What the Grad Students at Cornell Tech Have Been Working On

Last week, graduate students from Cornell Tech demoed a few of the ideas they developed this semester in collaboration with companies.

It was a chance to display the early work in data and technology emerging from the applied sciences and engineering graduate school being established by Cornell University. Construction continues on the $2 billion Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, which is still several years from completion. Google has been lending space in the meantime at its New York headquarters, where the demos were held, for classes to get underway.

About graduate 100 students participated in the program this semester, which included tackling challenges posed by businesses. Teams of students paired with mentors from companies such as data and media giant Bloomberg and local startup Canary, developer of a home security device that can be monitored via smartphone. The ideas the students came up with included software that tracks drivers’ eye movement and security monitoring for computer networks in homes.

One of the questions New York constantly has to address, particularly from folks outside the city, is whether the latest startup boom will endure here. Cornell Tech’s plan to build up the local population of engineers is one of the ways the city hopes to cement the tech scene.

A model of the forthcoming Cornell Tech engineering campus. (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth)

A model of the forthcoming Cornell Tech engineering campus. (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth)

At the demo day, the student team that worked with Bloomberg show their app, Theia, which detects where people focus their eyes. This type of technology, said team member Alejandra Azcoitia, has been used in advertising to track what people pay attention to. The Theia team put it to work to let drivers know when they take their eyes off the road. The team believes Theia could be useful in the trucking industry to keep drivers aware of how focused they are while behind the wheel.

“Depending on how you behave while you’re driving, you can increase or decrease your chances of getting into an accident,” said team member Ben Flast during the demo. After the app calibrates to the driver, an alarm sounds if they look away from the road for too long. Furthermore, the app collects data on the frequency of distraction, to help the drivers assess their habits.

Team member Emily McAllister said they also want to integrate other metrics such as heart rate, which can be an indicator of drowsiness, from wearable devices.

Though only eight teams formally presented demos, afterwards other students from Cornell Tech discussed ideas they were working on.

Grad student Tristan Morris, for example, has a project that combines the Samsung Gear VR, augmented reality gaming, and physical fitness. He said this project is not being done with partnership with any companies. Built with technology from Oculus, the Samsung Gear VR headset uses a smartphone attached to the front as the image source for mobile virtual reality. The game app Morris is developing would give the user motivation to run on a treadmill to reach certain objectives. “Our goal is to use gamification through virtual reality to encourage people to exercise,” he said.

These ideas are still very early in development and Cornell Tech has a long ways to go before the actual campus opens, expected in summer 2017. Now that this semester is done, what comes next will vary by team. Some might continue to develop the projects they started. The team that worked with Canary, for example, said the startup is interested in integrating some of their ideas into the product. Next semester, the plan is for student teams to develop their own startup projects.

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