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iCampus Projects Close To Done, Available Soon

By Christine R. Fry

NEWS EDITOR

A SafeRide tracking system and free on-demand music through MIT Cable are two programs that will soon be available to the MIT community, thanks to the iCampus program.

These projects, along with five other student-designed computer-based projects, were selected by iCampus administrators to receive support and funds up to $30,000 from Microsoft Corporation in 2002.

“I think we’ve had a greater percentage of successes” this year, said Rebecca G. Bisbee, project administrator for iCampus. She said that her definition of a successful project is one that a student or Institute group has promised to continue funding and support after the year-long iCampus program is over.

The developers of the chosen projects are required to enroll in Special Subjects in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (6.096), a class that provides help with project planning and management. The students have one year to use the $30,000 from Microsoft.

Seven projects received iCampus support in 2002, including Shuttle Track, the Library Access to Music Project, Setu, DevHood, Instant Sports Challenge, Next Generation Mobile Classroom, and Educational Tools for Checking Software.

Shuttle Track coming soon

Shuttle Track uses Global Positioning Satellite technology to track SafeRide vans online. The Shuttle Track Web site http:// shuttletrack.mit.edu is currently functioning to demonstrate to the public how the user interface will work.

“We’ve got a demo up and running now,” said Salil Soman G, one of the project creators. All of the SafeRide vans have the GPS equipment in place and the Shuttle Track server, located in the Parking and Transportation office, has been recording position data on the vans. However, the current Web site displays only stored data, not real-time data.

Soman says that the live public version of Shuttle Track will be up and running soon. Until then, Soman and the project’s other designers will work to perfect the system.

“Some people argue [the Web site interface is] a bit ugly,” Soman said.

iCampus has continued to fund Shuttle Track despite the fact that the project has not been completed within the allotted year time limit. Soman says that this is because a shuttle tracking system is useful to universities across the country.

“We may have actually exceeded $30,000,” Soman said. “There’s quite a bit of interest in this.”

The group has encountered many obstacles while working on the tracking system. One of the biggest was the effect of the bumpy roads on the GPS equipment attached to the vans.

“We’ve gone through two sets of equipment on the vans,” Soman said. The equipment was replaced without cost to the group because it was still under warranty.

LAMP to provide free music

The purpose of LAMP, developed by Keith J. Winstein ’03, is to provide an on-demand free music library to the MIT community on MIT cable.

There is currently a limited selection of music available at http://lamp.mit.edu. The LAMP developers are working to obtain rights to provide a larger selection. Once LAMP obtains appropriate copyright permissions, more music will be purchased based on requests from users. Members of the MIT community can request music on the LAMP Web site.

Joshua C. Mandel ’05, another student working on LAMP, says that the project is finished except for the music rights.

“We’re at a stage where the technical stuff is done,” said Mandel. He said that the legal negotiations have been going slowly, but that “within the next several weeks we should have an answer.”

“It’s been a little frustrating to see how slow things have been on the legal side,” he said.

Mandel said that during 2002, LAMP spent approximately $15,000 on computer and cable television equipment. LAMP has been accepted for a second year of iCampus funding during 2003.

“We will be spending [the] money on music,” Mandel said. LAMP will spend between $15,000 and $30,000 on music, he said.

Setu provides computers in India

The Setu project, led by Rishi Kumar G, founded a computer center at a grade school in rural India.

“We implemented the first part of the project last December,” said Kumar. The Setu group provided computers, electricity generators, Internet connections, and a computer teacher for a rural school of approximately 400 children. Now students at the school have a computer curriculum from third through eighth grade.

Unlike other projects, the project was not funded by Microsoft. The Setu group obtained independent funding from groups such as engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi, the Public Service Center, and the Graduate Student Council.

Microsoft “perceived a risk in putting so much capital in India,” Kumar said. iCampus did provide help with planning and logistics.

Kumar said that eventually the group will open more computer centers in rural India. Once a few schools have been connected to the Internet, the group will design a Web site for the students.

“We hope that the kids will communicate over the Internet,” Kumar said. He said that Microsoft may be more interested in funding a Web portal for students.

Kumar said that one of the biggest obstacles for Setu was “skepticism on the part of everyone here” at MIT. He also said that they had to make sure that the community actually used the computers.

“We want to make sure that the computers aren’t kept shrink-wrapped in the corner,” he said.

DevHood provides community

The DevHood project, led by T. Jonathan Lau G, created an online community for student software developers. It allows students to learn about software development and technology through a role-playing game. Students can earn points and win prizes after completing certain tasks.

“We started doing this project and found out about iCampus,” said Lau. “It really was jump-started by iCampus funding.”

The community has grown to 11,000 members from schools worldwide.

The group used the iCampus funds for purchasing computers, servers, and paying for Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program students.

Because Lau and his fellow DevHood team members will soon graduate, they are looking for another student team, from MIT or beyond, to take over the Web site, which he says is “by the students, for the students.”

Lau said that they have approached some of the most active members of the DevHood community to take over the site. They are “looking for fresh ideas,” he said. “The site is getting a little stagnant now.”

‘Sports Challenge’ forthcoming

The Instant Sports Challenge iCampus project team has been working since last spring to create a system in which athletes can find partners with whom to play. The system matches players based on skill level and availability and notifies matched players when one is available to play.

The team, led by Abel Sanchez G, worked on the software during the spring and ran online pilots during the summer and fall. Also during the fall, the group presented the project to Director of Athletics Candace L. Royer, who Sanchez says is “interested in implementing [Instant Sports Challenge] for all of athletics.”

Christopher A. Cassa G, another member of the Sports Challenge team, said that the group has plans to place dedicated computers in locations such as the Zesiger Center and the James B. Carr Tennis Center so that students can input information.

Cassa said that planning security for the public computers is “harder than the development” of the software.

Sanchez said that their latest goal is to automate the court reservation system for sports such as squash. The biggest problem so far, he said, was getting people to use the online matching system during the pilot program. He said it was difficult to find sports groups to use the system during the summer, and that group members leaving for the summer also hindered progress.

Cassa said that the group spent money on computers for software development and a server to run the matching service. The group is now working to obtain funding for the project to continue.

“We’re looking toward a sustainable long-term agreement” with the Department of Athletics and iCampus, Cassa said.

Project brings PDAs to classroom

The purpose of the Next Generation Mobile Classroom project is to distribute personal digital assistants to students during large lectures. The PDAs allow students to enter questions for the professor, rate other students’ presentations, and see class announcements. The group has purchased 30 PDAs.

“We successfully tested it last fall” in Communicating in Cyberspace, a relatively small writing class, said Mark F. Tompkins G, one of the project members.

“Students were happy,” Tompkins said. He said that the students used the PDAs to instantly rate and provide feedback on other student presentations and also to keep track of homework assignments.

“We’re trying to get more classes to pick [the project] up and use it,” said Raj S. Dandage G, the principal investigator for the project.

“We’d love to have it in a freshman class,” Dandage said. He said that the group hopes that professors will be willing to pay for PDAs for students to use.

Tompkins said one of the main problems was that the students were not used to using PDAs in this context. Dandage said that it was also difficult “getting professors to accept the idea.”

Group parts ways with iCampus

The Educational Tools for Checking Software project, led by Sarfraz Khurshid, was intended to develop tools for use in computer-programming classes at MIT.

The group split from iCampus after the members decided that they wanted to continue to do research on software-checking tools and not necessarily design something for the classroom.

“It was a misunderstanding or mismatch,” said Darko Marinov G, another member of the project group.

Marinov said that they worked for iCampus for approximately one semester. “We didn’t get money from them,” he said.