Commercial-free TV: Device impresses judges at technology contest

August 8, 2012

A design by a team of Arizona State University engineering majors for a device that detects upcoming advertisements on television and videos – and can then automatically switch during commercial breaks to other programming selected by viewers – was successfully debuted at a recent international student technology design competition.

Team AdSkip entered its device design and prototype in the Intel Cup Embedded Systems Design Contest hosted in late July by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China. The competition drew entries from about 160 student teams from 12 countries. AdSkip was the sole entry from a U.S. team. Intel Cup Team Download Full Image

The AdSkip project, developed by computer systems engineering seniors Chris McBride, Chase Parenteau and Anthony Thau, earned a second-prize category ranking from the 21 judges from four countries who rated contest entries on originality, degree of difficulty and usefulness.

“AdSkip enhances the viewer’s television-watching experience,” says Thau of the system the team designed to analyze video signals to reveal when advertisements are about to interrupt featured programming.

“By detecting commercials, the device can offer the viewer some kind of secondary content during the commercial break, such as another show, or Internet content, until the show they were watching returns,” Thau explains.

Intriguing challenge

Unlike conventional DVR or TiVo devices that must record programs to skip past advertisements, AdSkip can work in real-time, he says.

The team developed AdSkip using the latest embedded computer processor and Field Programmable Gate Array technologies, which Intel Corp. provided to all Intel Cup competitors. Students were given three months to use the technologies to design devices with practical applications.

“I found the technological challenge intriguing and liked that the contest was sponsored by Intel,” Thau says. “Its role in the project made the experience professional and realistic, similar to what I expect it would be like in a real-world situation.”

“It was a great opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology and participate in an international event,” team member McBride adds. “It was fun to imagine a new product, create it, and see it work.”

The students carried out their project with mentoring from lecturer Yinong Chen and adjunct instructor Kyle Gilsdorf in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“Placing so well at an international competition reflects highly on the engineering education at ASU and the faculty members who helped us,” McBride says. “We could not have done this without their help. They sacrificed much of their time to mentor and guide us.”

Intense evaluation

Parenteau represented the team in presenting and demonstrating the AdSkip project during the competition. The device passed the proof-of-concept test – meaning the team’s work demonstrated the technical feasibility of producing a device capable of processing a real-time video feed and detecting commercial breaks.  There’s still a big step needed to bring the project to fruition.

“We have not yet developed an exact application of how the device would be used,” Thau says. “We have to focus on how exactly it would be used in a typical scenario of a viewer watching TV.”

The Intel Cup Embedded Systems Design Competition evaluation process “is rigorous and intense,” says Chen, who was a judge in this year’s contest. “As the first team ever from ASU to participate, AdSkip has done a terrific job to win a second-place prize,” he says. “They had to compete with many teams from universities that have entered teams in the contest since it began in 2002.”

The competition is a biannual event established by the Chinese government and sponsored by Intel.

It’s an invitation-only competition for schools with programs in embedded systems – which are the various computer systems designed to control functions of other systems, from watches, mobile phones and digital recording players to automobiles, manufacturing systems and power plants.

The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering is home to the Center for Embedded Systems, which is a designated National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center.

Written by Joe Kullman and Natalie Pierce

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Hillary Bach named Pac-12 Conference Woman of the Year

August 8, 2012

A freshman from the fall of 2008 who heard Pat Tillman's mom speak to Sun Devil freshman student-athletes at orientation weekend took what she said to heart.

Recent graduate and former Sun Devil softball student-athlete Hillary Bach was recognized as the Pac-12 Conference Woman of the Year as announced by conference officials, Aug. 6. Download Full Image

Bach (B.A., business marketing) heard Mary Tillman speak during her first weekend as a student-athlete on campus four years ago and was moved by the stories of Pat, who graduated in under four years. Bach said she would do the same, and racked up Academic All-American status, a three-time Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, and was three times named First Team Pac-12 All-Academic along the way. And yes, she graduated in less than four years.

"Hillary Bach has been an incredible inspiration and team member for a championship program the past four years," said Steve Patterson, vice president for University Athletics.

"Her appreciation of a former Sun Devil legacy from the day she first set foot on campus is a tribute to the incredible tradition we have at Sun Devil athletics, and one can be sure the next wave of Sun Devils will point towards Hillary as a role model of their own," Patterson added. "She has been the complete package at Arizona State as a top student, a champion athlete and a leader in community service. We look forward to her being an active Sun Devil alumni."

The former Tillman Scholar was one of 429 individuals who were nominated by member institutions for the national award of 2012 NCAA Woman of the Year. Winners of the Conference Woman of the Year award go on to be nominated for the national award, which marks the first time that an Arizona State student-athlete has earned the distinction since its inception in 2006.

On top of academics, Bach lived the Sun Devil Way as the President for the ASU Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). With that responsibility, she helped strengthen unity among student-athletes and members of the student body through education, awareness and communication. Something she was well accustomed to, as she spread her knowledge that she learned in 2010-11 as a Tillman Scholar - a program inspired to help students become more effective leaders through actions, values and thoughts.

Bach graduated with her undergraduate degree in business marketing in 2011, as a junior of the softball team. A winner of the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship this July, she is currently working towards her masters of business administration.