March 27, 2014

BOOM offers a glimpse of computing future

Imagine a scale that reads not only your weight, but also blood pressure, heart rate and other aspects of your condition, and automatically sends the data to the cloud for storage. Or a work light that follows your hands around, shining just on the place you need it. Such products might be on the market in a couple of years, because Cornell students are working on them now.

The 17th annual BOOM (Bits On Our Minds) exhibition in Duffield Hall Atrium March 26 could be thought of as a trade show of the future, said Saba Alemayehu, assistant to the chair of Information Science and project manager for BOOM. Although sponsored by Cornell Computing and Information Science (CIS), in collaboration with the College of Engineering, the event brings in projects that use digital technology from students in many disciplines all over the university. What students are working on today may well be commercial products tomorrow, Alemayehu said. Some of the student exhibitors indeed were talking about startups.

In keeping with industry trends, this year’s show leaned to health-related applications, “big data” computing and social media applications.

On display as in previous years were the automated submarine and aircraft built by engineering students to enter every year in national competitions. Cornell is considered one of the “powerhouse schools” that wins more often than others.

In between you might see a checkers-playing robot and a lot of technical displays using words like “functionality” and “machine translation.” And, of course, lots of games.

Also prominent were BOOM’s corporate sponsors, Goldman Sachs, Google, eBay, Yahoo! and General Electric, who see the event as an opportunity to check out and recruit Cornell talent. As usual, their booths were manned by recent Cornell grads who now work for the companies. CIS faculty members also were frequently seen in the packed crowd.

Possibly the most popular attraction was a demonstration of a robot built by a team of Ithaca High School students – mentored by Cornell undergrads – that won the FIRST Robotics Buckeye Regional competition in Cleveland last weekend. The audience for the demo was heavy with elementary and middle school students bused in for BOOM.

The afternoon concluded with presentation of awards. The People’s Choice Award, selected by a vote of visitors, went to the CU Automated Underwater Vehicle team. Where’s the BOOM?, chosen by faculty, went to B33P (pronounced “beep”) – a game for children. Each corporate sponsor presented an award: GE Imagination at Work Award to Pulso, an assistive navigation device for the visually impaired; eBay Innovator’s Award to Speare, an artificial intelligence that informs online news sites about their readers; Goldman Sachs Award also to Pulso; and the Googleyist Project Award to Definitions Extractions from Code of Federal Regulations.