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Alumni Profile: Aaron LaBerge

Aaron LaBerge ESPN has a profile on Aaron LaBerge, who received his BS from this department in 1996. LaBerge was named Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at ESPN in January.
LaBerge leads ESPN’s Technology division and is responsible for oversight and strategic leadership and direction of technology, and its marriage with ESPN’s content, across all media and businesses. He also serves on the The Walt Disney Company’s CTO Council and the Disney Research Advisory Board.
Full article from ESPN: Aaron LaBerge was named Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer in January 2015, reporting to John Skipper ESPN President and Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks. LaBerge leads ESPN’s Technology division and is responsible for oversight and strategic leadership and direction of technology, and its marriage with ESPN’s content, across all media and businesses. He also serves on the The Walt Disney Company’s CTO Council and the Disney Research Advisory Board. Adoption and embrace of technology has been one of ESPN’s central hallmarks throughout its 35 year history. Under LaBerge, ESPN Technology works with all divisions of the company to create exceptional experiences for sports fans; develop and manage platform-agnostic technological solutions and standards; unleash the benefits of ESPN’s world-class technological infrastructure and facilities; design and build next-generation data, video and audio platforms; drive the company’s industry-leading innovation and advanced development work; as well as identify and service all other current and future technology needs. A passionate technologist and sports fan, LaBerge was named the successor to Charles E. “Chuck” Pagano in 2014, when Pagano announced his intention to retire. LaBerge is on his second stint at ESPN, having returned to ESPN in January 2013 as senior vice president, technology and product development after six years away as a technology entrepreneur. During his original stint at the company he was an integral leader in the growth and development of integrated technology solutions that help power, deliver and enhance ESPN’s content across all media. With Pagano and others, LaBerge was a key architect in the development and design of ESPN’s second Digital Center at its Bristol, Conn. headquarters. The 194,000-square-foot, future-proof facility is a format agnostic facility, capable of constantly adapting to the continued fast change of the technological landscape. It is capable of production of content in both 4K and 8K, can handle all existing media formats and future industry standards, handling data in multiple ways, signals at various rates and utilizing technology standards which haven’t even been adopted by the media industry yet. Additionally, under LaBerge, ESPN Technology supports the technological management and continued development of ESPN’s state-of-the-art facilities in Los Angeles, Charlotte, NC and Austin, Texas, as well as data centers in Bristol, CT, and the technological infrastructure that connects ESPN facilities around the world, including Seattle, Sao Paolo, Rio De Janeiro, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, London, Bangalore and Sydney. He played a central role in the technology design and development to support the launch of the SEC Network, including software applications and production technology, fiber connectivity between SEC-member schools and ESPN’s Charlotte facility, and has led the technology development that delivered exponential expansion of ESPN’s media encoding and distribution capability for live streaming of sports. Throughout his ESPN career, LaBerge has been instrumental in the growth of ESPN Digital Media, having been involved from its very early years through to its industry-leading position. He played an integral part the technological development for many of its most ambitious and challenging projects and played a key role in establishing ESPN’s position as a leader in the digital media landscape and in new technology development. Prior to his return, LaBerge was CEO of Fanzter Inc., a venture-funded consumer software and digital product development company he co-founded in 2007. He directed the development and launch of a variety of consumer-focused Internet and mobile products. In 2003, LaBerge was vice president, technology and business operations for ESPN.com, a role that expanded two years later to vice president, technology, for ESPN Digital Media where he was responsible for managing company wide digital technology initiatives and product development. In this role, he oversaw ESPN’s pioneering work in online and mobile video technologies and digital streaming technology development. He first joined ESPN in 1997, through Disney’s acquisition of Starwave Ventures, the company that produced ESPN’s earliest Internet products. Before joining Starwave, LaBerge worked as a senior software engineer at Renaissance Interactive, an early Internet development and consulting firm. He specialized in Internet-based publishing and content management systems. LaBerge is a native of Charleston, S.C. and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of South Carolina. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Michele, their sons John Douglas and Grayson, and their daughter Hanna. Aaron LaBerge LinkedIn profile

Outstanding Senior Awards

We are proud to announce the following winners of the CSE Annual Undergraduate Awards:
  • The Outstanding Senior in Computer Information Systems award goes to Alison Lucas.
  • The Outstanding Senior in Computer Science award goes to Connor Bain and Tyler Smith.
  • The Outstanding Senior in Computer Engineering award goes to Daniel Boydstun.
  • The South Carolina Professional Engineers' Award in Computer Engineering goes to Alexander Drake.
Outstanding Senior award winners will be honored at University Awards Day, April 16th at noon on the Horseshoe.

Speaking Clearly about CyberSecurity

Dr. Csilla Farkas Dr. Farkas talks about cyber security to USC News:
"There is a demand to explain cyber security concepts in a way that is understandable to the general public," says Csilla Farkas, a computer science professor in the College of Engineering and Computing. "We can’t expect business leaders to become cyber security experts, but the experts can learn to express cyber security threats in such a way that business executives can make informed decisions."
If you are interested in cybersecurity, apply for our cybersecurity specialization or certificate and drop by the Cybersecurity club. The full article: Imagine you’re a CEO trying to decide how much budget to devote to cyber security for your company. News headlines about disruptive hacks and cyber attacks have you worried, and the detailed technical explanations from the IT staff aren’t helping. "There is a demand to explain cyber security concepts in a way that is understandable to the general public," says Csilla Farkas, a computer science professor in the College of Engineering and Computing. "We can’t expect business leaders to become cyber security experts, but the experts can learn to express cyber security threats in such a way that business executives can make informed decisions." To that end, Farkas is using a grant awarded jointly from the Center for Teaching Excellence/Carolina Leadership Initiative to introduce a stronger communications component to a cyber security course. The idea was to introduce the students to leadership characteristics and public speaking attributes --- then have the students demonstrate those skills in a "shark tank" competition. "Students worked in small groups developing novel security technologies. In addition to detailed project reports, each group presented its proposed technology before a panel of external judges to obtain funding," Farkas said. "The catch was that some of the panel members were not computing professionals and the students couldn’t use any technical jargon to convince them about the significance of their research. I think the students improved a lot in communication skills." Computer information systems major David Brookins came into the course with a rudimentary understanding of cyber security issues and personal experience with attempting to explain the importance of safe browsing habits to his mom. "The course was structured in a way that explained the core concepts to us early on," he said "Once you have a thorough understanding of something, breaking it down to its core concepts and explaining those in a way a lay person would understand becomes much easier." "Over the break, for example, I was able to break down the idea behind a Distributed Denial of Service Attack to my mom to explain why I couldn't log into my Playstation." Student Aaron Hein liked the challenge of the course, especially the presentation to the judges. That exercise will probably become a routine reality when he joins the work force, he said. "The reality today is that business people hold the purse strings, and even in taking a corporate job one must often sell ideas, designs or the need for security to the people who have to pay for it," Hein said. "It's often not an easy sell. Dr. Farkas included that problem in with her security class in a meaningful way and gave us some insight into how to prepare for that type of presentation."

SpeedTree Software Wins Academy Award

Michael Sechrest, Chris King, and Greg Croft, all alumni of the Computer Science & Engineering department, have been awarded the Scientific and Technical Academy Award for SpeedTree. Their software has been used to generate trees for movies such as Avatar, The Avengers, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Iron Man 3, Maleficent, and many others.
Full press release:

Michael Sechrest

Chris King

Greg Croft
COLUMBIA, SC – SpeedTree®, the virtual vegetation software that has grown to dominate the worldwide visual effects and video game industries since its introduction in 2002, has received a Scientific and Technical Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The announcement may be viewed at http://www.oscars.org/news/21-scientific-andtechnical-achievements-be-h…. A Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate) will be presented at a ceremony in Beverly Hills, California, on February 7, 2015, to the three developers of SpeedTree: IDV cofounders Michael Sechrest and Chris King, and Senior Software Architect Greg Croft. The Scientific and Technical awards ceremony, first held in 1931, will be followed on February 22 by the globally-televised Oscars® presentation. "The list of people who made this possible is literally in the thousands," said Mr. Sechrest. "For more than a decade, we have received support, encouragement and invaluable insights from the best artists and engineers in the visual effects and game development industries. These customers, along with the rest of the SpeedTree team, deserve tremendous credit." This isn't SpeedTree's first brush with the Oscars. SpeedTree was featured prominently in 2009's Avatar, which received nine Oscar® nominations and three Oscars. Since then, dozens more movies have added SpeedTree to their special effects, including Oscar-winning and -nominated films like The Great Gatsby and The Wolf of Wall Street, as well as blockbusters like The Avengers, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Iron Man 3, and Maleficent. "SpeedTree is one of countless technologies and innovations that have enriched the cinematic experience for more than a century," observed Mr. King. "We are incredibly humbled by the Academy's recognition of our work. We’re in amazing company." SpeedTree, the 3D tree/vegetation toolkit featured in a growing list of high-end feature films and the best video games since 2002, delivers amazingly natural real-time trees and plants for realtime projects, high-end animations and architectural fly-throughs. SpeedTree includes SpeedTree Modeler, which offers a unique hybrid of hand and procedural modeling options. SpeedTree was created by Interactive Data Visualization, Inc. (IDV), founded in 1999 to develop graphic and visualization tools for a wide variety of industries. For more information, visit www.speedtree.com. Coverage in The State Newspaper, CEC News. You can view their official press release.

Alumni Profile: Irene Au

Irene Au The USC News has a profile of Irene Au, who graduated in 1994 from the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department. Our current CSE department is the result of a merger between the computer part of ECE and the Computer Science department.
She started at Netscape as an interaction designer, went on to Yahoo where she established the company’s user experience and design practice, then joined Google as head of design. With that foundation, Au built her career as a major strategist in the Web industry. Now 20 years after graduating from Carolina, she has taken another career leap as a partner for a venture capital firm, while also purposefully finding a place of balance in her life.
Her linkedin profile .

Robot Assistance or Robot Invasion?

Our very own Dr. Beer is interviewed for this SC ETV Radio show about her research in the use of robots to help the elderly.
If you have an older parent living on their own, would you feel more comfortable if you had a way to monitor them and their living conditions from afar? Our next guest says she hopes to start testing just such a system soon by installing robot monitors in assisted living centers in the Midlands of South Carolina. Mike Switzer interviews Dr. Jenay Beer.
You can find our more about her research by visiting her ART LAB.

Gamecock Computing Symposium 2014

Our Third Annual Gamecock Computing Symposium was a great success. We are proud to announce that the winner of the student poster sessions was Xiaochuan Fan. The second place went to Nick Stiffler. If you missed the activities, you can view a slideshow of the students' posters by clicking on the image at the right. Or, if you just want to jump to your poster, the thumbnails are below.

CSE Department Joins Initiative to Increase Diversity in Computer Science

The Computer Science & Engineering department is one of 15 academic institutions to join the Building Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative, from the Anita Borg Institute, to increase the percentage of undergraduate majors that are female and students of color. Each of the departments will receive $30,000 per year for three years to help support their efforts which will leverage the experiences of other successful programs. These approaches include expanding outreach to high school teachers and students, modifying introductory CS courses to make them more appealing and less intimidating to students from underrepresented groups, building community among underrepresented students, and developing joint majors in areas like CS and biology to encourage interdisciplinary approaches. Anita Borg Institute press release.

Changing Lives Through Video Games

JJ Shepherd's research on using video games to help people learn is being featured in this WACHFOX TV news story. He explains:
"We've created education games in the past, but we want to see how to make them better. And how to actually use this where you can augment classrooms, augment therapies. And basically, better people's lives through technology."
"People want to play games. People don't like to sit there, if they're learning a language, and go through flashcards one after the other. They want to do something exciting and something fun. And if you put together those actions with the message - in other words, what you're trying to teach with it- you end up teaching people and motivating them at the same time. " says Shepherd, a computer science instructor at the University of South Carolina.

Grant for Mobile WiFi Access Points

Dr. Nelakuditi and his ARENA research lab have received an NSF grant award for their project on "Infrastructure Mobility". This research is exploring how to build and program mobile WiFi access points, on wheels, that change position to improve signal reception. Imagine a small robot that moves within the false ceiling of a large building to provide better signal to its users. Abstract
Mobile computing has traditionally implied mobile clients connected to a static infrastructure. This project breaks away from this point of view and envisions the possibility of injecting mobility into infrastructure. The PIs envision a WiFi access point on wheels that moves to optimize desired performance metrics. Movements need not necessarily be all around the floor of a home or office, neither do they have to operate on batteries, or connect wirelessly to the Internet. At homes, they could remain tethered to power and Ethernet outlets while moving in small areas (perhaps under the study table). In offices of the future, perhaps APs could move on tracks installed on top of false ceilings. The cloud could perhaps coordinate their mobility based on how users move within the environment, or how traffic and interferences change in the network. This project explores the viability of this vision and will present thorough measurements from various home/office environments. Initial measurements with moving WiFi APs in residential and enterprise environments exhibit promise. Analysis finds that complex multipath characteristics of indoor environments cause large fluctuations in link quality even when the antenna moves in the scale of one foot. Mobile APs can leverage this spatial variation by relocating to a pixel that is strong for its own clients and yet weak from its interferers. When multiple APs are coordinated by a central controller, the motion paths of the APs need to be jointly planned to optimize global network parameters. Heuristics will be developed that first assume the knowledge of AP locations; based on the outcome of this heuristic, the assumption might be relaxed. The project will also consider client mobility and how APs adapt to them, perhaps based on the quality of channel changes available from channel state information (CSI) in today's WiFi cards. If mobility proves to offer additional gains despite the advances in current technologies, robotic wireless networking might become an important and exciting direction of the future.

Karina Liles named GEM Affiliate Fellow

PhD student Karina Liles has been named a GEM Affiliate Fellow by the the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science. GEM's mission is to broaden participation of minorities in STEM fields at the graduate level. Liles works with Dr. Beer in the ART LAB and is studying the use of robots as teaching assistants for middle school educators. As reported by CEC news article
A computer science and engineering doctoral student at The University of South Carolina recently received an honor that will hopefullyplace her among the country’s most desirable engineering graduates in the future. The National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Incorporated named Karina Liles a GEM Affiliate Fellow. GEM’s mission is to broaden participation of minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields at the master’s and doctoral levels. The national organization assists companies throughout the United States in providing graduate fellowships to minority students from communities where such talent is largely untapped. Liles is from Bennettsville, South Carolina. She received her undergraduate degree in computer science from Spelman College and then earned a Master of Education in Educational Technology from USC before beginning her doctoral study in the USC College of Engineering and Computing. “In high school, I began developing computer games for my three year old sister to help her learn her letters and colors, “ said Liles. “I quickly realized that I enjoyed working with computers and had a talent for it. I knew I needed a formal education which is where my true passion for computers, robots and technologies blossomed.” Liles now works alongside Dr. Jenay Beer in the Assisted Robotics and Technology (ART) Lab in the Department of Computer Science andEngineering. Her research is focused on creating and using robots as teaching assistants for middle school educators. She is also assisting with the programming of a robot to help music therapists who work with children with special learning needs. “We are certainly not trying to replace classroom teachers or therapists but rather, we hope the robots can assist these professionals. Students of all ages seem to be interested in the robots and respond to them with enthusiasm. We hope that helps in the learning process.”

New Faculty: Dr. Ioannis Rekleitis

We would like to welcome our newest assistant professor, Dr. Ioannis Rekleitis to the department. He was previously at McGill University, in Canada, and before that he was a visiting fellow at the Canadian Space Agency. His research focuses on mobile robotics, and in particular multi-robot cooperative localization, mapping, exploration and coverage. He is in office 3A54 and will be teaching CSCE 774 "Robotics Systems" this semester.

Dr. Huhns Elected AAAI Fellow

We would like to congratulate our very own Dr. Huhns for being elected a AAAI Fellow. The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's Fellows program was started in 1990 to recognize individuals who have made significant, sustained contributions---usually over at least a ten-year period---to the field of artificial intelligence. Dr. Huhns is recognized "For significant contributions to the field of multiagent systems and its applications in information management and service-oriented computing."