most significant bits
newsletter of uw computer science & engineering
volume 24, number 2, winter 2015

university of washington
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Internet of Things Research highlights Age progression software Brain-to-brain communication Chair’s message Alumni profile: Captricity 2014 faculty additions Faculty awards and honors TR35 winners Anderson's USENIX awards Domingos' KDD Award Fox IEEE Fellow News and events Taskar Center launches Upcoming events Datagrams
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About MSB

MSB is a twice-yearly publication of UW CSE supported by the Industry Affiliates Program.

Editor: Kay Beck-Benton.
Contributors: Ed Lazowska, Hank Levy, Sandy Marvinney, Kristin Osborne, S. Morris Rose
Photo credits: Bruce Hemingway, Mary Levin, Jose Mandojana

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CSE launches Taskar Center for Accessible Technology

Nearly 57 million non-institutionalized civilians in our country live with a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of these, the Reeves Foundation estimates 10 percent -- more than 5.6 million people -- live with some form of mobility impairment that makes it difficult or impossible to move their upper or lower extremities. This fall, UW CSE created the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology (TCAT) to bring together researchers, technology users, caregivers and therapists to advance the development and deployment of new technologies that will empower this underserved population.

Anat Caspi

TCAT will provide support, mentorship and educational opportunities to engineering, design and rehabilitation medicine students who are interested in user-focused product design to improve the lives of the mobility impaired. The center’s director, Anat Caspi, brings to CSE a unique perspective on the challenges of creating practical assistive technologies along with a background in bioengineering and technology translation into clinical settings. Participating CSE faculty include Luis Ceze, Julie Kientz, Richard Ladner and Shwetak Patel.

The center’s namesake, the late Ben Taskar, was a UW CSE faculty member renowned for his work in machine learning, particularly as it applied to real-world data and applications. Taskar felt strongly that new prototyping techniques and novel sensor technology, along with the emergence of the wearable and mobile technology markets, meant there was no better time to work on new solutions aimed at improving the quality of life of people living with disabilities.

“Ben saw great potential for rapid development of accessible technologies by combining CSE’s expertise in machine learning, robotics, sensors and human centered design with UW’s leadership in engineering and rehabilitation medicine,” said Caspi. “TCAT will honor Ben’s vision and speed up the development of user-centric technology solutions that could benefit millions of people living with significant mobility impairments.”

TCAT will involve end-users and their caregivers early in the design process. Its methodology of “design for one, generalize to others” will challenge students to think deeply about proof-of-concept and technology translation of the solutions they develop. By bringing together multiple disciplines to tackle these problems, the center will spur innovations in home automation, communication, mobility and entertainment to serve the unmet needs of a large and diverse population.

To learn more about the Taskar Center’s activities and opportunities for researchers, users and caregivers to get involved, visit the website at:

UW CSE calendar of 2015 events

Mark your calendars! We would love to see you at our upcoming events this winter and spring.

January 15, 2015
CSE Distinguished Lecture (joint with Data Sciences Seminar)
Jon Kleinberg, Cornell University
3:30 p.m., Room EEB-105

February 7, 2015
Organized with DawgBytes, PSCSTA and Amazon

February 26, 2015
CSE Distinguished Lecture
Jeff Dean, Google
3:30 p.m., Room EEB-105

April 21, 2015
New Tech Seattle - 3rd annual UW event
5:30 p.m., Atrium

April 24-25, 2015
Engineering Discovery Days
UW campus

June 12, 2015
CSE Graduation Ceremony
8:00 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavillion

June 13, 2015
UW Graduation Ceremony
1:30 p.m., Husky Stadium


Nanocrafter wins Serious Games Showcase and Challenge

The Nanocrafter team at CSE’s Center for Game Science won the award for “Best Serious Game, Special Emphasis Category, Use of Social Media” at the Serious Games Showcase and Challenge. The event celebrates excellence in the field of serious games development. Players of Nanocrafter build nanoscale devices using pieces of DNA. The game, in addition to being fun and educational, is helping to advance scientific discovery in the field of synthetic biology by leveraging the power of crowdsourcing. Congratulations, team! For information about Nanocrafter, please visit:

UW CSE PLSE team wins ACM Distinguished Paper Award

CSE’s René Just, Darioush Jalali, and Michael Ernst won an ACM Distinguished Paper Award for their paper Are Mutants a Valid Substitute for Real Faults in Software Testing? The paper reports on extensive experimentation that shows that mutant detection is the best available proxy for test suite quality. The team shows how mutation analysis can be improved and identifies some fundamental limitations that prevent it from perfectly predicting real fault detection. In addition to these experimental results, the real faults and test suites they assembled can be used in future testing research. The paper was presented at FSE 2014, one of the two top software engineering conferences. The paper was coauthored with Laura Inozemtseva and Reid Holmes (a former postdoc at UW) of the University of Waterloo and Gordon Fraser of the University of Sheffield. This is Just and Ernst’s second ACM Distinguished Paper Award this year.

Using ODK-equipped smartphones, Paul G. Allen helps fight Ebola
ODK enables phones

In November, philanthropist Paul G. Allen announced that he and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation plan to ship more than 10,000 specially programmed smartphones to West Africa to enhance data collection and identify aid needs. The smartphones will enable government workers and humanitarian aid volunteers to gather reliable data about the effectiveness of relief efforts in affected areas. The technology utilized by the phones is UW CSE’s Open Data Kit, an open-source toolkit for building data collection applications on smartphones and uploading the data to the cloud for analysis. ODK is widely used throughout the world for data collection for global health and other applications. Learn about ODK here:

Rajalakshmi Nandakumar receives SenSys 2014 Best Presentation Award
Rajalakshmi Nandakumar

CSE Ph.D. student Rajalakshmi Nandakumar received the Best Presentation Award at SenSys 2014, the 12th ACM Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems. The paper, Feasibility and Limits of Wi-Fi Imaging, describes work done by Rajalakshmi and fellow CSE Ph.D. student Donny Huang as first-year students, working with UW CSE professor Shyam Gollakota. A copy of the paper is available at:

UW CSE project wins award from USAID-Humanity United Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention
IVR Junction

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Junction, a research project led by CSE Ph.D. student Aditya Vashistha, won a grant as part of the joint USAID-Humanity United Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention. Vashistha is supervised by professor Gaetano Borriello. IVR Junction is a flexible voice-communication tool that allows users with limited connectivity or literacy to record and listen to posts, while the global community can access them online.

The grant helps recipients partner with an operational NGO or an established human rights group to further develop and pilot their innovations to document atrocities and facilitate communication for those at risk. Vashistha will partner with two local organizations in sub-Saharan Africa to connect low-tech users and members of marginalized communities, such as refugees and asylum seekers. To learn more about IVR Junction, visit the website at:

UW wins Best Student Paper Award ASSETS 2014

The paper, Tactile Graphics with a Voice: Using QR Codes to Access Text in Tactile Graphics, was named Best Student Paper at ASSETS 2014, the 16th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility. The authors are UW CSE graduate students Catherine Baker and Lauren Milne, UW CSE staff member Jeffrey Scofield, UW HCDE graduate student Cynthia Bennett, and UW CSE faculty member Richard Ladner.

Tactile graphics are a major way for blind people to access figures and diagrams in books and documents. Tactile Graphics with a Voice (TGV) allows text within tactile graphics to be accessible by using a talking QR code reader app on a smartphone. The paper explores different picture taking guidance techniques for blind users. This recognition continues UW CSE’s leadership in accessibility technology. Read the paper at:

Arrakis is OSDI '14 Best Paper

Arrakis: The Operating System is the Control Plane was named one of three Best Papers of the 11th USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI). The paper’s authors are CSE’s Simon Peter, Jialin Li, Irene Zhang, Dan R.K. Ports, Doug Woos, Arvind Krishnamurthy, Tom Anderson, and Timothy Roscoe. Arrakis is a new operating system that is designed around recent application and hardware trends. In Arrakis, we ask the question whether we can remove the OS kernel entirely from normal application execution. To learn more about Arrakis, please visit the website at:

The team received the Madrona prize as the project deemed most likely for entrepreneurial success at the UW CSE industry affiliates meeting in October.

UW CSE’s Jeff Hightower, Gaetano Borriello win 2014 Ubicomp 10-Year Impact Award
Jeff Hightower
Gaetano Borriello

The 2004 research paper Particle Filters for Location Estimation in Ubiquitous Computing: A Case Study by UW CSE’s Jeff Hightower (Ph.D. ’04), currently an engineering manager at Google, and Gaetano Borriello, the Jerre D. Noe Professor of Computer Science & Engineering, has been recognized with the 10-Year Impact Award from Ubicomp 2014, the 2014 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing.

In selecting the paper, the award committee said, “The committee is unanimous in awarding you this prize based on the quality of the research and of the paper, and especially the impact the paper has had in terms of citations (both primary and secondary) and inspiration to similar research. The proposed method of particle filters is still a widely used approach and the paper provides very strong empirical evaluations and results.”

Neil Spring, Ratul Mahajan, and David Wetherall win 2014 ACM SIGCOMM “Test of Time” Award
ACM logo

Measuring ISP Topologies with Rocketfuel by Neil Spring, Ratul Mahajan, and David Wetherall was named co-recipient of the 2014 ACM SIGCOMM Test of Time Award. The paper was presented at the 2002 ACM SIGCOMM conference. Spring (Ph.D. ’04) is now a faculty member at the University of Maryland; Mahajan (Ph.D. ’05) is now a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research; and Wetherall (former CSE professor) is now at Google.

According to the citation: “Rocketfuel contributed methods to make efficient measurements for ascertaining Internet router-level topologies, useful for the modeling and simulation of routing, transport protocols, and graph evolution, to name a few areas. In addition, this effort produced a dataset used by a number of subsequent efforts. One recent (2011) text describes this dataset as: ‘the most trustable existing dataset for Internet service provider (ISP) networks.’”

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