Not So Science-Fiction

It may be called science-fiction. But at Carnegie Mellon, students and faculty are turning futuristic technology into a reality.

Currently a group of 10 Ph.D. students – working in Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab – are developing cameras that are able to identify people by iris recognition (Minority Report, anyone?). In an instant, these cameras zoom in on a person’s eyes, take a picture and reveal they’re identity.

Iris recognition is one of several biometric identification technologies researchers at Carnegie Mellon are working on. Some are designed to operate under co-operative scenarios and can recognize a person based on their face, iris, fingerprint or palm prints. Others work under un-cooperative scenarios by using surveillance data to recognize a person.

And remember when Tom Cruise’s character ‘flipped through’ digital files with no mouse or keyboard? The Entertainment Technology Center is now developing a ‘3-D Toolkit’ for the Microsoft Surface Table that will allow users to customize their own gestures for use on the multi-touch surface.

Seen I, Robot? Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science is already home to Tank, the roboceptionist. Ask Tank a question by typing on a keyboard and expect a verbal response.


Global Education Never Sleeps

What is the cost of teaching a group of international students to manage a construction project together?

For civil and environmental engineering associate professor Lucio Soibelman, the cost is sometimes sleep.

When project deadlines approach, according to Soibelman, that’s when the cultural barriers come down and the 2 a.m. Skype sessions begin.

Soibelman teaches International Collaborative Construction Management (ICCM), a course in which students manage a construction project from remote locations (including Brazil, Turkey, Israel and the U.S).

Managing time differences, juggling deadlines and learning cross-cultural collaboration have made the course challenging — and popular — among students. Carnegie Mellon researchers are also studying how the course changes students’ cultural perceptions.

A slew of novel global courses such as ICCM were originally supported through a gift to the President’s Discretionary Fund.


Smart People Making Even Smarter Phones

In order to think really big, sometimes you start by reinventing on the smallest scale possible.

Take the idea of “shape-shifting smartphones.” This month, InformationWeek mentioned a collaborative research project between Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh’s Intel Lab. (Sidenote: Carnegie Mellon’s Collaborative Innovation Center (CIC), which houses the Intel lab, is the only place you'll also find Google, Apple and a Microsoft sponsored lab — under the same roof.)

While “shape-shifting” may bring to mind sci-fi flicks, this team will have you thinking instead of a phone made of materials that get bigger or smaller depending on what you want to do with it.

Need your phone to fit in your ear? Need the same phone, minutes later, to be large enough to surf the Web? These shape-shifting phones, dubbed by some as “tiny terminators,” will always come up with the answer you are looking for in the shape that fits.

InformationWeek cites the work of Intel Pittsburgh’s senior researcher and Carnegie Mellon adjunct staff Jason Campbell. According to Campbell, the science to make these smartphones a reality is still three to five years away.

Contemplating the size of future reincarnations of your BlackBerry or iPhone? Watch Campbell explain these futuristic phones.


Ship Together. Save Together.

Wouldn’t it be great if your time spent on Facebook could simultaneously save money and the environment?

Well, it’s possible thanks to Carnegie Mellon doctoral student, Ram Ravischandran. He developed a new Facebook app for online shoppers that reduces excess packaging and saves users money.

The app – ShipTogether.com – unites neighbors so they can easily reach the $25 minimum for free shipping at Amazon without making that extra, unnecessary purchase before check-out. It also cuts down on packaging materials, such as styrofoam peanuts, that ultimately end up in landfills.

Check out this innovative way to reduce your carbon footprint on Facebook or at shiptogether.com.


Something to Smile About

The Smiley :-) was created by Carnegie Mellon research professor Scott Fahlman on September 19, 1982. It was the beginning of emoticons in email ... ;-) :-( :-o

26 years later Carnegie Mellon gave its second annual Smiley Award, which recognizes innovation in technology-assisted person-to-person communication. The award - sponsored by Yahoo!, Inc. - is open to all undergraduate and graduate students at the university.

So what prized innovation won the 2009 Smiley Award?

This year's winner was Grafitter - a technology that makes it easy to collect information about yourself over time and depict it in graph form on Twitter. Grafitter is the creation of Ian Li, a doctoral student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

With help from Grafitter, you could record your weight, the amount of exercise you get and the food you eat by sending simple Twitter messages with special tags. Later, you can see all of these items in graph form and, optionally, share them with your community of friends on Twitter. Watch the demo to see how Grafitter works.

Li is no stranger to the Smiley Awards. Last year, he won an honorable mention for his web-based Moodjam application that tracks people's emotional states.

This year's Honorable Mention award went to a trio of undergrads - Ilya Brin, Dan Eisenberg and Kevin Li - for their creation of EyeTable.

Every wonder how a first date is going?

EyeTable is an intelligent restaurant table that uses headsets and sensing technology based on the Wii game controller to determine how well people are responding to one another on dates by analyzing their gestures and speech patterns.

Want real time updates of other impressive innovations? Catch up with Carnegie Mellon on Twitter.


It's A Whole New World... For Sports, That Is.

Want to see an instant replay of the game-winning goal? Or know for sure if the ball was in the end zone?

Carnegie Mellon engineering faculty, Priya Narasimhan and Rajeev Gandi, and their students are developing new applications for technology in sports. And Pittsburgh sports fans are reaping the benefits.

"Yinz Cam" is a unique large-scale mobile wireless video service designed to enhance the fans' experience at games. Users can obtain mobile video, real-time action replays, game-time information, statistics and player bios right from their arena seats.

With the Yinz Cam, spectators can download a widget onto their cell phones prior to the game. Then, while they're inside the arena, they can replay their favorite player scoring a goal, a fight that broke out or any other action on the ice from a variety of camera views.

Narasimhan was inspired by her students' passion for the Pens, so she made the project part of her capstone course on embedded systems design in the fall of '07.

But Penguins aren't the only team in town that could benefit from new technology developed by Narasimhan and a team of Carnegie Mellon students.

Narasimhan and a team of 15 sports-crazy students have developed what they call a "smart football." By installing a mini GPS unit and accelerometer inside, they can plot the football's progress and landing, even when it's under a pile of players.

In addition, they've also created a "smart glove" embedded with 15 sensors in the figures and palm, which can help determine if a receiver has control of the ball during critical plays.

Not only will this real-time feedback help referees with tough calls, but it could also be used to train athletes and scout new players.

Not enough?

Narasimhan and her students are also dedicated to expanding into "smart shoes" - which would be able to analyze a kicker's position on the ball, and uniforms that could analyze blocks.

Narasimhan, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, wasn't always into sports. She was raised in India and Africa and thought little of sports until she came to the Steel City in 2001.

That's when she started watching the Steelers ... and the rest is history.