she recalls thinking, “would allow me to be in rooms that I probably would not have been able to be in without it.”

After earning her Ph.D. in 2014, Sephus helped create Partpic in Atlanta. The company was an all-black female AI startup, and Sephus was its CTO. It created algorithms, now patented, to identify replacement parts such as screws, bolts, and washers from an image uploaded by the user. Its algorithms would find the exact match for the part and send the person a link to a store where it could be purchased. Partpic was acquired by Amazon in 2016, and the company hired Sephus and 10 of her coworkers.

“I’m very happy to say we were probably the most diverse engineering team Amazon had ever had at that point,” she says. “We were also the first engineering team that Amazon had in Atlanta and in the Southeast.”

Her first job at Amazon was software development manager for the company’s visual search tool, which also uses images of products to find matches. In 2019 she joined the AWS machine-learning team. She evaluates the company’s facial analysis and recognition tools such as Rekognition. Amazon’s software has been used by law enforcement agencies for surveillance purposes, and civil rights advocates have raised concerns about racial bias in the technology. Researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology found that the software’s algorithms do not work as well in correctly identifying women and people of color. Amazon in June instated a yearlong moratorium on the sale of the software to law enforcement.

“We want to make sure that we measure where biases may occur, whether that be in data or algorithms or even in the evaluation,” Sephus says. “We also want to be sure that we’re being transparent and our experiments are reproduceable.”

Sephus’s work and influence contributed to AWS’s recently launched SageMaker Clarify tool, which helps identify biases in machine-learning models that were developed using the company’s SageMaker software.

Sephus’s new job requires her to work with Amazon’s legal and public policy teams. She has spoken with members of the U.S. Congress, regulators, and organizations about how bias in code is an industrywide problem.

Overcoming bias is partly a matter of educating people on how the technology works, she says.

“It’s about ensuring that customers are using the technology properly,” she says. “It’s about making sure that [those] the technology is being used on are being treated fairly. There are many different stakeholders that need to be brought into the conversation on how we solve those problems.”

NEW TECH HUB

In her free time, Sephus has been working to give back to her hometown. Using her proceeds from the sale of Partpic, in 2018 she founded The Bean Path, a nonprofit organization in Jackson that provides free technical assistance to small businesses, senior citizens, and students. More than 350 people have used its services. The nonprofit sets up shop in libraries and community centers. It also runs coding and engineering programs for youngsters and offers them scholarships.

“Being a tech expert and having the well-versed experience that I’ve had, I wanted to show people what is possible when you get on the tech bandwagon,” Sephus says.

The nonprofit purchased 12 acres of land and seven buildings in the downtown area in September. The group aims to build a coding training center, a maker space, coworking space, and an innovation hub for entrepreneurs.

“We’re really bringing the [local] community, the tech community, and the entrepreneurship community all together in the central Mississippi area,” Sephus says. “Hopefully this will catch on like wildfire and really connect a lot of the great work that is already happening in Mississippi, and build one solid community.”

Almesha Campbell, director of technology transfer, commercialization, and research communications at Jackson State University, told the Clarion Ledger that a partnership with the university and the new tech district will provide opportunities for students and graduates.

“Jackson State has a school of engineering and a school of business. All the students have great ideas,” Campbell said. “They can actually work with Nashlie and can help the community develop technologies.

Campbell added that the tech district could play a critical role in stemming the brain drain from the state.

“It’s creating that kind of opportunity for [young people] to say, ‘Hey, Jackson, Mississippi, is actually doing something great, and I want to be part of it, and I want to contribute,” she said. “It’s going to have a really big impact, not just for the city of Jackson but for the state of Mississippi.”

THE IEEE NETWORK

Sephus first got involved with IEEE when she joined Mississippi State’s student branch. She belongs to the IEEE Signal Processing Society and IEEE Women in Engineering.

She says participating in the organization helps her build her network.

“I’ve met people through conferences from everywhere across the world,” she says. “I was able to expose what I do to a broader audience through speaking engagements, panels, and the papers I’m working on. I love being able to bring people into my world so they can understand exactly what it is that I do, and hope to encourage them to want to do the same.”

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

The Visionary Designer Behind Google’s Warehouse-Scale Data Centers

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/the-visionary-designer-behind-googles-warehousescale-data-centers

THE INSTITUTE Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Luiz André Barroso seemed destined to become a physician. After all, his grandfather, father, uncle, and aunt were all health professionals. But when he was 8 years old, he decided he wanted to become an electrical engineer.

“I don’t advise anybody to make career decisions when they are 8 years old,” Barroso says, laughing. But his early determination paid off. Today he is a vice president of engineering at Google in Mountain View, Calif.

The IEEE senior member credits his grandfather, a surgeon in the Brazilian Navy, with inspiring him to become an engineer. His grandfather’s hobby was radio, and Barroso would spend hours helping him fix radios and build microphones and antennas at the family’s cacao farm.

Barroso, who has worked for Google for nearly 20 years, heads the office of cross-Google engineering, responsible for technical roadmaps that cut across multiple product lines. He has worked on some of the company’s most popular products including its Web index search and the Google Maps navigation app.

The Google Fellow is best known as the designer of the company’s data centers, which house hundreds of thousands of computer servers and disk drives. The facilities have brought us cloud computing, powerful search engines, and faster Internet services.

For his pioneering work on data centers, Barroso was named this year’s recipient of the Eckert-Mauchly Award from the Association for Computing Machinery and the IEEE Computer Society. The award recognizes contributions to computer and digital systems architecture.

In this interview with The Institute, he talks about what led to the need for the huge data centers and what he’s working on these days.

JOURNEY FROM BRAZIL

After Barroso received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in 1989, he was accepted to the University of Southern California’s computing engineering program, in Los Angeles, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1996.

His plan was to return to Brazil to become an engineering professor, but the country was experiencing an economic downturn. Universities weren’t hiring. He got an interview in 1995 to work for Digital Equipment Corp.’s Western Research Laboratory (WRL), in Palo Alto, Calif.

“Many people may not appreciate it today, but Digital was an amazingly innovative company in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s,” he says. “I couldn’t believe that these folks wanted to interview me, and then I couldn’t believe they gave me a job. To this day, I don’t remember being as thrilled with a professional accomplishment as I was the day they invited me to interview.”

The WRL was small and prestigious, Barroso says, and the 20 or so researchers there did applied research, which he liked.

“There I found some of the top researchers in computer architecture, which was my field of study at the time,” he says. “I had the mentorship, and I had the resources to begin investigating how to build hardware to run more modern applications.”

He explains that in the 1970s and early ’80s, large-scale computers were designed to run high-performance number-crunching applications used for weather forecasting and simulating nuclear reactions. But in the early 1990s, demand grew for high-performance computers capable of running business applications and Web services.

“I was really interested in figuring out if the hardware we had been designing for numerical workloads for the last two decades was a good fit for this new field or not. And it turns out that it was not,” he says. “We were designing in the ’90s for the market of the ’80s.”

Barroso researched various workloads to see how Digital’s hardware could support them.

“One we were investigating was AltaVista, which was, in some ways, the world’s first bona fide search engine,” he says. “I didn’t know at the time that I would eventually join the company that became almost synonymous with search engines.”

LONG-TERM GOOGLER

Compaq bought Digital in 1998 and then canceled the microprocessor project that Barroso had been working on for more than two years.

“I was bummed and thought, Wow, this is a tough business, this microprocessor design business,” he says. “You invest years, and at any one point in time the economics of the situation may change. There’s a big window of vulnerability for your projects to be canceled, so I began to think about doing something different.”

Two of Barroso’s former Digital colleagues, Jeffrey Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, encouraged him to join them at Google.

Barroso says he didn’t think he would be a good fit there.

“Are you insane?” he says he asked the two. “I design chips. You build search engines. Why in the world would you think I’ll be useful? But, of course, they knew that I had an interest in high-performance applications. So I decided: What the heck, let’s give that a try.”

As it turned out, Google was about to become much more of a hardware company than it had been.

BUILDING A SERVER FARM

When Barroso joined Google in 2001, the company—like others—housed its servers at leased space in third-party data centers, which were basically cages in which a few racks of computing equipment were placed. In 2004, as the economy recovered from the dot-com crash, demand began to grow for space at the facilities. At the same time, Google’s search business was expanding rapidly, and it recently had launched its email product, Gmail.

Those services, Barroso says, required a building’s worth of machines to run. And the hardware and the software together had to deliver the performance needed—which he says could be achieved only by taking a “holistic approach” to design and deployment. In other words, he says, “The data center itself had to be treated as one massive warehouse-scale computer, built from the ground up.

“At the time,” he says, “we didn’t know that we were inventing almost a new kind of computer.”

The first such data center, in The Dalles, Ore., was completed in 2006.

Barroso says the first time he set foot in Google’s massive, new data center, there were machines, cables, and networking hardware as far as the eye could see.

“I saw something that I had only dreamed about during the design phase,” he says. “It was an amazing moment.”

From a sustainability standpoint, Google’s facilities were efficient. The centers implemented fault-tolerance software and hardware infrastructure to make the servers more resilient against disruption.

“If you offer an Internet service, people expect it to be up all the time,” Barroso says.

He coauthored a book on the architecture in 2009, The Datacenter as a Computer: An Introduction to the Design of Warehouse-Scale Machines.

“Luiz joined at just the right moment, when data centers and energy-efficient servers were becoming more and more important to Google,” says Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of Google’s technical infrastructure. “In a span of just two to three years, Luiz and his team transformed the design of data centers, reducing the cooling overhead of our data centers by a factor of five versus conventional designs.”

DATA CENTER INNOVATIONS

Barroso’s team explored several areas for improving efficiency. One was to allow the data center floor to run at warmer temperatures—which can actually help cooling systems run more efficiently without sacrificing component reliability, Barroso says.

He is looking for ways to improve computing efficiency by speeding up communication. Today’s computers can deal well with events that take milliseconds, such as accessing a disk drive or sending a message over the Internet—or nanoseconds, like loading a piece of data from main memory. But more and more events in a data center are happening at the midrange microsecond scale, such as sending a message from one machine inside the building to another.

“For a collection of servers to perform better than one server, the efficiency of the communication between these servers has to be very high,” Barroso explains. “You can throw 10 servers instead of one at a problem, but you may get only two times the performance improvement if communication performance is poor. Addressing that microsecond scale will address the scalability and, therefore, the efficiency of data center scale workloads.”

Microsecond time scale events are a relatively new thing in computing, he says, and the computer industry has yet to react to it.

“It hasn’t figured out how to make things like that be efficient,” he says. “By keeping this issue unaddressed we hurt the efficiency and the ease of programmability of big data center scale workloads.”

In “Attack of the Killer Microseconds,” a 2017 article in Communications of the ACM, he and his coauthors described the problem and pointed out ways that the computer industry could solve it.

Other projects Barroso is leading include Google and Apple’s free contact-tracing app for COVID-19, the Exposure Notifications System. The app, which runs on iPhones and Android phones, exchanges private keys with other phones via Bluetooth. A person who tests positive for COVID-19 can press a button to send an alert to phones that have been in close proximity with her phone in an anonymous fashion. Public health officials in about 16 countries and 20 U.S. states have released the app to citizens.

“It’s been really a point of pride that we’re able to, in a small way, be part of the arsenal that public health authorities have to fight the pandemic,” Barroso says.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY

Barroso joined IEEE when he was a graduate student. “All the clever people I knew were members of the IEEE,” he says, “so I decided that if I wanted to behave like a clever person in college, I should become an IEEE member.”

He says he stays with the organization because IEEE gives him a sense of community through its conferences, speaker panels, and publishing opportunities.

“It provided me with this community of people to exchange ideas with,” he says. “Even though I’ve never been an academic, the forums that IEEE provides for industrial technologists to interact with academics is really valuable. I’ve taken full advantage of that.”

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

“Understanding Delta-Sigma Data Converters” Named Outstanding Professional Book

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-products-services/understanding-deltasigma-data-converters-named-outstanding-professional-book

THE INSTITUTE Understanding Delta-Sigma Data Converters, 2nd Edition has been selected as the recipient of the first Wiley-IEEE Press outstanding professional book award. The annual award was established this year to honor the best professional book published in the last three years by Wiley-IEEE Press in a field relevant to IEEE.

The Wiley-IEEE Press publishes books and reference works for the engineering and computer science communities.

The authors are IEEE Fellows Shanthi Pavan, Richard E. Schreier, and Gabor Temes. The book covers an important technique used to convert analog signals into digital form—according to a member of the awards committee.

This is an “outstanding book and deserves to be honored as the inaugural recipient,” says another member. “The book is a comprehensive, yet readable resource that encompasses both theory and application details. The authors have an engaging and accessible style, but they don’t shirk on technical depth. The book was clearly a labor of love for the authors, and it shows.”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Pavan is an Institute Chair professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, in Chennai. He has served as the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems. Pavan also serves on the editorial boards of the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Letters and the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits. He a Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering.

Schreier, who retired in 2016 from Analog Devices, lives in Ontario, Canada. At Analog, he was a division Fellow in the High-Speed Converters group.

Temes is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University, in Corvallis. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Inventors. Temes is the recipient of the 2006 IEEE Gustav Robert Kirchhoff Award. He was the vice president of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society and received its 2009 Mac Valkenburg Award. He also served as editor of the IEEE Transactions on Circuit Theory.

IEEE Press editor in chief, Ekram Hossain, had this to say about the award and authors, “This is the first award of this kind across IEEE to recognize the excellence of Wiley-IEEE authors. It truly recognizes the impact of their book to our professional community.”

Nominations for the 2021 awards will open in late January and will be considered for two categories: Wiley-IEEE Press Textbook Award and Wiley-IEEE Press Professional Book Award.

IEEE members receive a 35 percent discount off this book if they order it from Wiley. Learn about other benefits of IEEE membership from IEEE Press.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Want to be a Global Entrepreneur? Here’s How You Can Do It

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/want-to-be-a-global-entrepreneur-heres-how-you-can-do-it

THE INSTITUTE Many startups that want to have a global presence often struggle with how to build one. With high-speed Internet, high-quality voice and video communication services, and more funding opportunities for startups, it’s never been easier to tap into the global market, says venture advisor Chenyang Xu.

“Today’s world is increasingly interconnected,” says Xu, an IEEE Fellow. “In the last five years, I think the [entrepreneurship] activities around the globe have only intensified as many forms of accelerators, incubation investment entities, angel investors, venture capitalists—you name it—have become global and mainstream. The other big, driving force is that many nations have adopted growing entrepreneurship as a national strategy.”

Startup hubs have sprung up in many countries, he notes. Boston, Tel Aviv, New York City, and Silicon Valley are no longer the only viable places to launch your company or find talented people.

“A new generation of technology entrepreneurs are emerging around the globe,” he says. “There will still be entrepreneurs who focus on serving the local market, but I think this new generation of global technology entrepreneurs is going to be a major force to shape the future of the economy and innovation. They will significantly transform how people live, work, and study elsewhere.

“Becoming a global technology entrepreneur is increasingly common, but it’s not easy. To succeed and seize the immense opportunities requires acquiring a new mindset and new skills and contacts.”

Here’s his advice on how to succeed in the global market.

CULTURE IS KEY

Understand the culture of the country you want to operate in and how technology can help, Xu says.

“Culture is at the core of everything,” he says, “and no amount of business experience will help you succeed.

Become immersed in the region’s business constraints and regulations, he advises. To help you with that, hire locals. They will understand these issues and be key to building businesses and partnerships, he says.

THINK GLOBAL

Consider setting up your company to be global from the start, Xu says. Begin by picking founding partners that are in the locations you want to be in. Select people to sit on your board and advisory board who understand how things work in that region, the challenges your company might face, how fundraising is handled, and what the talent pool is. Your directors and advisors should come from different industries and different parts of the world.

“I believe global startups should be multilocal,” Xu says. Multilocal companies operate locally in more than one region of the world.

That could mean having offices in multiple locations—which can add complexity to managing people, especially if it’s a small team.

It can be expensive to lease offices when you’re just starting out, especially in an area such as Silicon Valley. Instead, consider using coworking places. Nearly every large city has some.

“They make having an office in different locations more affordable and scalable as you add more staff,” Xu says.

Also, don’t feel the need locate to the popular tech hubs because you think that’s where all the good talent is. Xu says you can find solid performers in just about any major city.

But, he says, you don’t always need to have an office in the country in which you operate. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have learned that remote working can be effective. Employees now collaborate via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other Web conferencing tools.

“Remote working and remote commuting have become the new norm,” Xu says, “and I think this new behavior will persist even when the pandemic ends.”

MORE FUNDING AVAILABLE

Several accelerators have undergone a global expansion in the past few years and now have offices around the world. They include Founders Space, Plug and Play, Startupbootcamp, Techstars, and Y Combinator.

Xu notes that countries are setting up development offices around the world to help fund their citizens’ ventures. German Accelerator, a venture backed by Germany’s government, helps startups operate in Boston, New York City, Silicon Valley, Singapore, and elsewhere. Through Innovation Centre Denmark, the government in Copenhagen is helping Danish companies break into new markets including in Boston, Munich, and Seoul.

IDENTIFY GLOBAL NEEDS

Consider solving problems that have a global impact, Xu says.

“While you might start off solving a problem in your region, think about whether the solution could be used in other parts of the world,” he says.

Zipline, which uses drones to distribute medical products, is one example. Founded in 2014, the company is based in Silicon Valley. The startup—which designs, builds, and operates its own small drone aircraft—started by delivering medical supplies from its distribution centers in Ghana and Rwanda. The company has since expanded its operations to India, the Philippines, and the United States.

“They now have a valuation of more than US $1 billion,” Xu says, “and through venture funding have raised over $200 million. This is really a remarkable model [of global entrepreneurship]. I didn’t think it was possible 10 years ago that you could impact the world, help these developing countries with new technology, and still [make a profit] during the startup phase of a company.”

Another example is Brex, a promising financial-services company tailored for startups. Brex uses artificial intelligence to assess the credit risk of early-stage startups. The founders had set up financial-services companies in Brazil. After gaining experience there and seeing some success, they moved to San Francisco in 2017 to launch Brex. It is one of the fastest-growing payment systems for startups. Last year Forbes reported that Brex had raised $315 million in funding and was valued at $2.6 billion.

“If you can solve the problems that matter both locally and globally, the solution can actually help you accelerate your [startup] more quickly,” Xu says.

Remote Learning Made Easier With This Startup’s Online Engineering Labs

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/remote-learning-made-easier-with-this-startups-online-engineering-labs

THE INSTITUTE Hands-on online laboratories have grown in popularity now that schools around the world are conducting classes remotely or restricting the number of students on campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The remote options allow students access to a physical laboratory to conduct experiments. They are real labs, not simulations; students use actual hardware and software.

Some universities have their own remote labs, while others are using ones offered by LabsLand, a startup with offices in Bilbao, Spain, and St. Louis. The company provides preuniversity schools and colleges with access to a network of 30 university labs that cover six topics: biology, chemistry, electronics, physics, robotics, and technology.

Students can learn how to program an Arduino Uno board, for example, or experiment with principles of analogic electronics.

LabsLand and its partner universities use cameras, sensors, and other equipment to enable students to monitor and interact with the laboratory setups. The students use web-based interfaces designed by LabsLand.

The company also can build labs for schools and provide technical support for those that operate their own remote lab.

The startup’s labs can be integrated with learning platforms such as Blackboard, Canvas, Classroom, and Moodle.

LabsLand provides analytics programs so instructors can monitor their students’ progress.

Schools pay a subscription fee for the use of the lab network, but LabsLand provided free access to its labs from March to September. Since October it has been offering discounts on its subscriptions in certain circumstances.

The startup’s founders are IEEE Senior Members Pablo Orduña and Luis Rodriguez-Gil.

“Our labs have been used more than 150,000 times this year by 120 universities,” Orduña says. “Students are remotely able to upload their code and run it. They’re able to move switches and touch key pads and see the effect in real time of what’s happening in the hardware.”

PROOF OF CONCEPT

Virtual labs might seem like a new concept, but Orduña and Rodriguez-Gil have been working in the field for more than a decade.

The two founders met in Bilbao at the University of Deusto.

“We were in the same research group,” Rodriguez-Gil says. “Pablo started in the lab in 2004. I started in 2009. Pablo started his Ph.D. in 2007 and finished in 2013. I started my Ph.D. in 2014 and finished in 2017. Pablo was one of the two Ph.D. advisors.”

They worked on remote hands-on labs as part of the university’s WebLab-Deusto research group, led by their Ph.D. advisor, IEEE Senior Member Javier García-Zubía, a former chair of the IEEE Education Society’s Spanish section chapter.

Orduña and Rodriguez-Gil continued in the field after they graduated. LabsLand, which launched in 2015, is a spin-off of WebLab.

“We saw that as our university’s [remote lab] was growing, there were some [pieces] missing, and [it also] needed technical and organization support,” Orduña says. Along with other colleagues who invested time and money, Orduña and Rodriguez-Gil decided to create LabsLand to provide more services.

LabsLand recently received funding from Arch Grants, Impact EdTech, and BBK Venture Philanthropy.

INSTRUCTOR FEEDBACK

Dominik May, an assistant professor and education researcher in the Engineering Education Transformations Institute at the University of Georgia, in Athens, says that even before the pandemic, several electrical and computer engineering classes had started using remote labs in addition to traditional in-person labs. Now, he says, LabsLand provides several of the college’s labs, which are used for teaching electronics and circuits design as well as chemical engineering courses.

“Our aim is to not only integrate remote labs into courses as some kind of additional service but also we see that online labs have the potential to be transformative for engineering education as a whole,” May says. “They are a perfect way to customize learning experiences and to prepare students for an environment in which remote working is becoming more important.”

More universities have subscribed to LabsLand since learning went remote to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Engineering professors who were teaching digital design using field-programmable gate array boards at the University of Washington in Seattle and New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces, started looking for ways to make the boards available to students.

UW’s assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein says the school  shipped lab kits to students, but  some sent overseas were lost in customs. The IEEE senior member teaches electrical and computer engineering technology. The labs are offered jointly to electrical engineering, computer science and engineering students, which she says serves “a large number of students.”

Hussein says switching to remote labs allows students to get the same experience as in an actual classroom, and at their convenience. The instructors can access the students’ work by viewing their demonstration via a webcam. For example, the teachers might ask the student to flip a switch to see LEDs turn on or check that a counter is working correctly. These are the same assessments they would conduct in face-to-face classes.

“Students are everywhere now in the world. [When] they cannot be on campus, they still need to do the labs and they still need access to the hardware. We needed a reliable and sustainable solution for this,” she says. “That’s why I believe educators need to think differently given the new circumstances such that they provide the same experience as much as possible to the students without the hassle of the logistics.”

Hussein deployed eight FPGA boards at UW for her digital design class in the Autumn quarter. The boards are integrated into the LabsLand network. Hussein reports a successful experience with the remote lab and expects it to continue serving the needs of her course in future quarters.

IEEE Senior Member Paul Furth, an associate professor in NMSU’s department of engineering technology and surveying engineering, is a big fan of the LabsLand software.

“It’s very easy to use and reliable,” Furth says. “When you’re teaching it to a new user, they catch on quickly.” LabsLands has great hardware, but he pays a ton of attention to the software interface.”

Orduña says the boards used by UW and NMSU are housed at the Public University of Navarre, in Pamplona, Spain. Overseeing the lab is Cándido Aramburu, a professor of electrical, electronic, and communication engineering. Although UW now has its own boards, Orduña says, Aramburu’s boards have been used by thousands of students during the pandemic.

IEEE CONNECTION

Orduña and Rodriguez-Gill have been active in IEEE for some time.

Their engineering thesis on computer science and Orduña’s Ph.D. research thesis won awards from the IEEE Education Society’s Spanish section chapter.

Orduña is a past vice chair of the society’s standards committee. He cowrote IEEE Std. 1876-2019 Networked Smart Learning Objects for Online Laboratories.

Orduña proudly notes that the student branch at the Spanish National Distance Education University, in Madrid, uses LabsLand’s remote labs regularly for its events.

Both founders recently became professional members of the school’s newly created Nu Alpha chapter of IEEE Eta Kappa Nu.

Several of their research papers have been published in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

“We have always kept a close relationship with the IEEE community,” Orduña says.

The Mobile Health Tech That Could Combat COVID-19

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/the-mobile-health-tech-that-could-combat-covid19

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE In April more than 60 digital health experts from around the world set out to determine whether today’s mobile-health technologies can help in the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics. The Task Force on mHealth Technology assessed 90 wearable sensors, contact-tracing apps, and electronic patient-reported outcome systems. The latter compile medical information recorded by individuals, such as their vital signs.

The task force’s members represented hospitals, universities, and government agencies as well as consumer electronic, technology, and pharmaceutical companies.

The group reported its findings in “Can mHealth Technology Help Mitigate the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic?” The 70-page report, recently published in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology, is organized into nine sections, corresponding to the technologies the experts reviewed.

The lead author is Paolo Bonato, former vice president of publications for the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS), which sponsors the journal. Bonato, an IEEE senior member, heads the Motion Analysis Lab at the Spaulding Research Institute, in Boston. He is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

“What’s unique about this project is that it involved a large number of individuals from around the world who contributed their thoughts on how we could use these technologies for medical effect,” Bonato says. “I thought IEEE EMBS should [publish the report] because it is the largest society that deals with these types of issues, so it’s something that we are uniquely positioned to do, and we have a professional obligation to do.”

Here are some key takeaways from the report.

CONTACTLESS MONITORING

Many researchers and companies have pitched wearables as a way to monitor vital signs remotely, reducing how often medical professionals and patients need to come into close contact. The task force reviewed 27 biosensing systems including wrist-based health trackers, skin patches, and sensors embedded in clothing. The wearables can measure heart rate, skin temperature, blood oxygenation, and other vital signs.

The group found that bio patches—adhesive sensors that stick to the skin—are generally more suitable than smart watches and other wrist-worn sensors, particularly when clinicians are interested in assessing cardiovascular function. The patches can be used for continuous monitoring. Some can even record coughing and sneezing characteristics.

Skin-interfaced sensors could be used to assess lung function of patients with respiratory symptoms. Flexible biosensors could be incorporated into cuffless blood-pressure monitoring devices to identify changes, possibly associated with the coronavirus.

While promising, such wearables have limitations, the report says. They can’t capture information about all the body’s functions, because they are designed to be placed on just a few areas of the body.

Other concerns the experts raised include data security and privacy issues. Ethical concerns need to be considered, they said, to ensure that COVID-19 monitoring does not lead to unintended uses.

Tracing CONTACTs

Contact tracing is one approach being used to stop the spread of the virus. In many areas, the task is done by people, who ask those with the virus for the names and telephone numbers of those with whom they spent time during the previous 14 days. The process can be problematic because the patient might not have that information, might not remember, or might be too sick to provide any details.

To address those issues, many companies are developing contact-tracing technology to gather the data. The task force reviewed about 50 such products. Of those, they determined that 43 had potential: 26 smartphone apps, six online surveys, and 11 data aggregators.

The apps use GPS, Bluetooth, gyroscopes, and other smartphone features to determine when people are close to one another and for how long. Online surveys require a participant to supply information about symptoms, location, age, gender, medical condition, and contact with COVID-positive individuals.

Data aggregators collect location information from smartphones to provide insights such as COVID-19 cases by location. Other apps use datasets maintained by academic institutions, governments, and open-source projects. Most provide risk assessments and offer data-visualization features to dig into the data and interpret trends.

According to the report, online surveys and data aggregators do provide information about trends in symptoms and where infected people are located. Such information can help officials allocate resources to affected areas and decide, for example, whether to close area schools and restaurants.

The authors said that for contact-tracing solutions to be effective, there needs to be broad adoption, as well as timely reporting of confirmed diagnoses and encouragement to share data.

They also cautioned that because of the sensitive nature of the information being collected, strong privacy and ethical safeguards should be incorporated into the products.

SELF-REPORTING SYSTEMS

Electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) platforms are used for a variety of purposes including tracking patients’ symptoms, monitoring their condition, checking vital signs, gathering health information, managing prescriptions, and making appointments. According to the report, the systems have evolved from simple computer- and telephone-based systems to mostly app-based platforms often combined with wearable devices.

The task force reviewed 13 ePRO systems, all with COVID-19 modules. Some incorporate questionnaires that doctors can use to determine whether a patient likely has the condition from the symptoms he or she reported.

The experts also checked whether the platforms could perform contact tracing to help prevent the spread of the virus, and found four that did.

“One of the advantages that all platforms offer is the ability to massively implement their solution across large cities or countries. Most platforms can be deployed immediately or in a couple of weeks,” the authors wrote. “Even if some challenges exist, the relevance and impact that ePRO solutions can have in scenarios like the one presented during COVID-19 are apparent, as they allow clinicians to effectively identify, classify, monitor, and manage noncritical patients remotely to prevent saturation of the health care system.”

CAUTIOUS APPROACH

In their summary, the authors wrote that the mHealth technologies they reviewed have “truly revolutionary potential” but that companies need to proceed with caution.

“Some of the largest issues in the adoption of mHealth technologies are related to preserving privacy, establishing data sharing, maintaining accessibility, and ensuring data security and safety,” the experts said. “While the technology rises to meet this challenge, regulations and policies will need to be enacted to ensure their safe use and smooth implementation into routine clinical care.”

Q&A: U.S. Science Foundation Director on His Vision for the Agency

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/qa-us-science-foundation-director-on-his-vision-for-the-agency

THE INSTITUTE Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan left his academic career at Arizona State University in June to start a six-year appointment as director of the U.S. National Science Foundation. There the IEEE Fellow oversees the foundation’s 2,100 employees and its day-to-day operations.

Panchanathan is also responsible for directing the agency’s mission, including supporting all fields of fundamental science and engineering in such areas as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

He also has a large budget to manage: US $8.3 billion. That is about 25 percent of the total amount the U.S. government spends to support basic research. The money goes to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities, and institutions across the country.

Panchanathan is no stranger to the NSF. He was appointed in 2014 to serve on its National Science Board, a 25-member group that establishes the foundation’s overall policies. 

He spent the past 23 years at ASU in Phoenix, where he developed people-centric technologies and fostered innovative research. He helped found the university’s School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering and its Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing. He also led its Knowledge Enterprise, which supports entrepreneurs with research, strategic partnerships, international development, and other activities.

Panchanathan holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Vivekananda College—now the University of Madras—in India, and a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. He also holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, also in Madras.

He began his teaching career at the University of Ottawa, after earning his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering there in 1989. He left in 1997 to join ASU as an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Because of his busy schedule, The Institute conducted this interview via email. We asked him about his vision for the foundation, how he plans to increase partnerships between industry and academia, and how his membership in IEEE has advanced his career. His answers have been edited for clarity.

The Institute: What inspired you to become an engineer?

Panchanathan: At a young age, I was curious about basic science and how things work. My father was my inspiration to become an engineer. He was a scientist, and his work was on upper-atmospheric physics. His quest for scientific exploration, for discovery, for academic achievement, for solving real problems, for understanding the universe and how it works to how people work—all of that has always inspired me and motivated me to want to pursue science and engineering. 

My mom ensured that we valued education. So the combination of my mom and dad’s implicit role modeling was the ideal incubator for me to pursue science and engineering.

TI: Where would you like to see the NSF in five years? 

Panchanathan: The foundation plays a critical role in U.S. science and engineering because it supports basic research in all these fields. We enable researchers to explore fundamental scientific questions about everything from the forces that govern the universe to the biological, chemical, and social systems that make us who we are.

I have identified three pillars for my vision: advancing research into the future, ensuring inclusivity, and continuing global leadership in science and engineering.

This is a defining moment. The intensity of global competition, the urgent need for domestic talent at scale, and the broad support for science as the path for solving global grand challenges all motivate us to strengthen discovery and translation. Partnerships and innovative mindsets ensure we rapidly seize opportunities and accelerate progress at speed and scale.

TI: What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientific research, labs, conferences, and research directions? 

Panchanathan: The research community is displaying resilience under tremendous pressure. It makes me proud to be a scientist and an engineer. The role of NSF and other science agencies is to enhance our support to this community. And that’s what we’re working to do. We are all facing new and unique challenges as we deal with COVID-19, and NSF is prioritizing the health and safety of our community.

NSF recognizes the many concerns related to the effects this will have on NSF-funded research and facilities, and is committed to providing the greatest flexibility to support researchers’ health and safety. NSF is consistently updating its guidance and resources to keep the scientific community informed.

Additionally, NSF reacted right away to the pandemic through its Rapid Response Research funding mechanism for nonmedical research to understand the spread of COVID-19, provide education about the science of virus transmission, and encourage the development of actions to address this global challenge. To date, we have funded more than 1,000 coronavirus research projects totaling more than $197 million.

TI: What are your thoughts on the need for more students to study STEM subjects, and how is the NSF addressing that?

Panchanathan: Ensuring inclusivity and broadening participation is an important priority of mine. Diversity enriches innovation to solve problems. We must inspire talent in every corner of our nation and empower role models at every level of leadership. I want students to feel empowered and excited to pursue science.

Of course, NSF is not the only entity that can do that. A number of entities are coming together through partnerships, including other federal agencies, industry, nonprofits, foundations, states, and academia. I am deeply committed to partnerships in all forms.

So the question then becomes: How do you partner effectively across all entities to build better futures for our nation? It is going to take commitment and participation with all players in the STEM community, including K–12 education and informal learning environments. For example, the NSF Includes program was created to identify best practices and provide resources to people across the country working to broaden participation in STEM.

One acknowledgement built into Includes is that broadening participation is too complex a problem for one-size-fits-all solutions. Something that works in one region or for one population might not work elsewhere. That is why Includes is helping create education experiences that are tailored to the communities they serve.

This is going to require an intense collaboration and intentional, strategic actions. It will not happen unless it is a priority. That is the kind of coalition I envision NSF helping to build. Success takes a village, right?

TI: One way to increase the number of STEM students and STEM workers is to recruit them from other countries. Many U.S. universities and companies have criticized the increased U.S. restrictions on immigration and visas—which have made recruiting difficult. What, if anything, will you do as NSF head to address the situation?

Panchanathan: International collaboration enhances U.S. global leadership and ensures that the U.S. research community participates in the best science and has access to the best resources around the world. NSF is committed to sustaining the country’s position as a global innovation leader as well as contributing to its economic strength and national security through basic research.

Openness, transparency, and collaboration are essential for basic research. NSF and our fellow federal agencies are continuing to embrace and promote international collaboration. For NSF, this collaboration entails establishing joint projects between researchers at U.S. institutions and those at organizations in other countries. These collaborations will continue because they enable the best science. I would encourage anyone thinking about working or pursuing a career in the United States to do so, as we provide great opportunities for students to express their talents in unimaginable positive ways.

TI: How will you foster more partnerships between universities and industry? 

Panchanathan: Partnerships between academia and industry are critical to the rapid advancement of science and engineering, ensuring national prosperity. I am deeply committed to not only strengthening existing frameworks of academia-industry partnerships but also, more importantly, evolving new frameworks for robust collaboration. 

The frameworks get researchers from both university and industry to share different perspectives that not only enrich research outcomes but also inspire unparalleled talent, leading to an innovative workforce of the future. They also help evolve new models of partnerships and frameworks. For example, we need to design and build Bell Labs–like entities across the nation through public-private partnerships where curiosity-driven research and translational research are working synergistically to enrich each other, unleashing transformative outcomes for the future. 

TI: In your recent interview with Science, you talked about your support for “use-inspired research.” How will the NSF balance funding for use-inspired research and basic research?

Panchanathan: What we are talking about at NSF is use-inspired basic research, which in some cases may lead to applied research outcomes and commercialization.

Our focus should also be to identify the gaps in our knowledge that are holding us back from advancing in some of the most competitive fields of science and engineering. When you look at it from that perspective, you will find that NSF and other supporters of basic research have already been funding use-inspired research for several decades. 

NSF has the unique ability to be strategic in how we inspire researchers to cultivate both curiosity-driven and use-inspired mindsets. One example of how NSF will undertake this is our support for convergent research. Scientific knowledge leads to actionable progress, which in turn enriches the scientific process. In other words, science and technology are intertwined. NSF advances technological progress because it is already intrinsic to everything we do.

NSF is making this translation happen through several programs. For example, NSF began funding the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory project decades ago. Some doubted it would ever be possible for LIGO to detect the minute distortions of gravitational waves. LIGO was not a theoretical problem, they feared, but a technological limitation. Science drove the development of technological capabilities necessary to detect gravitational waves. Now that technology will open up new ways to do science, and we continue to see new discoveries from that technology.

TI: How has IEEE helped your career? 

Panchanathan: Being a member and Fellow of IEEE has been an important part of my career as an educator, researcher, and leader. In my early career, I had the opportunity to publish several scientific papers in IEEE conference proceedings and journals.

Attending the various conferences helped me to gain valuable insights and feedback from leaders in the research community that shaped my research trajectory. I also had the opportunity of serving as a conference organizer, panelist, and editorial board member, and as editor-in-chief of the IEEE MultiMedia magazine.

These experiences provided me with opportunities to further enrich my knowledge and to contribute to the engineering and scientific community.

This Startup Spots Stress in Real-Time to Help Prevent Depression and Other Conditions

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/this-startup-spots-stress-in-realtime-to-help-prevent-depression-and-other-conditions

THE INSTITUTE By any measurement, 2020 has been stressful for just about everyone because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fear about the virus and concerns about our health and that of loved ones can be overwhelming. Add that to the other tensions many of us have at work, at home, and at school.

When a person is stressed enough, the fight-or-flight response kicks in. The sympathetic nervous system causes a sudden release of hormones—which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and perspiration.

The first step in controlling stress is to know its symptoms, but because most people are used to some stress, they don’t realize how bad things have gotten until they reach a breaking point. Over time they could experience serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, as well as depression and other mental health woes, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. More than 264 million people suffer from depression, the World Health Organization reports.

What if there was a way to measure in real time when a person was becoming stressed, so the condition could be managed immediately using evidence-based methods? That’s the idea behind Philia Labs, a startup in Melbourne, Australia, that has developed a platform with a wearable device designed to measure physiological stress indicators.

The product is aimed at health care providers and mental health professionals, as well as people who want to monitor their own stress level.

“We are quantifying stress in the body in real time,” says Dilpreet Buxi, the startup’s cofounder and chief executive. “The hardware platform and software will enable interventions both through a health care provider and by the patient to basically enable better health outcomes and a better quality of life.”

STRESS INDICATORS

To confirm whether someone suffers from stress, Buxi says, doctors typically use a questionnaire such as the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale or the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales. Such forms help assess a person’s emotional state and quality of life based on situations that might trigger anxiety. But because they are self-evaluations, the results can be inaccurate.

Some of today’s fitness wearables claim to measure stress. They use data about heart rate, sleep, and level of activity to infer how stress is affecting the wearer. But, Buxi says, the results from such devices haven’t been clinically validated.

In contrast, he says, Philia aims to measure physiological data that has been shown to more closely align with stress response and to pursue focused clinical testing. Philia’s wearable, which is worn on the wrist for at least six months, uses optical sensors to measure heart rate and blood flow. Electrodes measure “galvanic skin response”—changes in moisture caused by sweat-gland activity that can indicate a person’s emotional state, Buxi says.

Galvanic skin response refers to the electrical conductivity of the skin,” he says. “In other words, when you break out into a nervous sweat, the electrical conductivity will change.”

Philia will initially pilot its technology on patients undergoing depression treatment, he says, adding that a clinician will prescribe the device and a clinical monitoring program for the patient. Physiological and self-reported data are captured from the patient’s sympathetic arousal—that fight-or-flight response—and computed. Trends in sympathetic arousal activity over weeks and months are calculated to determine whether a patient requires an intervention such as a change of medication or psychosocial treatment. All the information is stored in the cloud.

For patients who previously have had depression, early intervention could help reduce the risk of a recurrence, Buxi says.

“According to our conversations with psychiatrists,” he says, “stress that results in sympathetic arousal is a leading cause of relapse and needs to be monitored in order for the psychiatrist to intervene earlier.”

He says the likelihood that a person who has recovered from depression will relapse in the first year when suffering from stress is 20 percent to 50 percent.

“The platform will enable the medical provider to make better decisions,” he says. For patients, he adds, “the goal is to basically help them adopt better techniques for stress management.”

Philia has several partners including medical institutions and research universities. It is running pilot programs with 11 health care and wellness organizations. The company has filed a provisional patent application.

The startup has a proof-of-concept prototype for the wearable, which is built using off-the-shelf parts and is moving to a minimum viable product that will be used after a study and several trial programs are completed next year, Buxi says. A lab study on 60 patients is currently happening and will end in April. A small trial on those with mild depression patients starts in January, and a multi-site trial in depression relapse will begin in June. He says the trial is with a corporate health provider, which can expand the company’s market portfolio to non-clinicians.

The company will be seeking regulatory approval for the platform after it undergoes clinical trials.

INSPIRATION

A biomedical engineer, Buxi worked from 2008 to 2012 at the Holst research center in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where he integrated state-of-the-art technologies for wearable health care devices. After that, he relocated with his family to Australia, where he pursued a Ph.D. at Monash University in Melbourne. For his research-project thesis, he developed a wearable blood pressure monitoring system based on pulse transit time—for which he was granted a patent from the Australian government.

Several of his research papers are published in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

Buxi got to thinking whether he might apply his Ph.D. work to the problem of measuring stress.

He began working on the idea in 2017 as a side project, and in 2018 he formed a proprietary limited partnership with the startup’s cofounder, Alexander Senior. Today the company has seven employees—a mix of engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. The company also has collaborators from industry and academia who have expertise in machine learning, biomedical machine learning, and physiology.

The business has largely been funded by a venture capitalist and is close to completing its seed funding round.

LEARNING TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR

Buxi says his biggest challenge was transitioning from being an engineer and scientist to becoming an entrepreneur.

“You need to think in terms of what is the problem you’re solving that requires a solution that somebody is going to pay money for,” he says. “That’s completely different from doing an investigation in the lab.” As an entrepreneur, “you have to find a solution where you can repeatedly get new and old customers to pay [so that you have] new and recurring revenue.

“That took a lot of learning,” he says. “In fact, even today, I think more commercially, but I’m still pretty academic. And sometimes it shows.”

He says he got help with how to run a startup from IEEE’s Founder Office Hours program, which seeks to assist early- and growth-stage technology entrepreneurs from the IEEE community. It connects entrepreneurs to mentors who can provide feedback and potentially help them grow their company.

In a testimonial about the program, Buxi says he got assistance with validating the product, thinking about the pros and cons of various business models, and refining an intellectual-property strategy to create value.

“The program shaped our thinking a bit,” he says, “to make our approach more practical.”

Spreading the Word About IEEE Among Young Professionals

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/spreading-the-word-about-ieee-among-young-professionals

THE INSTITUTE Unlike many student members who lose interest in IEEE after leaving school, Jay Shah has become more active in the organization. In the nearly three years since he became a full dues-paying member, he has been appointed secretary for both the IEEE Dallas Section and the section’s IEEE Young Professionals chapter. He is also the chapter’s director of communications.

The YP group is for IEEE members who graduated with their first professional degree within the past 15 years.

Shah has helped the Dallas YP group grow its membership, increase collaboration with local universities, and hold more events.

“Today there are lot of young and fellow engineers joining IEEE. Most of them are international candidates,” he says. “It’s good to see their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and grow.”

In recognition of all its efforts, the IEEE Dallas Section’s YP group was named best chapter last year and again this year.

As busy as Shah is with IEEE, he holds down a full-time job. He is a DevOps and cloud consultant in Dallas for Cyber Group, an IT and technology management consulting company. He is also a guest lecturer at Southern Methodist University’s Lyle School of Engineering, also in Dallas.

As much as he has given to IEEE, he says he’s gotten more in return.

“IEEE has improved me in a lot of ways, not only in my personal growth,” he says. “I’m able to connect [with] a lot of people around the globe and share what I’ve researched. I attend conferences, publish my papers, and connect with those students who are new to this IEEE world.”

ENGAGED STUDENT

Shah joined the IEEE student branch at the K.J. Somaiya Institute of Engineering and Information Technology, in Mumbai, in 2011, when he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical, electronics, and communications engineering. After he graduated in 2015, he attended Southern Methodist in 2017 and 2018 as he was working on his master’s degree in computer systems networking and telecommunications. He became active in the university’s IEEE student branch and worked as a liaison for IEEE between SMU and other universities in the area. He organized orientation seminars and networking events, and he collaborated with different clubs and organization.

“I got to learn a lot of things about different universities: what they are doing, which programs they are establishing, what their research was on,” Shah says. “I had good conversations with a lot of IEEE young professionals. From there, my interest and engagement with IEEE increased. IEEE has really touched my heart.”

INCREASING MEMBERSHIP

After graduating from SMU, Shah joined the IEEE Dallas Section’s Young Professionals group. He got busy working with the chapter to increase membership through a variety of activities. It held social events, meetups, and happy hours, both on the SMU campus and at other nearby colleges including the University of Texas at both Dallas and Arlington and the University of North Texas.

“We collaborated with their student branches and faculty members to hold the events,” Shah says.

Dallas YP now holds monthly happy hours and social hours virtually due to the pandemic.

Within the first few months, Shah says, the YP group’s membership grew. It has increased its membership by approximately 10 percent, he says, with a lot of new international students and working professionals showing interest in research-related activities. The YP group is planning to conduct an event at UT-Dallas later this year.

Shah says the group attended this year’s IEEE Rising Stars Conference in Las Vegas, a forum for students to network, learn about IEEE, and attend workshops and keynote addresses.

Last year Shah gave a seminar at UT-Dallas for graduate students about the importance of writing research papers and getting them published in IEEE publications. Several of his technical papers have been published in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, including ones he cowrote on cloud computing, DevOps and NetDevOps.

“If you are writing a thesis,” Shah told the grad students, “why don’t you just directly write a paper for IEEE? [Doing so] is both beneficial academically as well as professionally. You not only grow academically through that but personally as well. You will come to know which format your paper has to be in, how many authors [you need], and [the number of] references and citations.”

His work also has been published in the International Journal for Research in Applied Science and Engineering Technology and the International Journal of Research in Advent Technology.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Shah says his involvement with IEEE has led to new opportunities for him.

“Being an IEEE member, I get all these resources, which have [helped me gain] more knowledge about technology and got me interested in writing white papers and blogs,” he says. “Now I write technical papers for my company such as blog articles on current IT and cloud topics and speak on those in meetups and help my professors at SMU to write their white papers.”

He is supporting his company’s program to encourage more youngsters to pursue a STEM career. He also attends DFW Alliance of Technology and Women events to support STEM and women in tech.

He says he feels it’s important for all students, especially underprivileged ones, to understand the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, since “basically everything revolves around” the STEM subjects. He plans to make use of IEEE STEM programs such as TryEngineering, which offers free lesson plans to educators working with preuniversity students.

After he presented a paper on using cloud computing for open-source projects at the IEEE Ubiquitous Computing, Electronics, and Mobile Communication Conference, held last year at Columbia, a professor from the Institute of Management Sciences, in Hayatabad, Pakistan, approached him and asked him to conduct a webinar for his students about the topic. He did so a few months ago.

“This kind of stuff only comes [through meeting people] at conferences,” Shah says, adding that IEEE is about making connections and bonding with others.

EPFL President Martin Vetterli Takes On Gender Equity, COVID-19, and Science Policy

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/epfl-president-martin-vetterli-takes-on-gender-equity-covid19-and-science-policy

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Signal processing pioneer Martin Vetterli began his second four-year term this year as president of EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, in Switzerland. The IEEE Fellow sets the strategic agenda for the research institution, and he helps establish Switzerland’s science policies.

“I’m the head concierge of the school,” Vetterli says, laughing. “If something goes wrong, it will end up on my desk.”

The Swiss government renewed Vetterli’s position as president in February. A statement about his appointment by the country’s Federal Council said that under Vetterli’s leadership, EPFL had “progressed in its policy of excellence in both teaching and research at the international level, further cementing its position among the world’s top universities.”

Vetterli is tackling several issues at EPFL, including increasing the number of female faculty members and developing technologies to fight COVID-19.

FAMILIAR FACE

Vetterli is no stranger to EPFL, having earned his doctorate there in 1986. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich and a master’s degree from Stanford. He joined EPFL as a professor of engineering in 1995 after having taught at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Vetterli has done groundbreaking work in the field of signal processing. He is also one of the pioneers behind multiresolution concepts underpinning videoconferencing and video streaming services.

“I’m just one guy among a huge community that contributed to these things,” Vetterli says.

While teaching at Columbia from 1986 to 1983, he worked on a project developing high-performance, high-speed networks that led to today’s high-speed Internet services. The only signal processing expert on the project’s team, he figured out how to use signal processing techniques to put speech and video on the packet network to make the network more useful. It was an unusual thing to try at the time, he says.

“I started battling in these fields of what was called packet video, which was taking video, making little packets out of it, putting it on a network and, at the other end, reassembling it,” he says. At the time “it looked like something esoteric. It was certainly not what the mainstream [signal processing field] was into: doing communications, video transport, and so on.”

His work led to the development of videoconferencing.

“I feel a bit like an idiot now,” he says, “because I did not see that [the video packet network] would go so far. It was interesting intellectually to make it work, but I didn’t [foresee] that we would have a conversation over video.”

At UC Berkeley, Vetterli worked with a Ph.D. student, Steven McCanne, whom Vetterli says was an “absolutely exceptional and brilliant student.” McCanne, now coding CEO at startup Brim Security in Oakland, Calif., was also working on a packet video project but from a different approach.

McCanne came up with the idea of putting a weekly seminar on the Internet, but in the early 1990s, Vetterli says, doing so was a headache because the Internet was just becoming available to the public.

“It was very clunky. You had to run wires and make sure you had access to one of the fat [data] pipes in the department,” Vetterli says. “We wrote papers on the infrastructure, the algorithms, and the protocols that Steve developed to put video up online in a way that people with different access channels could get. That was cool stuff to do.”

The technologies the two worked on contributed to the development of streaming video.

McCanne says “Martin was the perfect Ph.D. advisor: incredibly smart, a brilliant mentor and, most important, fun to hang out with. Back in the day, he told me that old joke: ‘When you get your undergraduate degree, you think you know everything. Then you get your master’s degree and you realize you know nothing. Finally, you get your Ph.D. and you realize nobody else does either, so it just doesn’t matter.’

“This was Martin [being] self-effacing and hilarious, but always supersmart and deep. Working with Martin all those years ago to push the boundaries of knowledge in our field, all while enjoying a balanced and rich life along the way, was a pleasure, an honor, and a gift.”

Vetterli joined EPFL as a professor of engineering in 1995 and held several positions there including dean of its School of Computer and Communication Sciences. He left in 2013 to become president of the Swiss National Research Council and returned to the school in 2016 when he was elected its president.

A MORE DIVERSE FACULTY

Many universities around the world have few female academics, and EPFL is no different. In Switzerland, 41 percent of women hold midlevel academic positions such as associate professor, while just 23 percent are full professors, according to the 2018 Women and Science report from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.

“We don’t have enough female professors, especially at the senior level, and together with many other engineering schools, we are lagging behind,” Vetterli says.

He commissioned a study in 2018, and its findings were released in July. The 100-page report covers such issues as hiring and promotion practices, allocation of resources, gender pay gaps, and work-life balance. The task force working on the project has made recommendations on how to address the issues—including easier access to day care facilities, hiring substitute instructors for those on maternity leave, and pausing the tenure process for new parents.

“The most forceful thing we can do,” Vetterli says, “is to make sure that hiring committees aggressively invite many female professors to apply, invite many to interviews, make sure we show them we have an attractive campus, that we have programs for spouses, and that we provide help with child care. [We want] to create an environment that becomes more and more attractive for female professors.”

COVID-19 TECHNOLOGY

Like other leading research universities, EPFL has been working on projects to fight the spread of the coronavirus. In May EPFL released SwissCovid, a contact-tracing app for COVID-19 that uses Apple’s and Google’s application programming interfaces, according to news website Tech2. Using Bluetooth signals from smartphones, the app notifies users when they’ve been in close contact with another person who has the app and who has recorded that they have been exposed to the virus. It is designed to do so without identifying the individual or collecting personal information.

Apple and Google announced on 1 September that future versions of their mobile operating systems will include a COVID-19 notification system based on SwissCovid, CNBC reported.

IEEE RECOGNITION

Vetterli joined IEEE as a student member, and that’s when he says he discovered IEEE’s rich repository of research papers. More than 160 of Vetterli’s articles are now available in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

“I knew that’s where real research in the field of electrical engineering was being published,” he says. “An IEEE paper is sort of an atom of knowledge for me because I’ve lived with them for so long.”

IEEE honored Vetterli’s work with its 2017 IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal, sponsored by Texas Instruments. He was cited for his contributions to “advanced sampling, signal representations, and multirate and multiresolution signal processing.”

Vetterli says the award recognized his students’ teamwork.

“Because I’ve [advised] more than 70 Ph.D. students, I’ve been blessed with some absolute superstar students,” Vetterli says. “The award was really a recognition of the group and a research agenda that we have been pursuing all these years.”

EPFL President Martin Vetterli Takes On Gender Equality, COVID-19, and Science Policy

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/epfl-president-martin-vetterli-takes-on-gender-equality-covid19-and-science-policy

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Signal processing pioneer Martin Vetterli began his second four-year term this year as president of EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, in Switzerland. The IEEE Fellow sets the strategic agenda for the research institution, and he helps establish Switzerland’s science policies.

“I’m the head concierge of the school,” Vetterli says, laughing. “If something goes wrong, it will end up on my desk.”

The Swiss government renewed Vetterli’s position as president in February. A statement about his appointment by the country’s Federal Council said that under Vetterli’s leadership, EPFL had “progressed in its policy of excellence in both teaching and research at the international level, further cementing its position among the world’s top universities.”

Vetterli is tackling several issues at EPFL, including increasing the number of female faculty members and developing technologies to fight COVID-19.

FAMILIAR FACE

Vetterli is no stranger to EPFL, having earned his doctorate there in 1986. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich and a master’s degree from Stanford. He joined EPFL as a professor of engineering in 1995 after having taught at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Vetterli has done groundbreaking work in the field of signal processing. He is also one of the pioneers behind multiresolution concepts underpinning videoconferencing and video streaming services.

“I’m just one guy among a huge community that contributed to these things,” Vetterli says.

While teaching at Columbia from 1986 to 1983, he worked on a project developing high-performance, high-speed networks that led to today’s high-speed Internet services. The only signal processing expert on the project’s team, he figured out how to use signal processing techniques to put speech and video on the packet network to make the network more useful. It was an unusual thing to try at the time, he says.

“I started battling in these fields of what was called packet video, which was taking video, making little packets out of it, putting it on a network and, at the other end, reassembling it,” he says. At the time “it looked like something esoteric. It was certainly not what the mainstream [signal processing field] was into: doing communications, video transport, and so on.”

His work led to the development of videoconferencing.

“I feel a bit like an idiot now,” he says, “because I did not see that [the video packet network] would go so far. It was interesting intellectually to make it work, but I didn’t [foresee] that we would have a conversation over video.”

At UC Berkeley, Vetterli worked with a Ph.D. student, Steven McCanne, whom Vetterli says was an “absolutely exceptional and brilliant student.” McCanne, now coding CEO at startup Brim Security in Oakland, Calif., was also working on a packet video project but from a different approach.

McCanne came up with the idea of putting a weekly seminar on the Internet, but in the early 1990s, Vetterli says, doing so was a headache because the Internet was just becoming available to the public.

“It was very clunky. You had to run wires and make sure you had access to one of the fat [data] pipes in the department,” Vetterli says. “We wrote papers on the infrastructure, the algorithms, and the protocols that Steve developed to put video up online in a way that people with different access channels could get. That was cool stuff to do.”

The technologies the two worked on contributed to the development of streaming video.

McCanne says “Martin was the perfect Ph.D. advisor: incredibly smart, a brilliant mentor and, most important, fun to hang out with. Back in the day, he told me that old joke: ‘When you get your undergraduate degree, you think you know everything. Then you get your master’s degree and you realize you know nothing. Finally, you get your Ph.D. and you realize nobody else does either, so it just doesn’t matter.’

“This was Martin [being] self-effacing and hilarious, but always supersmart and deep. Working with Martin all those years ago to push the boundaries of knowledge in our field, all while enjoying a balanced and rich life along the way, was a pleasure, an honor, and a gift.”

Vetterli joined EPFL as a professor of engineering in 1995 and held several positions there including dean of its School of Computer and Communication Sciences. He left in 2013 to become president of the Swiss National Research Council and returned to the school in 2016 when he was elected its president.

A MORE DIVERSE FACULTY

Many universities around the world have few female academics, and EPFL is no different. In Switzerland, 41 percent of women hold midlevel academic positions such as associate professor, while just 23 percent are full professors, according to the 2018 Women and Science report from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.

“We don’t have enough female professors, especially at the senior level, and together with many other engineering schools, we are lagging behind,” Vetterli says.

He commissioned a study in 2018, and its findings were released in July. The 100-page report covers such issues as hiring and promotion practices, allocation of resources, gender pay gaps, and work-life balance. The task force working on the project has made recommendations on how to address the issues—including easier access to day care facilities, hiring substitute instructors for those on maternity leave, and pausing the tenure process for new parents.

“The most forceful thing we can do,” Vetterli says, “is to make sure that hiring committees aggressively invite many female professors to apply, invite many to interviews, make sure we show them we have an attractive campus, that we have programs for spouses, and that we provide help with child care. [We want] to create an environment that becomes more and more attractive for female professors.”

COVID-19 TECHNOLOGY

Like other leading research universities, EPFL has been working on projects to fight the spread of the coronavirus. In May EPFL released SwissCovid, a contact-tracing app for COVID-19 that uses Apple’s and Google’s application programming interfaces, according to news website Tech2. Using Bluetooth signals from smartphones, the app notifies users when they’ve been in close contact with another person who has the app and who has recorded that they have been exposed to the virus. It is designed to do so without identifying the individual or collecting personal information.

Apple and Google announced on 1 September that future versions of their mobile operating systems will include a COVID-19 notification system based on SwissCovid, CNBC reported.

IEEE RECOGNITION

Vetterli joined IEEE as a student member, and that’s when he says he discovered IEEE’s rich repository of research papers. More than 160 of Vetterli’s articles are now available in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

“I knew that’s where real research in the field of electrical engineering was being published,” he says. “An IEEE paper is sort of an atom of knowledge for me because I’ve lived with them for so long.”

IEEE honored Vetterli’s work with its 2017 IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal, sponsored by Texas Instruments. He was cited for his contributions to “advanced sampling, signal representations, and multirate and multiresolution signal processing.”

Vetterli says the award recognized his students’ teamwork.

“Because I’ve [advised] more than 70 Ph.D. students, I’ve been blessed with some absolute superstar students,” Vetterli says. “The award was really a recognition of the group and a research agenda that we have been pursuing all these years.”

Ethical Guidelines in the Works for Developers of Brain Technologies

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-news/ethical-guidelines-in-the-works-for-developers-of-brain-technologies

THE INSTITUTE For neuroengineers and others who are developing technologies to fix diseases of the human brain, the work can be fascinating. After all, the brain guides the decisions we make. But neuroscientific research is fraught with moral and ethical dilemmas concerning the potential uses and misuses of technology.

To help navigate that tricky area, the IEEE Brain neuroethics subcommittee recently released the first public version of its IEEE Neuroethics Framework.

A work in progress, the document is organized into a matrix that covers five types of neurotechnologies including those used to stimulate the nervous system or control it. It then breaks down the technologies into current and potential applications. Examples include optimizing a student’s learning abilities to excel in school or modifying an employee’s brain to make the worker more efficient. Within each application the framework explains the ethical, legal, and social issues that might arise from the use of technology.

“Brain science generates a number of ethical issues, and any attempts to assess and/or affect the brain—ergo the mind and the self—have profound philosophical, social, cultural, and perhaps even religious implications,” says James J. Giordano, chair of the subcommittee. The Professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., and Chief of the Neuroethics Studies Program at the university’s Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics is an IEEE senior member.

“We want to ensure the research being done is conducted in a way that’s responsible,” Giordano says. “In addition to building neural technologies well, we’re seeking and striving to guide and direct how such research will be used in ways that are morally, ethically, and legally sound.”

The framework was created by a multidisciplinary group of experts from the fields of engineering, technology, science, philosophy, anthropology, ethics, and law.

Ready to go

The document looks at techniques and technologies that are capable of assessing and affecting brain structure and function, and also that will be fully developed and either ready for use, or in use, within the next two to five years, Giordano says.

The matrix is organized into five columns of neurotechnological methods: recording/sensing, stimulating/actuating, controlling, direct physical and biological modification, and augmentation and facilitation. The nine rows represent potential applications of those methods in the areas of medicine; wellness; education; the workplace; military/national security; sports and competitions; entertainment; analytics, marketing and advertising; and the justice system.

A LIVING DOCUMENT

Several application working groups have been launched this year to begin discussion and develop content to expand the IEEE Neuroethics Framework. The education application working group has created several dilemmas, for example. Using technologies to modulate or stimulate the brain include issues of coercion, with implications of mind control, as well as the creation of students with enhanced mental abilities, known as super scholars, who could have an unfair advantage over other students. Two of the questions the medicine working group is grappling with are: What is meant by health in a neurological context? Could neurotechnologies cause mental disorders?

The application working groups plan to share their documents with the public to get input and engender involvement from other stakeholders.

“It will be a usable, living document that is iterative and modifiable,” Giordano says. “The document will represent those things that are factual, not fictional or merely speculative. The ethical, legal, and social issues will be addressed in a way that is cosmopolitan and will seek to illustrate the implications, issues, questions, and potential solution paths that would be tenable.”

Giordano says he expects the process to be completed by late next year.

If you’re interested in volunteering to help complete the matrix, fill out this form.

Startup’s Thermal Imaging and AR System for Firefighters Joins the COVID-19 Fight

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/startups-thermal-imaging-and-ar-system-for-firefighters-joins-the-covid19-fight

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Before the coronavirus pandemic hit Canada, Enzo Jia was busy developing the Fusion Vision System, an augmented-reality (AR) visor with thermal imaging to help firefighters see through smoke.

“I always wanted to design something to help humans enhance their vision and also to see something they cannot with the naked eye,” Jia told The Institute in March. He is chief executive of Longan Vision, a startup he helped found. “I really want to help firefighters and first responders enhance their vision by using AR technologies.”

The startup, based in Hamilton, Ont., was named a 2020 IEEE Entrepreneurship Star at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, held in January. The program recognizes early-stage companies that have the potential of bringing to market engineering-driven innovations in IEEE’s field of interest. Along with the recognition, awardees get a free year of IEEE membership.

In the months before the pandemic, the company had developed a prototype of its Fusion Vision System and had demonstrated it to several fire departments.

When COVID-19 began spreading throughout Canada, Jia and his colleagues realized they could use some of the same technologies to combat the spread of the virus, so they began a side project. To detect a high body temperature, which is a common symptom of COVID-19, the startup used components from the visor to build Gatekeeper, a thermal-imaging system. Gatekeeper can be mounted on a wall or tripod to measure body temperature of up to five people at once.

Several units have been installed in long-term-care facilities, grocery stores, and universities, Jia says.

AR VISORS

Jia, a mechanical engineer, says he has been a fan of AR technology for some time. His undergraduate capstone project at McMaster University, in Hamilton, was about how AR could be used in vehicle head-up displays. Such displays, which already exist in some vehicles, can project information on the windshield, including navigation instructions, speed limit, and mileage.

Jia, who earned a bachelor’s degree in automotive engineering technology, was a member of the university’s IEEE student branch. He later earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the school.

He launched Longan in 2018 with five colleagues shortly after graduating. At first, the job wasn’t full time. To get business experience under his belt as well as an understanding of how to manufacture products, he worked as a mechanical engineer for material-handling-equipment company Skyjack and automotive supplier Magna.

Today he works full time for Longan, which has five other full-time employees and two interns.

His initial idea was to develop AR glasses that integrated thermal imaging for industrial applications, such as Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens. The company changed direction after several fires in Ontario caused major losses of life and property.

“In some of these incidents, firefighters lost their lives saving people while the building was collapsing around them,” Jia says. “They needed to fight not only the fire but also [a lack of] time. Additionally, they needed to overcome obstacles, like lack of communication and terrible visibility. Their bravery inspired me.”

Today’s firefighters use outdated technology, he says. He compares their equipment to cellphones of the past—which offered only basic features such as calling and texting. He wants to give first responders commercially available smart technologies to “jump-start them to the next generation of technology,” he says.

“We are developing a solution,” he says, “to try and address all three of these pain points: poor visibility, communication, and data.”

The visor [above] uses mixed-reality technology: AR and thermal imaging. A temperature sensor identifies the location of the fire. The headset allows firefighters to stream live video to a central command terminal so other responders can learn details about the structure and determine how to fight the blaze.

“In a smoky building, you can’t see with the human eye,” Jia says. “Our technology can actually see through the smoke. It can give firefighters super vision, tell them where there’s a victim and where they can go past an object without bumping into it.

“I believe our product with AR technology could help them prevent casualties, boost their efficiency, and send our heroes back to their families.”

The images can be saved and reviewed later for training or for investigations by insurance companies. Longan Vision also plans to collect the data to create predictive models for firefighters, Jia says.

The visor is compatible with many styles of firefighter helmets including models used in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Jia says there currently aren’t any other smart visors for firefighter helmets on the market.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

As with any startup, the biggest hurdle has been a lack of funding for product research, design, development, and hiring experienced workers, Jia says.

“In general,” he says, “no budget means no progress, and no progress means death to a startup.”

The company began presenting its work at conferences and participating in startup competitions including those held by the IEEE Entrepreneurship initiative.

Jia says those activities helped bring visibility to the company and attract investors. The founders also developed a business plan and began hiring experienced engineers “who have the passion” and are “willing to grow with the company,” he says.

The first round of seed funding closed in July 2019. The company won contracts worth more than US $300,000, which went toward development, Jia says. One investor is Innovation Solutions Canada, which helps fund the country’s startups.

MULTIPERSON TEMPERATURE CHECK

When The Institute spoke with Jia in July to see how the company was faring during the pandemic, he told us about Gatekeeper. In addition to AR and thermal-imaging technology, it also uses a facial-recognition system.

Jia worked with McMaster’s business incubator program, The Forge, on that detection system, which uses two thermal-imaging tools to get accurate temperature readings. The Gatekeeper measurement component monitors the calibrated temperature of an area. The Gatekeeper camera component (GCC) scans individuals who cross its path.

The gathered data is sent to a computer that has a built-in image-processing program, which looks for variances between the two feeds. Information from the GCC produces a visual image of each person and displays a message on the screen identifying each individual’s temperature. Should an elevated temperature be detected, the individual can be asked to return home or seek medical attention.

Jia says his system is less expensive than others on the market because Gatekeeper uses off-the-shelf components.

STAR TREATMENT

Jia says he was humbled to receive the IEEE entrepreneurship recognition, which he says has opened up many doors.

“It’s a big honor to be named an IEEE Entrepreneurship Star. It gives us a really big thumbs-up,” he says. “Receiving the award is also helping us on the development side. Being part of IEEE’s communities means we can actually expand our network and access potential investors and technologies that we can integrate into our [visor] system.”

Another benefit that comes with the recognition is a free subscription to the IEEE Xplore Digital Library—which Jia says he is thrilled about. He says much of his master’s thesis was based on research he found in the library.

“We need access to papers,” he says. “That means a lot to us, to be honest. We can use the IEEE community to share our research findings on thermal imaging, AR and how it helps first responders.”

How to Better Prepare Faculty to Teach Remotely

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/how-to-better-prepare-faculty-to-teach-remotely

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant challenge to educational institutions, and it has imposed huge restrictions on traditional ways of teaching and assessing students.

While some institutions have been offering online education for the past few years, many others, driven by the COVID-19 crisis, have been forced to transform into online education institutions overnight.

The process can be a rocky one, according to Sudhaman Parthasarathy, an IEEE member who is a professor of data science and head of the Department of Computer Applications at the Thiagarajar College of Engineering, in Madurai, India.

He, along with a few researchers from several other universities across India, conducted a case study during March and April with a 30-year-old institution in India that had switched to online instruction testing. They interviewed 32 academics at the institution about their online teaching experience, which was conducted via video conferencing channels such as Google Meet.

The researchers found that to avoid downtime, this institution quickly started offering courses ad hoc that they had previously taught on campus and without much guided preparatory exercises for the instructors.

“Many were either new to online teaching or possessed meager knowledge about the learning management system their school used,” Parthasarathy says. “Hence, most of them found it difficult to adapt to the rapid transition to online education.”

LESSONS LEARNED

However, he says, the instructors admitted they have now learned a lot about launching courses and more effectively using online education. They noted that there are benefits to this new approach. They include not only cost savings but  assessments such as online quizzes, video and audio presentations, and poster presentations can all be conducted in new ways by either offering them online completely or through blended modes. In addition, difficult concepts can be explained through videos and graphics.

At the same time, the teachers noted key challenges, including the absence of requisite IT infrastructure, the inability of stakeholders (faculty/students) to adopt to the new online system, lack of training on how to use the learning management software system, and lack of funds to purchase a new online education software system.

The teachers had several recommendations for institutions, Parthasarathy says. In particular, schools should review their IT infrastructure as well as their choice of software products or learning management systems. They should also check with faculty members to see how much experience they have in online instruction, provide training to faculty and students on how to use online tools, and make sure the tools are user-friendly.

BEST PRACTICES

Based on the case study, Parthasarathy suggests these best practices for institutions to follow in their transition to online education.

  • Institutions should use software they’re familiar with: there is no need to rush to new technology or new online platforms. It would be wise to suggest all faculty use the same online software product. This will help them and their students exploit all the relevant features by sharing their experience with each other.
  • If students have problems using the platform due to a poor network (Internet) connection, the school should consider an alternate model for online education services such as blended learning (also referred to as the “flipped class” model). In this model, audio and video lectures or e-course contents are shared with students prior to the online interaction.
  • Provide periodic training to faculty and students on how to use the online education tools. Institutions should also teach them how to manage small software bugs that may arise from the online tool.
  • Be prepared to leverage the features of existing products (if any) or procure a new one. Institutions need to do their research to ensure their online education tool is compatible with all the latest operating systems and technologies.

In addition to its accessibility and flexibility, online education can be a revenue booster, with its ability to attract more students across the globe, Parthasarathy says. But the top administrators should understand that the benefits of online education cannot be fully realized if they are hesitant to invest in people, IT resources, and online learning platforms.

Could a Mathematical Model Determine Whether Coronavirus Preventative Measures Work?

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/could-a-mathematical-model-determine-whether-coronavirus-preventative-measures-work

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, washing hands, and shuttering schools and stores. These are some of the measures that have been implemented to protect people from catching the virus responsible for COVID-19. But just how effective have these interventions been?

Engineers at Carnegie Mellon and Princeton believe they have developed a mathematical modeling approach that could tell us. Their project, dubbed Modeling and Control of COVID-19 Propagation for Assessing and Optimizing Intervention Policies looks at various factors that can impact the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including virus mutations as well as preventative measures such as mask wearing.

H. Vincent Poor [right], an IEEE Fellow, is the principal investigator of the team. He is a professor of electrical engineering at Princeton and the interim dean of its School of Engineering and Applied Science. Also on the team are IEEE Senior Member Osman Yagan, an associate research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon, and mathematical biologists from Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania who study viral spread.

“Our goal is to try and understand what’s happening with the virus and the measures as best we can, and then use that model to help see what the most effective control mechanisms are,” Poor says.

The model recently received a grant from C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute, a new research consortium that is funding projects that could lessen the effects of pandemics. Related projects on viral spread by Osman and Poor are also being funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

THE INFORMATION-SPREADING PROCESS

The template for the new model was adapted from a mathematical theory the researchers developed in 2019 that investigated the spreading process of viruses and their mutations. In their paper published in March in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they compared how a virus spreads and mutates to how information in real life changes as it’s circulated by networks of people. For example, stories or social media posts shared among friends are often embellished with more details and passed along to others.

Current models that track epidemics make predictions about how a disease advances among individuals but don’t take into consideration things that change as it is passed along, such as how a virus mutated or what is being done to control its spread, Poor says. A common model being used for the coronavirus, known as SIR (susceptible, infected, and recovered), is a very basic one for viral spread. He says it doesn’t take into account factors such as underlying health conditions of patients or that some people spread more of COVID-19 droplets than others.

“Previous models for epidemics assumed a pathogen or a piece of information is transferred across network nodes without going through any modifications or evolutionary adaptions,” Poor and his colleagues wrote in that 2019 research article. “[But] in real-life spreading processes, pathogens often evolve in response to changing environments and medical interventions, and the information is often modified by individuals before being forwarded.”

Once the pandemic hit, Poor realized his model could be applied to COVID-19.

“Contact tracing and social distancing are known by epidemiologists to work so we’re not going to try to prove they do work,” Poor says. “What we’re going to bring to the table is a more refined understanding of when to apply these and other measures and what to expect of them.”

HOW THE MODEL WORKS

When people are physically connected, they form what’s called a multi-layered network, Poor says. The network could include family, coworkers, classmates, or social media friends. They, plus their acquaintances, form various degrees of connections, which the researchers call layers.

The researchers will first model these networks using data about the pandemic from a comprehensive data source, known as a data lake, maintained by C3.ai. The database includes the current number of COVID-19 cases, deaths, hospitalizations, and recoveries for countries, including by city, state, province, or county.

“It’s quite extensive, and includes details about COVID-19 victims and spread from a variety of sources globally,” Poor says.

The model can incorporate properties of the spread of the novel coronavirus that have been learned by public health and medical personnel over the past few months, Poor says. That includes the existence of “super spreaders,” asymptomatic spreaders, and delays between when a person becomes contagious and begins showing symptoms. Differences in responses to the virus between populations can also be incorporated into the model, he says, as well as some of the evidence for mutations that has emerged.

“Some recent articles seem to imply that mutations have been a factor,” he says. “We need to look at this more carefully to see how we can use that information.”

Poor says once the team has a model for how people are connected and how the spread of a virus happens within that network, then they can start looking at the effect of how various interventions or behaviors could have slowed the spread

“Once we have a complete model, we can then modify the model to account for interventions to see how they would affect the spread, he says. “For example, sheltering-in-place or closing schools modifies the connectivity of the graph of social interactions, whereas wearing masks changes the likelihood of spread from one person to another in a given fixed graph of social interactions. 

“We want to look at the robustness of these control mechanisms because they’re always imperfectly applied. Once you have a mathematical model for how a virus spreads, then you can start looking at the effect of various interventions used to slow the spread.”

Poor expects to see early results from the modeling in the next few months.

“Unlike many other urgent problems in today’s world, this is one where scientists and engineers can really have a rapid impact,” he says. “It’s great for the research enterprise that we can do things that are so directly related to the immediate public good.”

IEEE Smart Village System Delivers Solar Power to Nigerian COVID-19 Isolation Center

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/ieee-smart-village-system-delivers-solar-power-to-nigerian-covid19-isolation-center

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE When the coronavirus spread to Illorin, the state capital of Kwara in western Nigeria, a medical center was built to isolate and treat the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients. But like other communities in the country, the facility had limited access to electricity.

That was until Shaybis Nigeria donated a SunBlazer IV solar-powered system. The system, which was designed by IEEE Smart Village volunteers, will provide electricity to the first wing of the four-wing facility. Shaybis Nigeria, also based in Illorin, is one of three international manufacturers of the SunBlazer system. The company has been providing solar-power microgrids throughout the country for the past three years.

“These beds will be used to treat and provide care for those infected with the coronavirus to help avoid spreading it to others,” says Chief Tunde Salihu, the company’s CEO and an IEEE senior member. “The solar-powered system will enable the medical team to power ventilators, monitoring machines, and sanitation equipment.”

The facility was formally commissioned by the government in May. Since the installation, Salihu reports his company has been retained by the government to provide electricity for a number of doctor’s offices and other medical facilities.

SUNBLAZER HISTORY

A team of IEEE Power & Energy Society volunteers, as well as industry professionals, designed and developed the original SunBlazer to help Haiti after the country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. After feedback from field deployments, the system was enhanced over the years into a modular, adaptable configuration to flexibly meet the needs of each individual installation. Each base unit has six 300-watt solar panels that provide 1,800 watts total to charge portable battery kits, which can generate enough power to light rooms for several days. The unit has AC and DC outputs, which can charge cellphones and run small appliances. The SunBlazer IV can be assembled and expanded as needed.

HELPING HAND

IEEE Smart Village partners with entrepreneurs, such as Salihu, in underserved areas to set up microutilities, bringing electricity to thousands while also creating jobs in the community. IEEE Smart Village is one of the donor-supported priority initiatives of the IEEE Foundation.

For the past few years, the IEEE Smart Village program and IEEE members in Nigeria have been working to bring electricity to that country’s remote villages, including those in the state of Kwara. Salihu led the local team there. He is a leading solar power engineer in the country, with more than 30 years of experience in the field of electrical engineering. Salihu is also the former chair of the IEEE Nigeria Section.

Salihu formed his startup in 2015 to provide stand-alone power systems for homes and offices throughout Kwara and nearby villages. He is an advocate for sustainable, community development.

German University Opens Up Its Hands-on Remote FPGA Lab During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/german-university-opens-up-its-handson-remote-fpga-lab-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE The COVID-19 pandemic has forced universities around the world to hold classes remotely. Most lectures are held as video conferences, but for engineering studies, conducting virtual hands-on lab experiments are important, says Marco Winzker. The IEEE senior member is head of the Centre for Teaching Development and Innovation at Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences, in Sankt Augustin, Germany.

The school has opened up its remote lab on field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) for anyone in the world to attend for free. An FPGA is a programmable integrated circuit with elements such as logic gates, flip-flops, and RAM. FPGAs are used for many applications such as Internet routers, professional video cameras, and driver-assistance technology in cars.

“The lab provides the opportunity for students to perform experiments with real hardware over the Internet such as for designing digital circuits, which can be found in all modern electronic equipment,” Winzker says. 

Students use Verilog and VHDL to describe the function of an image-processing algorithm. With design software, they translate the code for the FPGA circuit. Then they can log into the remote lab, upload the code, and observe how their circuit design works in the FPGA, Winzker says. The remote lab provides interactivity, so students can upload image signals for processing and operate input switches for the FPGA. The result of the image processing is sent back to the students.

The lab is available year-round and supported by lecture videos on YouTube.

The school has partnered on the remote lab with three universities. The Universidad Tecnológica Nacional in Buenos Aires and the Universidad Nacional de San Luis are both in Argentina. The Chernihiv National University of Technology is in Ukraine.

More than 100 students attend from 30 countries including France, Morocco, Sweden, and the United States as well as Argentina and Ukraine, Winzker says. 

“The course offers students an opportunity for international cooperation despite travel restrictions,” he says. “Our students get to interact with people from other countries and practice English language in a work environment. They will need this competence in their professional life.”

LECTURE TOPICS

Winzker says one of the lectures covers using FPGAs in cars for lane detection. Students learn how to program a chip to highlight the transition from dark blacktop to a bright lane-marking line in video obtained from a windshield-mounted camera. 

“This is a real-life application to show that cars really use FPGAs for this task,” he says.

Another talk on signal processing covers image enhancement in a TV set. Students build a digital filter that sharpens the image to make the picture look better.

There’s also a lecture on microelectronics. The students compare two different FPGAs to see the energy consumption of each. Winzker says FPGAs are manufactured with different technologies and those using the newer technology have a higher base level of energy consumption but a smaller increase with circuit activity, which makes computations more efficient.

Several IEEE members are involved with the lab. One of the lecturers is Senior Member Alejandro Furfaro, the director of the Digital Processing Laboratory at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional

Member Pablo Orduña, the cofounder and CEO of LabsLand, in the San Francisco Bay Area, provides technical support for the lab’s software.

GAINING IN POPULARITY

Before in-person classes at Bonn-Rhein-Sieg were cancelled due to the coronavirus, the remote lab was an optional component of Winzker’s FPGA course and students were asked then how they used it. Winzker says they gave a variety of reasons, including wanting to conduct more experiments on topics they liked and having the ability to repeat experiments they didn’t have time to finish during class. The remote lab also gave students who had family or work obligations the ability to finish their experiments when it was more convenient for them. 

At that time, Winzker also asked them what they thought about a mandatory remote lab. More than half responded that some in-person labs could be replaced by remote labs. 

“Apparently students are happy with this learning setup,” Winzker says.

The lab has become so popular that an additional experiment was added, Winzker says. The next course with online meetings will be held in April 2021.

“We see this lab as a service to the scientific community,” Winzker says. “We benefit from open source projects and this is our contribution to it. We call this approach internationalization at home, and it is part of our university strategy for digital teaching.”

6 Tips to Help Your Startup Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-products-services/6-tips-to-help-your-startup-survive-the-coronavirus-pandemic

This article is part of a series on advice for engineering entrepreneurs.

THE INSTITUTE Wondering how your startup will survive the coronavirus crisis? Don’t panic. That’s the key advice from venture advisor IEEE Fellow Chenyang Xu.

“The coronavirus pandemic has changed the business landscape we are all familiar with, and it’s hard for anyone to accept the sudden, devastating changes,” he says. “Yet accepting the changes is the best step moving forward. The best action any startup founder can take is to not panic.”

Xu has advised hundreds of tech entrepreneurs and investors during the past two decades. He also has worked on the corporate side with global technology startups when he was general manager of the Siemens Technology-to-Business Center, in Berkeley, Calif. There, he led a team of venture directors who invested in and partnered with more than 50 promising technology startups.

Here are six actions startups should take to weather the pandemic.

DO A REALITY CHECK

Redo your company’s strategy to face the current reality. Take a hard look at all the business assumptions you made about your customers, markets, product, revenue, and cost forecasts, Xu says. Most likely they’re no longer true. They might be invalid, changed for the worse, maybe for the better, or have remained the same.

Make a short-term strategic plan instead of a long-term one, he says. The plan doesn’t have to be perfect because you need to be able to survive right now.

“Just make a plan that adapts to the new reality, review it daily, and update it weekly. That’s really the key,” he says.

Next, he says, act on those new strategies decisively and immediately—whether that’s offering a new product or service, canceling a product line, or cutting costs.

“In this time of crisis, there’s nothing worse than being indecisive and taking no action,” Xu says. “Remember, the most important goal right now is to survive until the economy restarts or seize new opportunities to grow the company.”

LEND A HELPING HAND

Your customers are also struggling during this time so talk to them to better understand their challenges, Xu says. Try to go above and beyond by offering free products or services. If you can’t afford to do this, find other ways to lend them a helping hand.

“I think this is very important,” Xu says. “A difficult time like this is the best time to show one’s character and build long-lasting trust with customers. The more you can help your customers, the more you will also be able to weather the storm together.”

CARE FOR OTHERS

Be sure to take care of your employees and help the community.

“In this time of crisis, a lot of people around you have needs,” Xu says. “Protect your employees by lessening the risk of exposure to the virus. Give them a safe working environment. Also help out the community if you have the means and resources to do so. I know many startup founders who are doing just that.”

COMMUNICATE OFTEN

Communication is particularly difficult for founders of tech companies who often focus more on building their company. But good communication is essential. Employees, customers, investors, and purchasers are anxious and worried. Now is the time to keep them updated on where the company is going and or what the current situation is.

“Founders should communicate authentically and with compassion about the situation and the changes made to their business activities so they can win people’s hearts and their support,” Xu says. “Compassion is key because this is not just not about business, but rather a crisis that is having an emotional impact on everyone.”

USE YOUR TIME WISELY

You and your team may now have more time on your hands. Use it to plug the holes in your business or do all those important but not urgent projects you’ve been putting off because you were too busy. These could include conducting performance reviews of your employees; reviewing strategies, processes, and products; rewriting company policies; or streamlining procedures.

“When you return to business, you’ll be stronger and more able to weather the aftermath,” Xu says.

APPLY FOR FINANCING

Fundraising during this time will be harder than before the pandemic, so founders need to be aware of alternative funding streams. These could include government-funded programs aimed at helping small businesses and special low-interest or no-interest bank loans.

LOOK FOR NEW OPPORTUNITIES

While the pandemic might have shuttered your company’s traditional business, new opportunities could open up. But you need to know where to look for them. By keeping communication channels open with others, you might discover new lines of business that you can take on immediately to generate new revenue streams.

“Instead of thinking, ‘Oh no, all my opportunities have closed,’” Xu says. “Now is a really good time to look at new business opportunities.” Some IEEE members, for example, have shifted toward COVID-19 related projects.

BE POSITIVE

No matter how severe and disruptive this crisis is, one thing is for sure, Xu says, the war on this pandemic will be won.

“Founders who navigate through this storm with bold, compassionate, and flexible leadership will not only survive, but also come out of this situation even stronger,” he says.

Lisa Lazareck-Asunta, IEEE’s Women in Engineering Chair, Is Just Getting Started

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/lisa-lazareckasunta-ieees-women-in-engineering-chair-is-just-getting-started

THE INSTITUTE Being an engineer was not on Lisa Lazareck-Asunta’s list of potential careers when she was young, but a women-in-technology conference she attended as a teenager changed that. A few years later, after she was paired with a prosthetist and orthopedic surgeon as part of a mentorship program at her high school in Winnipeg, Man., Canada, Lazareck-Asunta decided she was going to specialize in electrical engineering.

She got the opportunity to see the surgeon fit a child with a prosthetic to elongate the child’s shorter leg. She also observed two knee replacements and one hip replacement from the surgical theater.

“That’s where the biotech spark in me was really honed,” Lazareck-Asunta says. “Even though I was squeamish, I actually loved the surgery because it was such a mechanical operation. It was the fact that you could do these procedures with the most advanced technology to help people.”

The IEEE senior member earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, and a Ph.D. in engineering science at Oxford.

Shortly after she graduated from Oxford, the Great Recession hit in 2008. She found it nearly impossible to find a full-time job. After a series of short-term stints, including postdoc work at the City, University of London, she was hired in 2010 by the Wellcome Trust. The charitable foundation in London supports science and engineering research with a biomedical perspective. During her nearly seven years there, she specialized in charitable grant funding and public engagement with science and engineering.

Lazareck-Asunta left the foundation in 2017. She started a family and recently joined the University of Reading, in England, as an impact development manager. She looks at the effects of research done at the university on areas outside of academia, such as public policy, the economy, and business culture.

LEADERSHIP LADDER

The chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) committee has been involved with IEEE since she was a student member at the University of Manitoba. She helped form the university’s IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society student chapter and became a cochair. From 2004 onward, she served as the society’s student and IEEE Young Professionals representative. She was mentored to take over as the society’s WIE representative, and became a voting member of the committee before becoming the chair. She also helped form the society’s diversity and inclusion committee.

Her visibility in the society led to several TV hosting gigs. When producers at the Discovery cable channel were looking for a host for its two-hour “Zapped special about electricity and the human body, they contacted the society’s executive director, who recommended Lazareck-Asunta. In 2018 and 2019 she filmed segments for the Science Channel’s “Strange Evidence” and “NASA’s Unexplained Files” series. She just finished contributing to the second season of “Strange Evidence.”

Over the years, she has taken on more IEEE leadership positions. In 2016 and 2017 she served on the IEEE Technical Activities Board’s strategic planning committee, and she is a member of the board’s committee on diversity and inclusion.

CHANGE THE PROCESS

Last year Lazareck-Asunta was elected chair of the WIE committee, a two-year term. One of her goals is to ensure the group’s work is making a difference.

The group’s charter is to facilitate the recruitment and retention of women in technical disciplines around the world. It does so by, among other things, forming new WIE groups, organizing workshops at major technical conferences, and advocating for women to hold IEEE leadership roles. Today there are about 16,000 members; men account for more than 28 percent of the total. There are more than 900 WIE groups. The annual leadership conference attracts attendees from around the globe.

“One of the immediate challenges I see for WIE is how best to articulate our impact,” Lazareck-Asunta says. “What differences are we—and should we be—making in changing cultures at the workplace, within technical fields, and within IEEE.”

The committee held a workshop in March to determine what projects were working and which ones weren’t. The group decided what success would look like and established metrics on how to get there.

“Lisa has found friends and enthusiastic supporters for her goals,” says IEEE Fellow Bozenna Pasik-Duncan, past committee chair. “The friendship, confidence, encouragement, and support she has found among the top IEEE leaders means the world to WIE. Lisa represents a new, innovative generation of IEEE leaders.”

Lazareck-Asunta wants to reduce the number of WIE committee members to make running the committee more manageable. It now has 60 people, which includes nine voting members—representatives pulled from IEEE’s 39 societies, seven technical councils, 10 regions, and five organizational units.

WIE is a beast in the best possible way—every organizational unit within IEEE wants to contribute,” Lazareck-Asunta says. “In as much as our committee is enormous, the burden on me is also enormous. I am just one chair, so at times it feels like all the IEEE issues around gender fall on my shoulders.”

To that end, she has told IEEE’s top leaders that increasing diversity isn’t just an issue for her or for female engineers but should be an objective for everyone.

“I read a fitting quote from Dr. Gigi Osler in an interview with UM Today. She is the first female surgeon and woman of color to be named president of the Canadian Medical Association—which inspires me.

“The end goal isn’t achieving diversity. It isn’t achieving equity,” Osler said. “The end goal is inclusion, where everyone feels supported and respected, working together for positive change.”

Lazareck-Asunta says “people are now realizing that it can’t just be one person who dictates across the board what others should be doing about equality. Systematic, process-driven changes must be made,” she says.

“The process of finding qualified women speakers is broken,” she says. “Conference organizers have to establish a method for finding these speakers on their own without relying on one volunteer, such as the WIE representative, who tends to be female. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure the presenters are representative of our membership.”

Other changes she is pushing for include requiring all conference venues to offer lactation rooms as a standard option rather than an add-on, and asking conferences to include information on family-friendly hotels on their website as a best practice.

She is working with the TAB conferences committee to create an IEEE-approved grant funding template so if a conference has funds, it can cover some travel expenses for attendees to bring caregivers for their children, aides for elderly parents they must travel with, or helpers for those with disabilities.

“I don’t care if you are a man or a woman looking after your child, parent, or yourself and you need travel support so that you can be included in an IEEE event, you should be able to get it,” Lazareck-Asunta says. “It shouldn’t be a case of knowing the right people to contact.”

More people would attend conferences if they knew such funding was available, she says, adding that she would like to see diversity discussed in larger conference events, like keynote lectures, in addition to luncheons.

“IEEE can be that change-maker,” she says. “We have incredible leadership and technical prowess, and reach across the globe. Let’s make a difference.”

Thermal Cameras Are Being Outfitted to Detect Fever and Conduct Contact Tracing for COVID-19

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/thermal-cameras-are-being-outfitted-to-detect-fever-and-conduct-contact-tracing-for-covid19

THE INSTITUTE  Thermal imaging cameras, which use thermography, are a fast, contactless, and reliable method to detect a fever, a common symptom of COVID-19. Two IEEE members, one in Spain and the other in Switzerland, are working on separate projects that improve the technology used in these cameras so they can be used in places such as airports, hospitals, factories, office buildings, restaurants, and stores to provide fast individual screenings to help stop the spread of the virus.

IEEE Member Alejandro Kurtz de Grino a design and research engineer at software company BCB Informática y Control SL, in Madrid, is developing software that help the cameras meet technical standards required by the healthcare industry. 

The thermal imaging camera that IEEE Fellow Touradj Ebrahimi is building also checks for elevated blood temperature but it can trace the person’s contacts. He also developed a cryptographic tool to ensure the privacy of the person whose temperature is being checked. Ebrahimi is a professor of multimedia signal processing at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland. 

NEW SOFTWARE

De Grino says thermographic cameras used in the healthcare field must meet specific standards. For example, the screening technology must have a high thermal resolution and a measurement accuracy of +/- 0.5 ºC. Several manufacturers of these cameras are not following those requirements, he says, so his company is developing software for them that does.

“It wasn’t easy to develop a solution that met the requirements of the technical standard for fever screening using thermal cameras,” de Grino says.

The software will be tested in cameras made by FLIR Systems, a leading manufacturer of thermographic cameras. FLIR has several models that, when paired with his company’s bcbTempScan software, meet the international standards. The cameras have infrared temperature sensors and motorized focus, which are controlled by the software’s system operator. The temperature sensors detect electromagnetic waves from the person and the motorized focus allows the camera’s operator to zoom in and out.

The software uses GigE Vision and Genlcam, de Grino says. GigE Vision is an interface standard that can transmit high-speed video and related control data over an Ethernet connection. Genlcam is a common programming interface used for machine vision in cameras.

BcbTempScan is connected to the camera through a computer. When checking a person, the camera’s operator will see a detailed temperature pattern, called a thermogram and an alarm will sound if EBT is detected, de Grino says. The operator will then recommend to the person he or she be tested for COVID-19. 

PROTECTING PRIVACY

The Pro-Cam infrared camera that Ebrahimi and his students built combines infrared, thermal, and visible light sensors while securing the visible light images.

“We designed and built a new type of connected camera with multiple sensors that can track people, also known as proximity or contact tracing, while protecting their privacy,” he says.

The cameras are made from off-the-shelf components and open software so they are less expensive than existing thermal cameras and can be easily built and installed. The team also created a custom enclosure to protect its components.

Using real-time streaming, Ebrahimi says the camera sends the images to a server and protects the anonymity of the individual in the scene by hiding the visible light images inside thermal images using a cryptographic tool called transmorphing.

A dedicated server records all the captured footage in a secure and anonymized way with the possibility for further analysis, visualization and eventual de-anonymization, he adds.

Ebrahim says the camera is more accurate than current contact tracing methods that use smartphone positions, or Bluetooth discovery to determine the relative distance between devices. The Pro-Cam also doesn’t require individuals to carry a smartphone or install a contact-tracing app.

Also, these technologies pose various ethical challenges, including invasion of privacy. Ebrahim says it will be possible to recover the person’s identity using cryptographic keys if consent is given or when the proper authorities make a request for the information.

The project wasn’t without its challenges, he says. Because low-cost infrared and thermal sensors have lower resolution and precision, the team had to combine three such sensors along with advanced image processing algorithms.

“Even though everyone on the project worked remotely, they came up with the camera’s design from scratch and had it ready to build in 72 hours!” Ebrahim says. 

Three students will continue building other cameras as part of their senior project and will run trials on them from selected locations. Ebrahim says further enhancements will include the ability to perform AI-based advanced video analytics, trace people between cameras, and merge with other proximity-tracing approaches such as those based on smart cameras.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to: [email protected]