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Undergraduate Research and Innovation Symposium was huge!

Sun, 08/15/2010 - 14:02 -- Anonymous (not verified)

Friday's Undergraduate Research and Innovation Symposium was huge!  It will take some time to catch up on all the ramifications,  but the whole program, and many of the presentations and posters, are online.

The one thing I will report now is the Judges' innovative decision on awards.    When we reviewed the evaluation statistics, there weretoo many presentations and posters with perfect or near-perfect scores to declare just a few winners! And it was clear that this was not a matter of sloppy judging--several of us commented that the quality of the presentations was as good as any professional conference we have attended.

And so, building on a suggestion from one of the students in the Center, we decided to create the RIT Student Research and Innovation Grants program (initialized with $1000 from the Innovation Center) that will be administered by, and distributed to, students who participated in the Symposium.    It's a fitting tribute to all who participated, and another step toward handing the "keys to the kingdom" over to the next generation of RIT  researchers and administrators.

I'm pleased to report that during the closing ceremony at which we announced this decision, one of our judges (alum Ed Reed) volunteered to make an additional contribution to the RIT Student Research and Innovation Grants. Other contributions are rumored to be in the works.

The processes for evaluating proposals and granting funds will be determined by the students themselves.  If you participated in the symposium, and are interested in helping to disburse or receive these funds, you can sign up here.

Thanks and congratulations to all who participated and supported the event!

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FOSS@RIT returns to OLPC HQ

Wed, 07/28/2010 - 14:13 -- Anonymous (not verified)

The FOSS@RIT Hackfest Boston

Last time our Free and Open Source Software (FOSS@RIT) campaign travelled to One Laptop Per Child Headquarters (OLPC HQ) in Cambridge, MA, the Open Video Chat (OVC) team worked with the upstream mentors of their co-op project to make huge strides in design and performance. The advances that were made by the team and their mentors, were showcased at the RIT's  National Technological Institute for the Deaf Technology Symposium, and picked up by BoingBoing.

After such a successful endeavor, the Center for Student Innovation and the Lab for Technological Literacy graciously sponsored a return trip, to see if we could capture that same magic. FOSS@RIT returned to Rochester with their bottles chock-full'o-Lightning once again.

The FOSS@RIT teams spent part of the day touring offices and meeting staff, part of the day working/hacking in the boardroom, and some even got a chance to visit the MIT Gambit Labs, where gamers, aesthetics, mechanics, business, innovation, and technology all come together.  (Sort of like the Center for Student Innovation, but backing from  Singapore)  By asking questions, and coming face-to-face with programming obstacles with the help of their mentors, every team benefitted: through code, through research, and usually both.

The team also had a chance to meet with Paul Fox, OLPC's Chief of Computer Engineering Tech, to discuss an RIT/OLPC collaboration, student co-op opportunities, and a Rochester Area OLPC Repair Center on RIT's campus.

This time around, three Summer Undergraduate Research Teams travelled with our Storytelling Team and each had their own goals, achievements, and story to tell.


Fran Rogers, Taylor Rose, Justin Lewis


Our goal for the trip was to connect with upstream developers, gain further understanding of the APIs and frameworks involved, and identify and fix possible bugs and roadblocks. Before the trip, we had tried to leverage the free/open source Telepathy and Farsight frameworks in our application to improve reliability and performance, but we were having trouble understanding the frameworks and how they fit into the OLPC’s Sugar software development environment. At the hackfest in Boston, we got valuable assistance from two employees of Collabora, Ltd., the British software company that developed Telepathy and Farsight.


Collabora developer Dafydd “Daf” Harries, who was present at the hackfest, gave us a thorough overview of Telepathy’s internals, and explained the differences between Telepathy on a standard desktop vs. Telepathy in the Sugar environment. He also explained the distinction between Telepathy and Farsight components, and the idiosyncracies present in Sugar’s implementation.

We also received valuable help from Sjoerd Simons of Collabora, who assisted us remotely via Internet Relay Chat. Sjoerd helped us diagnose errors we received from the Farsight framework, and helped us patch and work around known framework bugs that had stymied our project in the past.

By the end of the day, we left Boston with a much better understanding of the Telepathy and Farsight frameworks, and a clearer plan for incorporating them in the Open Video Chat application.


Fortune Hunter

Kevin Hockey, Justin Lewis, JT Mengel, David Silverman


Our goal was to create code for the front end of the Fortune Hunter game engine.  We  also did a significant amount of work to ensure the game engine was running at optimal speeds from the back end. The main theme of our trip to OLPC was to test our programs and the data they yielded, get them reviewed by more capable programmers, and establish a basis for all future decisions.   With increased  confidence in our data we were able to spend a good amount of time at OLPC HQ  discussing and designing our back end animation support.


Afterwards, we got  to visit the MIT Media Labs and  see new educational software being developed by undergraduate students in collaboration with students from Singapore. This visit gave us insight into how the direction our peers at MIT have taken with their educational software. Exposure to different methods and ideas was  a welcome stimulant to our own imaginations as young developers.

Working in an environment where experienced help was easily available made programming an easy task and seeing the educational games our peers are working on was motivating. Before the night was over, we had a final treat in store for us as a few of the FOSS team from RIT had the unique opportunity to be humbled in a sporting game of soccer with developers from OLPC Headquarters. There couldn't have been a better end to that day of programming, hacking, and problem solving in insufferably hot Boston weather this past July 8th.



Rebecca Berent, Nathaniel Case, Kate DuBuisson, Luke Macken, Remy DeCausemaker


Our goal for the hackathon was to unify the various pieces of the people dashboard into one coherent interface. When we started the day, we had a very simple, static .html widget displaying a drop-down menu of all senators available through, and  then for the selected senators, display  relevant datasets from and OpenLeg API.


During the hackfest, we ported the very useful district map for  a better, more visual, way of looking up  elected officials, including the NYC and Long Island districts. Once we had the district maps in place, we systematically "un-hard-coded" each of the tabs for contacts, votes, actions, etc...

By the end of the day, all the pieces of the puzzle were in place, and we had our first (nearly) finished dashboard; a culmination of code from each member of the team, in one interface, all being pulled from one development repository. Realized, collaborative, open development, incarnate.

We also made some other organizational updates that were not direct code commits. CIVX established an advisory board of journalists, developers, engineers, and government staff who will have input into the ongoing development of the project. Their input will help shape future endeavors such as this Hackathon, and identifying datasets and information the community will find most relevant and useful. The RIT Press Release is now available on-line, and we even made the front page of!

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Summer Fellow Spotlight on Andrew Couvertier: Fall engine.

Tue, 07/20/2010 - 14:38 -- Anonymous (not verified)

fall engine

When I first heard the term "fall engine", I immediately fell (no pun intended) into my video game days. Lots of people here at the CSI are working in game development, so naturally, I figured Andrew was working on a physics engine to better represent how things fall. However, when I first saw his contraption popping, clunking, and dripping wet, I knew I was wrong. I learned the original name for the project was in fact "waterfall engine", which does relay a bit more information about the project.

Check out this short video to see Andrew himself explain it.

A fall engine is actually all about making a better fish ladder. It's killer feature over the fish ladder is that it more smoothly acclimates fish to the change in pressure as they move up or down an incline. As seen above, when fish want to move from the tank on the left to the tank on the right, they spend a small amount of time in the PVC contraption. This is where the gradual change in pressure takes place. Using a series of pneumatic tubes and valves (beyond my understanding), Andrew has gotten his fall engine to run autonomously: automatically opening and closing the gates that allow fish to pass in between. From what I saw, when the water rises up into the pipe in the direct center of the machine, it causes a plug to push up a riser, which triggers the exit gate to open.

How will you go from this prototype to say...something that will work at the Hoover dam?

Well this is system is designed for up to 80 psi. The more water behind the dam, the higher the psi. The higher the water is, the height of the dam, will also increase the psi. I'm running maybe 20 psi in it currently. How it's going to scale up is 1. the valve will be a lot bigger. Big enough to allow schools of fish to enter or leave, so I'm talking maybe 3 to 4 feet in diameter, and multiple of them, to take the amount of fish the Hoover dam can supply.

Along those same lines, what are your long term plans in the future in terms of the business side of it?

Now that I've at least proven at the sediment side of it works, I'm still working on the testing of the fish. With fish, of course, I have to go through a lot more steps, a lot more jumps. I really want to start pushing towards selling this as a sediment pump from the start with the capability of allowing fish to pass through it.

Speaking of the fish, what side effects do you think it could have on a fish, and how are you guarding against them?

Throughout my studies with fish, I know that certain types of fish use fish bladders and certain types of fish handle the pressure changes through their gills. The type of fish I'm working with right now are fish that do seasonal changes and cannot withstand significant pressure change. From the strong side of a dam to the low side of a dam the fish won't be able to survive that pressure. I'm looking into getting specific pressure release valves. Taking the high pressure and putting them in the chamber at that pressure, and then slowly releasing the pressure down in order to let them out.

Last question: what are your immediate steps? I know you have this prototype created, what happens after that?

I'm looking into more intellectual property side of it. Maybe a patent or more protection for my idea. I'm also looking into potential buyers and applications which can have it being used outside of the experimental stage.

Check out Andrew's blog to stay up-to-date on his research.

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Fellows Weekly Lunch (7/13)

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 11:09 -- Anonymous (not verified)

As an RIT alumni, Mark Henry has made it a goal to be involved in his alma mater. Mark is Senior Patent strategist at Eastman Kodak here in Rochester, and therefore has much experience in the realm of IP: intellectual property. Since several of our fellows are in the process of, or will be pursuing a patent by the end of the summer, Mark gave a presentation on not only the process of getting a patent, but the reasoning behind deciding to go for a patent.

Mark began his talk with a video from someone many will be familiar with: Rube Goldberg.

From this, Mark presented a sample patent search he had conducted, on perpetual motion machines. He found many machines claiming to have solved this impossible feat. Using this unlikely query, Mark showed how a patent search on USPTO is a highly structured and relational experience. From his initial jump of point, Mark showed how a patent search can lead to many other finds that might relate to your invention. Mark stated that "many people think of a patent search as ending in disappointment, I like to think of a patent search as a starting point".

You can find a link to the PDF of Mark's presentation here.

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Fellows weekly lunch (7/6)

Wed, 07/07/2010 - 16:34 -- Anonymous (not verified)

This week, the fellows learned about an internal organization at RIT: The RIT Leadership Institute and Community Service Center.   The Center looks to promote leadership in students through a variety of ways.  They offer several courses, both 2 and 4 credit hours, with some being tied with specific colleges.  A series of workshops are available to aid in specific skills such as public speaking, business etiquette, and communication skills.  The Center also hosts a series of community service trips involving such organizations as Meals on Wheels, and Habitat for Humanity.

After the presentation, the Fellows participated in a team-based activity to highlight the collaborative process and discussed positive and negative experiences while working with a team.

Next week, Mark Henry, Senior Patent Strategist at Kodak, will present on intellectual property and it's implications on the Fellows research projects.

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Fellows Weekly Lunch (6/29)

Tue, 06/29/2010 - 14:47 -- Anonymous (not verified)
An assemblage of Tectonic Toys
An assemblage of Tectonic Toys

This week, David Child, inventor of Tectonic Toys, gave the fellows some hands-on education about the relationship between fun, and fruitful invention.   Before he became an inventor, David was, and still is, a professional architect.  Having an affinity for math from an early age, David was enthralled with the makeup of geodesic domes as they related to his field of architecture.

David said that he stumbled upon his invention when he was playing with business cards one day.  After folding them longways, David noticed that you could hinge them together in a 3, 4, or 5 member configuration.  With these hinges, you could create a plethora of shapes, which would then be further extrapolated into larger in more complex structures.

From the mathematical and scientific standpoint, the structures that David assembled were identical in nature to the Platonic Solids - the core structures studied by ancient Greek mathematicians and philosophers.

From the business cards held together by tape, David added more ways of interlocking the pieces, making the ends snap together, the sides grooved for perpendicular locking, and the middle a poly-propylene hinge rated for 1 million bends.  With this design, David created a toy, based on a single piece, that can make up a nearly infinite number of structures.  The beautiful simplicity of his design is one of its obvious strong points.

Toys are one thing, but interestingly enough, they were an afterthought in David's patent process.  David received the patent for the concept of the linking framework, and then from there created the toys as an offshoot of that patent.  Given his architectural background, plans are in the works to create mobile, easy-up structures that rely on the same linkages found in the toys.

After the presentation, students were implored to try their hand at creating a new structure for the toys, as new functions and features are discovered as different minds play with the toys.

Next week, Kodak's Senior Patent Strategist, Mark Henry, will present on intellectual property to the fellows.

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