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Engineering students to race their autonomous cars Friday at Old Main in Tempe.
Designing the entire car takes computer science students beyond software.
April 27, 2016

Inaugural ASU computer science course teaches students how to design an entire system with self-driving cars

On Friday morning, man and machine will find themselves both tested.

The challenge for the robotic car? Make your way — on your own, of course — from University Drive about 250 yards to the steps of Old Main, avoiding students, skateboards, bicycles and the fountain.

The challenge for the students? Build a robotic car that can do all that.

It’s the final step in a course offered for the first time this semester at Arizona State University.

Knowing how to write software isn’t enough any more, said Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering associate professor Aviral ShrivastavaShrivastava teaches in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He heads the Compiler and Microarchitecture Labs..

Computer science engineers need to learn to design an entire system.

“Being a computer science department, what we used to do was teach the software aspect of robots,” Shrivastava said. “But now as these robotic systems become more complex, you cannot even develop the software without knowing the other aspects. You have to understand the relationships and connections between the mechanical components and the electrical components to be able to correctly write the software. That is what is changing.”

In the old days, writing software for machines was simple. For a washing machine, you want it to turn on, fill with water, agitate for 10 minutes, drain, spin for another 10 minutes, refill again, and so on. The software engineer didn’t have to know how to build a washing machine.

In a world where self-driving cars are poised to appear on a street near you, that has changed.

“Robotic systems are much more complex,” Shrivastava said. “Even though we are still just writing the software, we need to understand the electrical parts, the mechanical parts, to write good software. That’s why I changed this course to include all the components of the system, to give them an understanding of the whole thing.”

He calls it an “engineering course with a strong computer science aspect to it.”

They start with a car 2 feet long that runs up to 20 mph. Students get the chassis, battery, two motors, GPS, a laser rangefinder, a microprocessor, wires, motion sensors, and a breadboard to connect components.

“They are really, really building this completely from scratch,” Shrivastava said.

It’s a series of seven class projects culminating in an automatically navigating obstacle-avoiding race car.

“It is a self-driving car,” he said. “It’s not an easy project. They have been working night and day on this.” Out of 25 groups in the class, six didn’t make it.

At the Friday event, students will get a GPS coordinate destination. They’ll start from University Drive, driving south and stopping behind the fountain in front of Old Main on the Tempe campus, a distance of about 250 yards, carried along by the algorithm they have to write. It is, after all, a computer science class.

This is the type of engineering Google is looking for right now, with “end to end” skill sets. Robotics companies are the fastest-growing start-up category, Shrivastava said. “There are a lot of companies who want people like this,” he said.

“The students are very excited,” Shrivastava said. “After doing this course, students get the confidence and the ability to design relatively complex robotics systems on their own. ... That doesn’t happen if you study only part of the system.”

He hopes students from the whole spectrum of engineering disciplines enroll in Embedded Microprocessor Systems (CSE 325).

“I’m hoping students from computer science will also be interested in taking this course, students from mechanical engineering will be taking this course, electrical engineering students will be interested in taking this course, because they are all just learning their part of the robotic system, and they realize they won’t go far without learning the entire robotic system,” Shrivastava said.

The car race of the obstacle-avoiding, autonomous race cars will be at 9 a.m. April 29 on the lawns in front of Old Main.


Top photo: Students in computer systems engineering class Embedded Microprocessor Systems test their self-navigating cars in the first of four demonstrations. Photo by Mihir Bhatt/ASU

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Undergrads flex research muscles at ASU symposium

ASU West undergrad research symposium gives students chance to "show off."
Students flex research muscles on algae, black widows and poisons in plastics.
April 28, 2016

Students from ASU, community colleges present on topics ranging from black widows to bullies

Pritika Shahani isn’t even in med school yet and she already has four years of cancer-drug research under her belt. Sophisticated concepts and formidable verbiage spilled out of her like water off a duck’s back at ASU West’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Project Symposium, where the New College biology senior is joined by dozens of other similarly driven, inquisitive scholars.

The April 28 event brought together undergraduate students from ASU’s West and Tempe campuses, as well as local community colleges, to present research projects on topics ranging from the importance of vitamin D’s effect on psychological behavior, to the alarming prevalence of black widows in urban environments, to how algae could be the next-generation fuel.

Todd SandrinIn addition to his position as director of New College’s undergraduate research program, Sandrin serves as associate dean for the college and as an associate professor in its School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences., director of undergraduate research at ASU's West campus, called the symposium “a chance for students to take what they’ve done and show off to a broad audience” that includes their peers, faculty, staff and even CEOs.

“These undergrads are doing some state-of-the-art research, and this gives them the opportunity to communicate the value of it,” Sandrin added. “It’s about truly supercharging their undergraduate experience and exposing them to the job market even before graduation.”

In past years students have been offered internships and even jobs based on their presentations.

The inclusion of projects by students from local community colleges is an important factor at the symposium.

“Community colleges are a pipeline to ASU for many students,” said Sandrin. “In many places, including New College, up to 70 percent of the graduating classes are students that came to ASU from community colleges.”

Bully Blocker app
Applied computing major Bryan Sawkins worked with assistant professor Yasin Silva on a “bully-blocking” app. Photo by Emma Greguska/ASU Now


Many, though certainly not all, of the students participating in the symposium are presenting on projects they worked on with faculty mentors as part of the New College Undergraduate Inquiry & Research Experiences (NCUIRE) Program.

Students can apply for awards through NCUIRE that provide funding and faculty guidance for their research. The kind of experience they gain through the program is invaluable, said Sandrin.

“They’re applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world problems outside the classroom, and at the same time mixing with faculty members who are at the defining frontiers of knowledge,” he said.

Shahani, who worked under the guidance of associate professor Peter JurutkaPeter Jurutka is an associate professor in New College’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences., testified that the experience “really solidified the knowledge I was getting from the textbooks.”

Applied computing major Bryan Sawkins has his sights set on a future in app development. He said the best part about working with assistant professor Yasin SilvaYasin Silva is an assistant professor of applied computing in New College’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. on a so-called “bully-blocking” app was the firsthand experience.

Thursday’s symposium also included a keynote address from assistant professor Tess NealTess Neal is an assistant professor in New College’s Social and Behavioral Sciences division., who recently joined New College and served as a mentor to one of the student teams presenting this year. Neal’s address detailed their research into forensic-expert biases.

The day’s events concluded with an award ceremony, the winners of which are as follows:

Best NCUIRE Presented Research or Creative Project

1st place – “Optimal Control of the Concentration of Doripenem to Kill P. aeruginosa Strains in a PK/PD Model,” by Christopher Graham, Daniel El-Wailly, Stephen LaCour and Stephen Wirkus

2nd place – “Tumor Suppressors Klotho and 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 Cooperate Via Synergistic Inhibition of Oncogenic WNT/B-Catenin Signaling,” by Zainab Khan, Sameera Khan, Ruby Sandoval, G. Kerr Whitfield, Mark R. Haussler and Peter Jurutka

3rd place – “Can Direct Examination Sensitize Jurors to the Scientific Validity of Expert Testimony,” by Hannah Goddard, Jeffrey Haas, Sierra Marshall, Rebecca Velez, Brian Howatt, Tess Neal and Daniel Krauss (with Caitlyn Quamme, Dennis Ramos Jr. and Carina Philipp)

Honorable Mention – “The Effects of Metal Solutions on Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” by Briana Bates, Jordan Du Bois and Pamela Marshall

Honorable Mention – “Trait Competitiveness and Perceived Competition as Predictors of Attitudes Towards University of Arizona Students,” by Priscilla Mesa, Sandra Vazquez and Deborah Hall

Honorable Mention – “Academic Research on Brain Injury and Experience of Brain Injury Survivors,” by David Redkey

Best NCUIRE Non-Presented Research or Creative Project

1st place – “Identification of Transcriptomic Biomarkers for use in the Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS),” by Aleksandra Grozic, Christopher Dussik, Arianna Bradley, Lin Zhang, Connie Borror, Jin Park, Jie Wang, Steven Yale, Amy Foxx-Orenstein, Todd Sandrin and Peter Jurutka

2nd place – “Insight in Motion - Using 3-D Motion Capture to Track Cognitive Activity During Insight Problem Solving,” by John Hart, Chelsea Johnson and Nicholas Duran

3rd place – “Suppression of Breast Cancer Cell Proliferation by Bexarotene and Novel RXR Agonists,” by Supreet Bains, Pritika Shahani, Carl Wagner, Pamela Marshall, Ichiro Kaneko, Michael Heck and Peter Jurutka

Best Presented Research or Creative Project

1st place – “Analyzing Bexarotene Analogs for Cancer Treatment,” by San Raban, Amanda Mikhail, Dena Haddad, Ereny Z. Ayoub, Peter W. Jurutka, Carl E. Wagner and Pamela A. Marshall

2nd place – “An Investigation into the Disruption of Bacterial Quorum Sensing,” by Anthony Gutierrez, Chad Albert and James Tuohy

2nd place – “Detection of Legionella pneumophilain the Water System of an Educational Institution in the Desert,” by Zaira Grijalva, Daisy Rodriguez, Amber Neal, David Reyes, Anthony Gutierrez and Karissa Marquez

3rd place – “Is There Poison in the Plastic? Measuring the Absorption of Organic Contaminants to Common Household Plastics,” by Todd Allen, Savannah Farley, Cassandra Clement, Veronique Back, Robert Carpenter and Beth Polidoro

Honorable Mention – “Mathematical Model of Fecundity in Fundulus Heterocletus,” by Rebecca Downing

Best Non-Presented Research Or Creative Project

1st place – “Effects of Colchicine-Induced Polyploidy,” by Lydia Keppler, Dr. Thomas Cahill and Dr. Ken Sweat

2nd place – “An Experimental Survey of MapReduce-based Similarity Joins,” by Jason Reed, Kyle Brown, A.J. Wadsworth, Chuitian Rong, Nathan Middlebrook and Yasin Silva

2nd place – “Does Commercially Available Lavender Essential Oil Display Antimicrobial Activity?” by Lucas Jackson, Lillian Swaim, Joseph Springer and James Tuohy

3rd place – “Antimicrobial activity of natural product extracts from a Botanica in Phoenix, AZ against Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” by Gabrielle Sandstedt, Pamela A. Marshall and Pedro L. Chavez

3rd place – “Modeling the Effects of P300 and Violent Video Games on Neuron Firing,” by Rebecca Downing, Christopher Graham and Veronica Hoyo

3rd place – “Scaling of force production in the jaws of the dusky smooth hound shark,” by Tessa Lehan, Ana (Bea) Roman and Lara A. Ferry

Honorable Mention – “The Activity of Deinococcus Radiodurans Catalase as a Function of Salt Exposure,” by Robert Mann and James Tuohy

Honorable Mention – “Characterization of Nannochloropsis oceanica Using Different Protein Extraction Methods for MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry,” by Paul Lysikowski, Duane Barbano and Todd Sandrin

Community College Certificate of Merit

“An Investigation into the Disruption of Bacterial Quorum Sensing,” by Anthony Gutierrez, Chad Albert and James Tuohy

“Detection of Legionella pneumophila in the Water System of an Educational Institution in the Desert Southwest,” by Zaira Grijalva, Daisy Rodriguez, David Reyes, Oliver Garcia, Amber Neal, Anthony Gutierrez, Karissa Marquez, Matt Haberkorn, David Otto Schwake, Cori Leonetti and Robin Cotter

“The Activity of Deinococcus Radiodurans Catalase as a Function of Salt Exposure,” by Robert Mann and James Tuohy

“Does Commercially Available Lavender Essential Oil Display Antimicrobial Activity?” by Lucas Jackson, Lilliian Swaim, Joseph Springer and James Tuohy