Va. Tech Wins Buoy Future of US Engineering

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:

10 comments on “Va. Tech Wins Buoy Future of US Engineering

  1. jbond
    April 12, 2012

    This is an excellent idea and it's great to see the collaboration coming from our universities. Of course their video is a little corny and could clearly use help from a marketing department. This shows there is clearly promising technology still coming from university students.

  2. Ariella
    April 12, 2012

    It's true that there are many risks associated with rescue efforts. Think of all the rescue workers who lost their lives during 9/11, for example. Increasing their safety is a worthwhile effort. It's great to be able to take pride in a US universitiy's achievemenet. 

  3. Barbara Jorgensen
    April 12, 2012

    “Communications under duress” was the most painful part of 9/11. Not only were rescurers unable to communicate at times, but people on the front lines–the first responders–had no way of knowing what was going on outside. TV reported most of the breaking news to the horrified world. There's got to be a better way, and if university students develop it, more power to them.

  4. bolaji ojo
    April 12, 2012

    Rich, It's a complex job environment the students will be walking into at the end of their program and they will be similarly competing with others all over the world for jobs that are no longer local but global. How they fare will depend upon their ability to apply classroom activities into real life applications.

  5. bolaji ojo
    April 13, 2012

    Jenn, The video could certainly use some work. The application may require this also. That's where sales, marketers, communication experts and other support teams come in. Doctoral students, like everyone else, will find out eventually they need more than just great ideas. They also need people to make their ideas slicker than they appear in a You Tube video! Luckily, the US is not short of any of these.

  6. bolaji ojo
    April 13, 2012

    Rich, I don't disagree with the premise of your position and, in fact, concur with your wife's conclusion that a good degree from a great engineering school may not suffice for the Western worker in today's market. As you rightly noted, the jobs have moved offshore and many of today's graduating engineers may not get the jobs that should be in line with their training.

    However, we shouldn't also fail to celebrate their victories too, otherwise we fall all into dark depressions. And, in my view, there's some level of optimism now and for the future. Innovations from American engineering schools and minds gave the world many of today's best products. I suspect they will continue to do so for many more years. The manufacturing and other processes that should derive from these, though, may take place elsewhere because of our businesses' failure to understand the connection between manufacturing, design and consumption. If we fail to energize the consumer by ensuring they have jobs, one day businesses will find they built but nobody is buying, at least in the West.

    The other positive side (and it's a long one) is that the pendulum will eventually swing back. It's not the most cheery opinion, I know, and many people will suffer until equilibrium in global hiring is achieved again, but eventually jobs in manufacturing, design and other areas will proliferate in the West again. I hope this is not just a hope but also a realizable dream.

  7. Eldredge
    April 13, 2012

    @ Bolaji

    I don't disgree that the pendulum may swing back to encourage more manufacturing in the west, but I don't think it will swing back to the same point. Competitve pressures are too great to allow that.

  8. Cryptoman
    April 15, 2012

    United States is one of the undisputed “the place” to study engineering.

    Global market is changing and jobs are moving to different countries (mainly towards the East) whether we like it or not. This means that the young engineering graduates will need to be prepared to move where the jobs are. The alternative to moving is choosing another line of work where local jobs are available.

    I think having a diploma from a reputable engineering school in the US carries a lot of weight when it comes to working abroad. So studying engineering in the US is far from losing time and money. On the contrary, it is a big international asset.

    Many students in the developing countries are prepared to move abroad at a much early stage in their lives to get a good college education. They accept this as part of life and their education and are able to adapt to situations. Most of those people also have to move to another country to get a good job once they graduate. It is a tough feat but rather than compromising what they want to do professionally, they choose to move and live away from home and their families.

    In most European countries there is a similar trend. People leave home on Monday morning and commute to another city to spend the 5 working days there and head back to their families on Friday to be able to spend the weekend at home. This lifestyle is pretty common in Europe.

    I think the new realities and the new commercial balance shifts in the world is something most people will gradually get used to. This change is inevitable and people will need to adapt sooner or later. Even though everyone would like to study and work locally this is hardly the case anymore. The world has become a much smaller place for all of us.

    As someone who has done this successfully for 15 years, I don't see this as the end of the world. As a matter of fact, getting out of one's safety zone and living and working elsewhere in the world can be a very worthwhile experience both professionally and at a personal level.


    April 16, 2012

    VaTech is a great school and it deos not surprise me they fared well in this challenge.  The power management center is also an excellent facility that is well supported by industry.

  10. bolaji ojo
    April 16, 2012

    Cryptoman, That's one of the more realistic depiction of the global market as it is today that I have read in any Western media. Most of the time people are busy grumbling about job losses and why the East is stealing Western jobs, etc. Plus, we in the West seem to have this sense of entitlement to global jobs. We want to design, make and sell to anyone, everywhere. The moment others start acting like they want to design and make the products too we develop heartburn.

    As you noted, it is or can be an unsettling experience to train in one region and move yourself to another region for work. Many in Europe have been doing it for centuries (that's what gave America its edge) and others in Africa and Asia have been doing the same for decades. Western workers too can take advantage of the great offerings by their local colleges to launch an international career that may require shifting to another continent. These great Va. Tech doctoral students may want to explore job opportunities in regions outside of North America.

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