Showcasing Innovation in Computer Science

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Six months of working in teams to conceptualize, design, test, and present capstone projects culminated recently for more than fifty seniors during summit.cs, the UC Santa Barbara Computer Science (CS) Department’s annual event that unites undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, alumni, and industry partners. The event featured presentations from undergraduates on their capstone projects, a poster session, an awards presentation, networking opportunities, and multidisciplinary research talks from three College of Engineering faculty. After taking place virtually last year amidst the pandemic, the event, which can be viewed here, returned this year to an in-person format inside Corwin Pavilion. 

“The in-person event enabled us to reestablish connections, broaden engagement and communication among the attendees, and facilitate spontaneous interactions and discussions that were rendered impossible over Zoom last year,” said Chandra Krintz, vice chair of the department and one of the two capstone instructors. “The impact of these seemingly simple differences was also significant for students, who were able to interact with faculty they had not seen in person for up to two years.”

“It was wonderful to be presenting in person,” said Nick Arenberg, a senior computer science major and the lead for the NOMADS capstone project. “Public speaking over Zoom is not the same as being on stage in front of a crowd, and I think that was a valuable experience for all of us. It was also great to network with and meet all sorts of different people and show them the product that we worked so hard on for months.”

Ten student teams presented their capstone projects on the summit stage. As part of the department’s two-quarter capstone course sequence, students started working in fall on technological innovations aimed at addressing some of society’s biggest challenges. Computer science professor Jianwen Su taught the 189A course in the fall, while Krintz was the 189B instructor in the winter. 

For this year’s projects, students pursued advances in telemedicine, medical therapy, computer-assisted surgery, solar energy management, computer system security and maintenance, and tools for improving a range of real-estate-related and financial interactions. Working with industry leaders, student leveraged various state-of-the-art techniques, including distributed systems, data analytics, machine learning, cloud computing, and programming frameworks to produce end-to-end applications in less than six months. 

“I am very impressed with capstone projects every year, and this year was no exception,” said Tevfik Bultan, chair of the Department of Computer Science. “I always say that the best way to learn about the future of computing is to attend the capstone presentations. They demonstrate the computing innovations that will transition to practical use in a few years. It is really a great experience to see ten exciting project back-to-back, and our students do a wonderful job in completing these ambitious projects and presenting them in an engaging way.”

After listening to each presentation, three judges — Davis Brimer, founder and CEO of Stealth Mode; Elizabeth Kate, the virtual health care lead at Oracle Health; and Shelby Sailing, Logic Monitor’s product manager — selected the top three teams. The judges,  all graduates of UCSB, awarded first place to Project SmartGrid, second place to Project VCare, and third place to Project NOMADS. 

Project SmartGrid created a technology to help microgrid owners, or those who have solar panels, a battery system, and/or electric vehicles at their homes, visualize their energy data and more accurately predict their future usage. The technology was also a response to California’s growing number of power shutoff events initiated by utility companies due to wildfire threats. The team developed a web application and implemented an algorithm to provide artificial intelligence-driven recommendations to homeowners to maximize their use of local renewable energy and reduce their reliance on the utility grid. 

“To determine these recommendations, the AI takes into account the current battery level, predicted baseload usage, predicted solar output, weather alerts, and user preferences as inputs,” explained Kaiwen Li, the team lead of Project SmartGrid. “We knew that our users wouldn’t want to login to the web app every day, so we also built a scheduler that would run the algorithm and send notifications daily so users can get results directly.”

Composed of Li, Jayden Yu, Yuyuan Wang, Alex Mei, and Jasun Chen, the team partnered with AgMonitor to develop both the underlying digital intelligence and the user interfaces required to give customers an end-to-end system that was easy to use and effective for managing home energy use. They also interviewed AgMonitor customers for valuable insight. 

“We saw that there was a gap between what they really wanted and what we thought they wanted,” explained Li, who is enrolled in the department’s BS/MS Program. “For example, we wanted to email the daily notifications, but more users preferred text message notification. Another key ask that we had not thought about before was to provide insights into the automated recommendations. The customers’ need for an interpretable system then drove our design choices to ensure customer happiness.”

Li said that their project was considered “B-grade-level” at the end of the fall quarter, a disheartening review that motivated them to work even harder to create their app. 

“All ten projects were really unique, technically innovative, and deserved commendation,” said Li, who added that the team hopes to continue working with AgMonitor to improve the accuracy of their algorithm and integrated it to the company’s website. “So, it feels great to see that our efforts were recognized and rewarded.”

Composed of Neil Sadhukhan, Kevin Nguyen, Eason Jiang, Tom Nguyen, and Yusong Yan, Project VCARE earned second place for creating a system that patients suffering from severe anxiety disorders could use to receive higher-quality online mental health therapy. Their project addressed two pressing problems, the increased demand for online therapy brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lack of access to virtual treatment for exposure therapy, a psychological treatment developed to help people confront their fears by exposing them to their anxiety source or its context without the intention of causing any danger. The team worked with its partner, WellHealth, to create a virtual environment that automatically adjusts to a patient’s comfort level and allows the therapist to speak to the patient, see what the patient is seeing, and control the virtual environment manually. The system also transcribes and analyzes whatever the patient is saying in real-time to allow the therapist to take fewer notes. Anyone with a virtual-reality headset can access the treatment.

“We aimed very high in terms of our vision, which meant we had to spend a lot of time developing the technology and addressing the problems and bugs we encountered along the way, said Sadhukhan, the team lead. “Winning second place tastes even sweeter because we often had to consider whether or not our project was too complex to actually make.”

Sadhukan says that judges and audience members encouraged the team to continue working on VCare. A health care startup founder also emailed Sadhukan to express interest in the project. 

“Right now, we are brainstorming what VCare needs to become a complete product and the feasibility of launching it publicly,” said Sadhukan. 

Students involved with the Navy Operational Machine Auditing Development Suite (NOMADS) project created an application to ensure that networks thought to be secure have no leakage. They created a technology to programmatically audit a network to determine the hardware and software installed on each endpoint. Their application automates the laborious, time-intensive process of manually collecting this data and locating any irregularities or potential threats and outputs the findings in useful visualizations and spreadsheets. They worked with NavAir to create automation agents and a proprietary topology diagram generator. 

“We really gelled as a team from the first day. Building such a large, interconnected project required all of our skills and efforts,” said Nick Arenberg, the lead for Project NOMADS, who was joined by team members Nick Mattair, Max Medearis, Andy Ho, and Matthew Chen. “Our mentors trusted us to make most of the major design decisions even though the product could one day be used on millions of computers. It was empowering and humbling to be able to work with the team through tasks of such importance with the team.” 

The capstone experience, Arenberg added “felt like a preview of working for a software development team in industry.”

Attendees also heard twenty-minute research talks from Jennifer Jacobs, an associate professor of media arts and technology, Katie Byl, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Nina Miolane, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. 

To view the event, click here.  

Related People: 
Tevfik Bultan, Chandra Krintz, Jianwen Su

Ten capstone teams presented their projects during the Computer Science Department's summit.cs.