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iCampus Funds Four New Student Projects

By Ray C. He

STAFF REPORTER

The MIT-Microsoft iCampus partnership has awarded its fifth round of funding for student projects. Four groups will receive $30,000 for the next 12 months, working on software to help dormitory desk workers, TV screens to display campus news around MIT, GPS receivers to track MIT’s sailboats, and computer-aided molecule models, said Rebecca G. Bisbee, an iCampus administrator.

The teams are asked to register for an iCampus course, 6.096, which teaches project management skills to students, Bisbee said.

“I think one of the best things these students get out of this is how to run a research project, because that’s probably what they’ll do when they graduate,” she said.

FrontDesk to help desk workers

One of the teams, known as FrontDesk, plans to write software to help dormitory desk workers communicate with residents, keep guest lists, and track rented movies and dormitory equipment. It will allow residents to track their packages, check movie rental status, and manage their personal guest lists, with a Web browser, according to the project’s proposal.

Edmund L. Kay ’05, one of the team members, said the proposal grew out of a team project last year for User Interface Design and Implementation (6.893).

The other team members are Luxiou Chen ’04, the principal investigator; and Jennifer Liu ’04.

The FrontDesk team has already contacted “a handful of deans, who were very supportive of our ideas” and several dormitories, Kay said. “Simmons and McCormick agree to test out prototypes of our system if we give them hardware,” he said.

A typical use of the system would be to track mail and inform residents when they have new packages, Kay said, using a hand-held personal digital assistant. “The FrontDesk worker would be processing mail, see the package, bring the PDA,” he said.

“There’d be a camera on the PDA and they’d take a picture, it’d send it to the FrontDesk system,” Kay said. “Next time I log in, it’d be on my Web site, with the picture.”

The FrontDesk team selected PDAs and tablet PCs as the hardware for desk workers, Kay said.

“It’s very unlikely that a FrontDesk worker would like to bring around a laptop or bring things around to a desktop,” Kay said. FrontDesk will also use wireless networking so desk workers will not have to plug their devices in to update the database.

The system will also use radio frequency ID readers. “We definitely want to use RFIDs for inventory control and equipment like ping-pong paddles, pool cues, and stuff like that,” Kay said. “It’s also for usability because you could just pass it through a scanner rather than entering it like, ‘This is ping-pong paddle number five.’”

DomeView to post campus news

DomeView will post display screens around the Institute, showing campus news from student groups, its proposal says. In addition, the display screens are to have wireless networking support so that students can download schedules and news onto compatible cell phones and hand-held computers.

“DomeView is an idea I came up with freshmen year to facilitate communication on campus between student groups and the student body at large,” said Harel M. Williams ’05, the principal investigator.

“I’ve been looking at the communication problem the UA has been having with the student body and I imagine other student groups have the same problem,” said Williams, who chairs the Undergraduate Association’s Committee on Student Life.

Members of the executive boards of the UA, the Association of Student Activities, and the Graduate Student Council make up the DomeView team, according to Williams’s proposal.

“As these organizations effectively represent every student on campus, we are aware of the significant need for communication within the MIT community at large, that extends beyond verbal invitations, e-mail, and poster boards,” the proposal said.

The DomeView team is currently researching the easiest interface for student groups to post their data, the best type of display to use, and the best locations for displays, Williams said.

The team plans to have about 12 displays across campus, Williams said, and eventually closer to 30 or 40.

“The amount received from iCampus isn’t going to provide for that, so we’ll be looking for additional sources when the time comes.”

“We hope to do a lot of coding and implementation over the summer,” Williams said. “Next semester we hope to implement it on campus and revise it based on feedback from students.”

River Rat tests sensor technology

In 2002, iCampus gave $30,000 to the ShuttleTrack project, which put Global Positioning System receivers and radio transmitters on SafeRide shuttles, and let students monitor their locations at http://shuttletrack.mit.edu.

This year, iCampus has funded the River Rat project, which proposes to do roughly the same thing with MIT’s fleet of sailboats.

“What we want to accomplish is to be able to track sailboats racing on the Charles River, and being able to do this with high enough accuracy that the information that we gather can be used by coaches of the different sailing teams for review after the race,” said Claudio Cairoli G, the principal investigator for River Rat.

“We can provide spectators a different view of the race itself,” Cairoli said. “We’d like to be able to offer a top view of the race, which can make it a lot more clear which boat is in front.”

Beyond the initial application in sailboats, the network of sensor packages will also have applications in horse race-tracking, NASCAR, and ocean sensors, said team member Robert S. Damus ’99.

MMITT has interactive molecules

The Molecular Mechanics Interactive Teaching Tool team plans to build a molecular model kit that feeds information into a computer.

Under the plan, students will be able to build molecules by hand, but see the results on a computer screen.

“I do computational biochemistry, so I have wanted to use one of these ever since I started,” said Brian Woody H. Sherman G, the principal investigator. “I see the value in what this could bring to the teaching community and the research community,” he said.

The MMITT team is researching sensor technology to develop a way to detect atom positioning with sensors in the models, he said. “We’ve talked to a lot of people in Media Lab and AI and people who have worked on robotics projects,” Sherman said. “Much of our research has been through the MIT community with people who have designed similar robotics instruments.”

The team is writing its own software to interact with the sensor-embedded atoms. The software will be able to display the results of molecular simulations, Sherman said. The software will show electrostatics, bonding, molecular orbital theory, and symmetry-adjusted linear combinations.

The hardware will include the standard balls and sticks. “We plan on being able to incorporate ten and fifty atoms,” Sherman said. “We’d like to keep them affordable for student and classroom use,” he said.

The project will provide units for student use in class and lab environments, as well as five modules for use in 3.091 (Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry) and 5.12 (Organic Chemistry I), the proposal said.

“The software would be used for lecture purposes, so we’d have modules available for the professor to use during lecture,” Sherman said. “In recitation, TAs would be able to use the software to teach concepts.”

Additionally, the modules may be available for direct student use. “The 3.091 lab may make the modules available for a student to use on their own time,” he said.

In the future, the team may put motors in the atoms to give physical feedback to users, the proposal said.