If you have some doubts about the future of engineering in the United States, I have some good news for you. US computer and engineering colleges are still among the best in the world. Despite immigration constraints of the last several years, the institutions remain attractive globally and are pulling in many of the most brilliant minds from around the globe.
In this blog, I am especially giving a shout out to the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech's College of Engineering. For the third year in a row, a group of Virginia Tech doctoral students won a major 3D user interface contest at a global competition in Costa Mesa, Calif., organized by the IEEE. Contestants came from colleges in Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France Greece, India, and New Zealand. Here's how Virginia Tech described the assignment and the winning entry:
This year's competition required students to build a computer application that allowed two users to navigate through a complicated 3-D environment without any direct verbal communication. The Virginia Tech team, also the recipient of the “People's Choice” award as voted on by conference attendees, devised a virtual search and rescue scenario that required a rescuer to enter a burning building to look for survivors as a commander monitored progress on an interactive map of the structure.
During the scenario, the commander suggests various paths for the rescuer to follow in order to ensure the entire building is searched. At the same time, the rescuer places markers in the burning building to indicate where the survivors, blockages, hazards, and new openings are located.
Interestingly, the submission was named CARNAGE (Collaborative Augmented Rescue Navigation and Guidance Escort), but the application is more supportive than destructive. It “helps pairs of users complete virtual search and rescue tasks with high rates of search coverage and virtual victims found,” the school said. In a search-and-rescue operation, which can turn deadly for even the rescuers, the ability to navigate and communicate with partners directly and without confusion can be crucial to everyone's safety.
For police officers and other search-and-rescue providers, CARNAGE can literally be a lifesaver. Communicating in a hazy, smoke-filled environment can be extremely difficult both for those managing the operation remotely and those directly involved in the search. Firefighters have been killed in rescue operations in recent months, and a program like CARNAGE can help reduce such incidents.
CARNAGE signals that help is on the way for emergency service providers, at least in the area of communications under duress. That this application was developed right here in the United States (by an international team) is encouraging. The Virginia Tech team comprises Felipe Bacim (from Brazil), Cheryl Stinson (a Canadian), and two Americans: Eric Ragan and Siroberto Scerbo.
Click the video link below for a demonstration of CARNAGE: