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Senior Lecturer: Introducing Alvin Valera to ECS

12 Dec 2017 - 09:24 in Research


Name? Alvin Valera.

Born in? The Philippines.

Lived in? First 24 years in the Philippines and the rest (up until November) in Singapore.

Position at VUW? Senior Lecturer.

Key research interests? Internet of Things (IoT), wireless ad hoc and sensor networks.

Most looking forward to at VUW? Working with students to design and build novel IoT systems.

Where can people find you at VUW? AM 401.

Why Wellington? When I visited Wellington two years back, I was mesmerised by its beautiful harbour.

Favourite movie? Star Wars (Return of the Jedi).

Favourite music? Sailing by Christopher Cross

Favourite food? Lechon - Philippine-style roast pork.

Quote to live by? “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

Student’s smoking hot idea adds fire to DJ scene

07 Dec 2017 - 09:06 in Research


A Computer Graphics student has created a fully interactive tool for DJs and artists where a digital smoke simulation reacts to music in real-time.

Jack Purvis’s Honours project looked at the challenge of simulating smoke using computer graphics techniques, and how the effect can be influenced by a dynamic input like music to create an appealing visualisation.

Jack came up with the project himself, combining his passions for computer graphics and music.

“I had built music visualisers in the past, but I wanted a deeper understanding of how audio processing works,” explains Jack. “I designed a program which reads audio from an input device, allowing a livestream of music to be visualised.”

Jack also wanted to learn more about the computer graphics techniques that enable smoke simulation. Fluid dynamics and its associated mathematics can be used to simulate the physical properties of real-world fluids. As smoke is often used as a practical effect in live performances it served as a good candidate for application in a music visualisation.

Properties of music such as the volume level, beats and frequency information can be used to influence the smoke effect to produce a visualisation. The smoke simulation implementation is based on the Navier-Stokes equations, which describe the motion of fluids—like smoke—over time.

“Implementing the smoke simulation showed that I can use my passions to motivate myself to solving a complex engineering problem,” says Jack. “People really enjoyed watching the visualisation, so I received a lot of positive feedback on the final output.”

The tool is ideal for use on screens in clubs or at gigs, or to create music videos.

Jack’s supervisor, Professor Neil Dodgson, helped him design the project and supported him along the way with tips on mathematics, as well as presentation and technical writing skills.

Jack also credits his university courses with providing him with the skills to complete the project, not least the ability to self-manage and implement a large project independently.

“From the Computer Science and Engineering side, I learnt how to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller, logical steps,” he says. “From the Design side, I was able to apply my design thinking to create an appealing visual effect that engages the audience.”

Jack’s dream job would to be to combine his skills in computer science and design to build audio-visual experiences for live performance or exhibitions. For now he loves living in Wellington and being a Victoria student where he is exposed to new fields of research and connections with the industry.

“Victoria has many leading researchers who are exploring exciting new technologies,” Jack says. “If you are passionate about a certain topic you can propose your own project idea. A project that is tailored to your own interests is highly motivating and can lead to a highly successful Honours year.”

Teaching Fellow: Introducing Saeed Mirghasemi to ECS

05 Dec 2017 - 10:01 in Research


Name? Saeed Mirghasemi.

Born in? Tehran, Iran.

Lived in? Iran and NZ.

First job? Electronic designer.

Position at VUW? Teaching Fellow.

Key research interests? Computer vision - Data analysis.

Most looking forward to at VUW? Teaching a lot and learning a lot.

Where can people find you at VUW? My office! EA 108.

Why Wellington? It was an accident, but I am glad I ended up here.

Favourite movie? There is no such a thing as a single favourite movie, but I like Fight Club very much.

Favourite music? Persian traditional. Get a glimpse of it:

Favourite food? Mirza Ghasemi. See the recipe:

Affirmation to live by? “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” (Nelson Mandela).

Learning to programme: To touch or not to touch?

30 Nov 2017 - 09:43 in Research


A Computer Science student has explored the potential of using interactive touch tables to teach programming compared to traditional mouse and keyboard versions, fulfilling a long-held aspiration to investigate how people learn best.

Master’s student Ben Selwyn-Smith, who cites a keen interest in education, found that the benefits of the new approach include the ability for multiple users to code at the same time, something which was previously impossible.

For these purposes, a visual, block-based programming language called Tabletop Grace was used, an extension from an existing mouse and keyboard block language called Tiled Grace. Block-based languages, including one called Scratch, have previously been used to teach children how to code, as they provide an easy way to create games and animations with no syntax errors.

“The main motivation behind this project was to combine block-based programming with pair programming, where two people can code at the same time, and also with interactive touch tables,” explains Ben. “Research has shown that each of these is individually worthwhile, but combinations of all three did not exist.”

Previously, pair programming with block languages was typically done either with two individuals sharing one single-user device, or two devices with remote collaboration, whereas using an interactive touch table allows users to collaborate from the same location.

“This project is great in that I got to combine software development and design with research, including experience in conducting that research, formal presentations and software demonstrations,” Ben continues. “I now feel much more prepared for future endeavours—if I decide to pursue a career in programming or research I have a good grounding in both.”

Ben also enjoyed working with his two supervisors from Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science: Dr Craig Anslow, with his extensive knowledge of interactive touch tables, and Dr Michael Homer, the creator of Tiled Grace, the block-based language that formed the basis of Ben’s new software, Tabletop Grace.

“Getting to work alongside my supervisors was great, as well as being a collaborator on a paper that was accepted by the Blocks and Beyond 2017 Workshop,” says Ben. “Tabletop Grace was considered to be as usable as Tiled Grace, so the transition to touch tables was successful. Also, 70 percent of participants in my user study said they preferred working on the tabletop, as it was less frustrating and more enjoyable, intuitive and novel.”

Ben credits Victoria’s 24-hour access computer labs with keeping him on task during the project.

“The coolest thing about being an student at Victoria is that if I feel like coming in and doing some work at 4am, I can!” he says. “Also living in Wellington, everything I need is within easy walking distance, which keeps me healthy despite long hours working at a computer.”

“As I did a second major in Japanese at undergraduate level, my dream job would be somewhere where I can combine my language skills with computer science, either here or in Japan.”

Conference success leads to valuable connections for Victoria

29 Nov 2017 - 09:04 in Research


Victoria’s Evolutionary Computation Research Group (ECRG), based in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, put on a strong performance at the annual International Conference on Simulated Evolution and Learning (SEAL 2017).

The conference, held at China’s Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) this month, represented an opportunity for Victoria researchers to connect and collaborate with their counterparts from around the world.

Postdoctoral fellow Dr Harith Al-Sahaf and staff members Professor Mengjie Zhang and Dr Bing Xue won the overall Best Paper Award for their contribution on the topic of genetic programming, particularly texture image classification.

“Winning this award shows that the work done at Victoria by the ECRG is new, well-recognised by experts in Evolutionary Computation, and has made a valuable contribution to the field,” says Dr Al-Sahaf.

The first workshop on Evolutionary Optimisation and Learning, held jointly between SUSTech and Victoria, was also successful, with more than 100 conference attendees taking part. Professor Zhang provided an overview of Victoria’s ECRG/Artificial Intelligence (AI) groups, while group members gave presentations on five strategic directions and related research.

During the conference, five ECRG group members each chaired a session in their strength, while Professor Zhang chaired several keynote speeches and tutorials.

“Many people came to talk to us about collaborating on research, or taking up a PhD or postdoctoral position with us, further enhancing Victoria’s reputation,” says Professor Zhang. “Several staff members also established new research collaborations and contacts which are extremely valuable to the University.”

Dr Al-Sahaf also notes the importance of networking to the research field, including attracting funding to explore new research avenues, and collaborating with industry partners to solve real-life problems.

“Networking is a very important factor that allows researchers to share ideas and engage in deeper discussions with authors from around the globe. Having external collaborations shows the exemplary quality of research at Victoria, and allows us to benefit from the experience of other researchers.”

After the conference, group members visited Shenzhen University to seek further collaborations.

Professor Zhang is now in Hanoi to give a keynote speech for IES 2017: The 21st Asia Pacific Symposium on Intelligent and Evolutionary Systems. While in Hanoi he will also visit the Dean and President of Le Quy Don Technical University to discuss research collaborations in AI and security.

Staff from Le Quy Don visited Victoria last year, and will send a student to take a Master’s at the School of Engineering and Computer Science, as well as one or two staff members to do a PhD in AI and security using a Vietnamese Government Scholarship.

A buzz about high tech hives

28 Nov 2017 - 09:24 in Research


An enterprising Network Engineering student spent his Honours year designing a new way to help beekeepers monitor their hives from a distance.

Reuben Puketapu’s ENGR 489 project, titled Internet-connected beehives, addresses the problems faced by beekeepers with beehives in remote locations, fulfilling his long-term goal to use technology to “make people’s lives easier”.

There is currently a lack of resources to help beekeepers know when their hives require attention, says Reuben, as well as a recent spate of thefts throughout New Zealand that have robbed beekeepers of hard-earned revenue. Honey from hives is one of New Zealand’s main agricultural exports, with over 700,000 registered beehives.

Reuben ‘smart’ beehive solution has internet connectivity and uses sensors to monitor key metrics for the beekeepers. These metrics include tracking colony activity and swarm health, and providing real-time alerts for threats to the hive.

“I wanted to create an entire system to solve the problems that beekeepers are currently facing,” Reuben says. “Because there are so many elements to the system, making everything work in harmony was a challenge. I used all the skills I learnt through my university courses, from Arduino programming in first year to cloud computing in fourth year.”

Reuben used Amazon Web Services (AWS) to make a cloud database and a web application for accessing beehive metrics through a simple interface, supported by AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, API Talent.

He says that he wanted to create something using both the ‘Internet of Things’, where objects are connected to the internet, as well as the ‘cloud’ where the data is stored, as both are cutting-edge technologies.

“I’ve loved the whole experience of this project, especially working with API Talent and learning about AWS which is a massive game-changer at the moment,” says Reuben.

“Learning from the best in the industry really made me understand what it takes to be an engineer. It’s awesome to have experience of the process involved in designing, implementing and evaluating a solution to a real-life problem.

“This experience has inspired me to keep expanding my knowledge, and I’m excited for what’s to come in the technology field.”

Software hackathon hits NZ Cricket Museum’s challenges for six

15 Nov 2017 - 10:10 in Achievement

Software Development Masters students from the Wellington ICT Graduate School are on the way to solving the NZ Cricket Museum’s challenges after a two-day hackathon.

Master of Software Development students visit the NZ Cricket Museum with Museum Director, Jamie Bell (below left), and work in teams to develop new tech ideas and solutions for the Museum.

If two heads are better than one when solving tricky problems, then 30 heads must surely be even better.

Over Thursday and Friday [November 9–10] the 30 Master of Software Development students, completing a one-year conversion Masters from the Wellington ICT Graduate School, teamed up to solve challenges put forward by the Wellington-based New Zealand Cricket Museum.

The two-day hackathon — essentially a brainstorming session to come up with new technology ideas and solutions — builds on the students’ learnings from their day-to-day studies.

“Hackathons allow students to use what they have just learned to solve real problems in innovative ways. They are given problems and then see how they can solve them using the skills and technologies they have learned”, says Dr Karsten Lundqvist, a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University.

During this hackathon students considered two main issues. Firstly, how to make static displays more dynamic by better linking the items back to the action that made them worth collecting, and also how to streamline the software museums use to manage their collections.

How do we make static displays more dynamic? Masters students check out objects on display at the NZ Cricket Museum.

“These problems are common to all museums, not just us and not just small museums,” says the NZ Cricket Museum Director, Jamie Bell.

“Museums are about providing context and connection. With our collection being focused on something as dynamic as cricket, we want to find ways to improve the connection between an object that sits in a static museum display and the on-field action that made it worth collecting.

“For example, we have many cricket bats that were used in significant matches — like the one Grant Elliott used to hit New Zealand to a Cricket World Cup final. How do we recreate the hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling from when that bat was used in that moment?”

Jamie also sought the developers’ help for when the items get collected and logged in the museum’s database.

“Most museums use one of three or four collection management systems, but they all have the same issue — they’re too complicated, especially for volunteers or novice students. With about 150 fields available in the software, where most museums will only use a small proportion of these, the breadth of information requested can be daunting.”

Photographs are also important, particularly in an increasingly digital world, Jamie says.

“We need to photograph our items to detail their condition and to make them available for researchers. We’re also increasingly moving our museum experience online so we want to make more of our items publicly accessible via our website.

“But there are currently too many steps between taking a photograph and uploading it. It’s time-consuming and clunky, so I asked the students to find a solution.

“I really like working with students, giving them an opportunity to develop their skills. I like their ability to think laterally,” Jamie says.

Mahuki, Te Papa’s innovation accelerator hub, sponsored the hackathon, which is a part of the students’ study programme. As well as nutritionally fuelling the students — a vital element in a hackathon — Mahuki’s representatives helped assess the viability of the teams’ concepts alongside Jamie Bell at the end of the second day.

After two days of working in teams, devising and designing ideas, the winners were announced.

The winners were team Crickmo, who developed a geo-location app to create an interactive mobile treasure hunt for fans at Wellington’s Basin Reserve.

The winning team, Crickmo, accept their trophy from NZ Cricket Museum Director, Jamie Bell (above left) and pictured with Mahuki’s Outreach Coordinator, Sulu Fiti (below left). The Hackathon Champ trophy stands in full glory (right) while students present their final concepts to the judges.

Acting Director of the Wellington ICT Graduate School Susan Andersen congratulated the students on their hard work.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to build a Proof of Concept that can then grow into a start-up idea.

“This is where Mahuki can get involved, as afterwards the students can take what they have and apply to be part of the next Mahuki incubator programme, beginning in August 2018.”

NZ Cricket Museum Director Jamie Bell says he was impressed with the concepts and solutions the students put forward.

“All of the teams came up with unique solutions to the problems put to them. Some focused on a core element and developed a simple solution, others created an engaging experience related to the Museum, and some thought laterally to how a concept could fit our brief but develop into a product in its own right.

“It’s been great for the Museum to be part of this hackathon, following on from our burgeoning relationship with Mahuki and some of the teams there. The creativity and skillset these students have shown offers an exciting future for museums, heritage, and storytelling.”

Our 12-month Master of Software Development (MSwDev) is open to anyone with a Bachelor’s degree. This conversion programme has been designed for people from non-information technology disciplines who want to become software developers.

Next intake for MSwDev is July 2018 — June 2019.

Applications for 2018 are open now. Book an advice session to find out more about the programmes we offer.

A summer to remember: Welcoming our ECS Summer Scholars

14 Nov 2017 - 09:48 in Research


Students from the School of Engineering and Computer Science will spend the summer working alongside globally-recognised researchers gaining valuable experience in research through Victoria’s Summer Scholars Scheme.

Students are selected for the Scheme based on their academic results, experience in the research area and recommendations from the staff who propose the research projects.

The projects represent a unique opportunity for external organisations, academics and students to work together in research. This year students will be supporting research projects ranging from surveying recent graduates and validating Fitbits to developing an automated inventory tracker for ambulances and finding ways to use virtual reality to assist in healthcare education.

Professor Neil Dodgson, who will be supervising one of the summer projects, says that the Scheme will take students to new and exciting places.

“Research provides our students an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned as undergraduates to work at the cutting edge of knowledge,” he says.

Students will gain a variety of skills, including practical programming experience, data collection and analysis, writing literature reviews, interviewing techniques, learning to use specialised software, and acquiring specialist skills in the laboratory. But what’s more important, says Professor Dodgson, is learning to take a flexible attitude.

“It is a vital step in growing up to realise that there is more to life than just assimilating knowledge and skills that others have: there are places you can go where things are truly new and unknown.

“The nature of research means that successful Summer Scholars need to be adaptable and ask lots of questions of everyone around them,” says Professor Dodgson. “You never know who is going to provide the nugget of knowledge that helps you crack the problem.”

Victoria University awards up to 115 internally-funded Summer Research scholarships and around 150 externally-funded projects over the summer trimester.

Information about 2018/2019 Summer Scholar applications will be available in 2018.

School of Engineering and Computer Science Summer Scholars 2017/18

Brendan Julian
Survey & Interviews of Recent ECS Graduates
Chelsea Miller
Pilot Contamination in 5G Massive MIMO Systems
Benjamin Evans
Evolutionary Machine Learning and Data Mining
Ryan Curry
Study of Industrial IoT applications and use cases in NZ
Arora Hrshikesh
Adam Towel usability
Mansour Javaher
QoS-aware Web Service Location Allocation
Tao Shi
QoS-aware Web Service Location Allocation
Kathleen Griffin
Automated training of orchestral conducting
Daniel Forbes
Validating Fitbits
Shaun Swan
Microfluidic testbed for plasmonic sensors
Samuel Devese
Lead-free ferroelectrics for tunable capacitors, acoustic transducers and data storage
Benjamin Selwyn-Smith
Virtual Reality Simulation for Healthcare Education
Jordan MacLachlan
Evolutionary machine learning for dynamic vehicle routing problem
Luke Johnson
Evolutionary Feature Selection and Dimensionality Reduction for Large-Scale Classification
Ching Ke
Physiological signal processing
Ikram Singh
Electrical Standards MSL Software and Measurement Systems
Hamish Gibb
Electrical Standards MSL Software and Measurement Systems
Aran Warren
Developing a Motion Sensor
Julian Schurhammer
An automated ambulance critical inventory tracking and alerting system
Janice Chin
Harmonic Scale Development
Dipenenkumar Patel
Analytics Harbour Development
Jonathan Carr
TrafficVis: Visualizing Network Traffic Resilience
Daniel Braithwaite
Transport Network Resilience Proof of Concept
Li Li
Transport Network Resilience Proof of Concept
James Miller
Real time video stitching for live 360 video VR streaming

New Administrator: Introducing Monoa Taepa to ECS

07 Nov 2017 - 10:49 in Research


Tēnā koutou katoa

Ko Te Arawa, ko Te Ātiawa, ko Ngāti Kahungunu, ko Kōtarani, ko Ngāti Whātua, ko Te Rarawa, ko Te Ātihaunui a Pāpārangi ōku iwi

Ko Hōhepa Taepa, ko Laura Black, ko Aperahama Paraone Kena, ko Meri Mare, ko Keita Te Hira ōku tūpuna

Ko Hōhepa rāua ko Makere ōku mātua

Ko Aperahama Hōhepa tōku tungāne

Ko Kuraimonoa Taepa tōku ingoa

Born in? Ōtaki.

Lived in? Ōtaki, Peka Peka, Waikanae, Timberlea, Kohimarama, Sandringham, Manurewa, Papatoetoe, Wellington.

First job? Chicken, liver and giblet packer at Golden Coast Poultry in Te Horo.

Position at VUW? Administrator.

Where can people find you at VUW? CO343.

Why Wellington? Close to whānau.

Favourite movies? This Way of Life, Peaceful Warrior, Avatar, Inside Out.

Favourite musicians? Maisey Rika and Kenny Dale.

Favourite foods? Mum’s: tītī (mutton bird) with watercress, kumara and pumpkin; lambs fry and bacon with mashed potato and veges.

Affirmation to live by? “All is well in my world” (Louise Hay).

Teaching Fellow: Introducing Kerese Manueli to ECS

02 Nov 2017 - 09:37 in Research


Name? Kerese Manueli.

Born in? Rotuma, Fiji.

Lived in? Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.

First job? IT/Helpdesk support.

Position at VUW? Teaching Fellow.

Key research interests? ICT for sustainable development.

Most looking forward to at VUW? Supporting students at XMUT/VUW to achieve their academic aspirations.

Where can people find you at VUW? Office EA104.

Why Wellington? It’s got a good blend of nature and urban planning.

Favourite musician? Bob Marley.

Quote to live by? “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school” (Albert Einstein).