Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Google Scholars' Retreat: Student Research Presentations

On the last day of the Google Scholars' Retreat, four scholars gave presentations about their own research. I was proud that all of them were women (by chance), and that they all gave really interesting mini-talks!

The first presentation tackled the issue of understanding 3D models as they are projected onto the computer screen. Even when these models are shown from different sides, or are animated rotating around, their shape is not always clear. Typical models examined in this study were things like mechanical widgets and medical entities (lungs, bones, hearts, etc). The student was evaluating how useful tagging systems and embedded axes would be in understanding the models. It was a cool mix of psychology and perception with 3D graphics and modelling.

The next student was motivated by helping the environment. PowerNet was developed to monitor power usage by routers, computers, monitors, and so on. The data confirms some of the assumptions we make about our power usage, but also reveals some unexpected results. For example, although LCD monitors are supposed to use the same amount of energy no matter what they display, using a black background rather than white actually does consume less! I love the simplicity of the idea: Collect data instead of make assumptions. Change actions based on findings. Reduce power consumption. Bing, bang, boom.

The third presenter is into visual computing, like me. She's done a lot of work with virtual worlds and the like. Her current projects include work on rehabilitation efforts using technology. For example, Wii-motes in an immersive virtual reality "CAVE" can get patients to finger paint all around them, working their shoulders. The main project is to harness the precision of a platform robot and mimic riding a horse. Apparently, equine rehabilitation has been shown to help a lot with physical problems as well as emotional, but it's expensive and not so great for anyone who is afraid of or allergic to horses. I imagine this will be a challenging pursuit, given that the researchers involves need to capture motions of a real horse and make a believable simulation of it. I'm very interested in seeing the final results though!

Unfortunately, I can't say a lot about the last presenter's work. This has nothing to do with the quality of her talk; it's just not an area I am very familiar with. The short version is that she was looking at algorithms for holding dynamic bandwidth auctions. So if a company has bought a particular part of the wireless spectrum, it might wish to "rent" some of it to users of other, overcrowded spectrums. That's really about all I can say, but it was an interesting concept I wasn't aware of before!

Seeing all these talks really motivated me to finish up my Masters thesis, and excited me all over again about starting my PhD in September. I love seeing how amazing the women of computer science are!

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