Engineering Departments

Computer Science

Daphne Yao
Blacksburg, VA , June 03, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Cybercrime comes in all forms these days. One recent headline told of the creepware or silent computer snooping that resulted in the arrest of some 90 people in 19 countries.  Miss Teen USA was among the victims. Her computer had been turned into a camera and used to spy on her in her own bedroom.

On the commercial front, Target suffered the largest retail hack in U.S. history during the Christmas shopping season of 2013, and now the Fortune 500 company’s outlook is bleak with steep drops in profits.

New research to be announced at the June 2014 ACM Symposium on Information, Computer and Communications Security in Kyoto, Japan has unveiled the causal relations among computer network events.

The work effectively isolates infected computer hosts and detects in advance stealthy malware also known as malicious software. 

The work was conducted under the auspices of a 2010 National Science Foundation CAREER Award grant to develop software that differentiates human-user computer interaction from malware. That $530,000 award was presented to Danfeng (Daphne) Yao,  associate professor of computer science at Virginia Tech. She worked with Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering, and her graduate student Hao Zhang of Beijing, China, a doctoral candidate in computer science.

The Virginia Tech computer scientists used causal relations to determine whether or not network activities have justifiable and legitimate causes to occur.

“This type of semantic reasoning is new and very powerful,” Yao said.

“The true significance of this security approach is its potential proactive defense capability. Conventional security systems scan for known attack patterns, which is reactive. Our anomaly detection based on enforcing benign properties in network traffic is a clear departure from that,” Yao added.

They will present their paper "Detection of Stealthy Malware Activities with Traffic Causality and Scalable Triggering Relation Discovery" on June 4.  It will be published in the symposium’s proceedings.

Virginia Tech Intellectual Property has filed a patent on this technology, and it is actually a continuation-in-part patent, following one of Yao’s earlier patents.

Previously, Yao garnered a 3-year, $450,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) on cyber security to quantitatively detect anomalies in Department of Defense (DOD) computers, mobile devices, command and control servers, and embedded systems deployed on navy ships.

Yao’s career research focus has been on this methodology development for novel, practical, and quantitative anomaly detection. Specifically, she is analyzing causal relations of events and producing instructions for detecting anomalies in computer programs, systems, and networks.

Virginia Tech researchers have created a new augmented reality app that would bring inquiry learning about historic sites to school children. The team is testing the app at the Christiansburg (Va.) Institute, a school founded after the Civil War. App developer team members are, left to right, Aaron Johnson, David Hicks, Rosemary Zlokas, Gurjot Singh, David Cline, Todd Ogle, and Doug Bowman.
Blacksburg, VA , May 09, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Virginia Tech researchers are testing a new mobile software app that will allow school children visiting historic sites to learn in new, interactive ways via augmented reality.

The app will use augmented reality -- where the user’s view of the real world is enhanced with additional objects and information on a viewing screen -- to give students the ability to “see” a historic structure as it appeared decades ago through the camera lens of a smartphone or tablet. Users can explore the site and examine various objects as would a historian, looking for points of historical interest.

Further, children using the app will be able to read historic documents, view photographs, and listen to audio such as oral history interviews related to the location they are visiting. Students then can later analyze the material using a set of guiding questions, according to the app development team which encompasses Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering and College of Liberal Arts and Humanities, in addition to the Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies program.

“The goal is to use technology to help secondary school students learn how to use evidence to build an interpretation of the past,” said David Hicks, associate professor of history and social science education. He likens young users of the education app to taking on the role of “junior history detectives,” tracking historical clues and building a story of what happened in the past.

How does the app work? It takes historic photographs, film, or other media and overlays them on the view screen of the smart mobile device as the user holds it up to an historic building or to a now empty  landscape where a structure once stood. The phone’s built-in camera, GPS, and other sensors allow the app to identify what or where the user is looking at, so that users can see how a historic building and its surroundings looked decades ago, or they can see razed buildings digitally appear where they once existed.

“It’s a new way to study history, to become a historian,” said Doug Bowman, a professor of computer science. Bowman is leading the augmented reality and user interface aspects of the project.

To prototype the app, the team chose the local Christiansburg Institute site, a historic African-American school in Christiansburg, Va., which prospered for more than a century following the Civil War. Now, only a few of the buildings on what had been a 180-acre campus remain. Culling old photographs, the app gives users the chance to “explore” buildings no longer standing while also providing access to previously inaccessible historical sources on site, or see inside the now boarded-up Edgar A. Long building.

User trials at the site – with local fifth-grade schoolteachers from the Montgomery County Public School system, and Virginia Tech graduate students – are planned for fall 2014. Development of the app is funded by the National Science Foundation for $549,000 during a two-year period.

“This app is meant to guide the student through a historic site and the process of asking questions and learning in much the same way that a teacher or docent would, but with the capacity to allow the user to instantly link to multiple historical sources, serve them up, and save them for later analysis,” said David Cline, an assistant professor of history.

The idea for a virtual history app as a learning tool came from the combined efforts of Hicks, Todd Ogle, a senior director with the Technology-enhanced Learning program, and Eric Ragan, now a researcher at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, while he was a computer science doctoral student at Virginia Tech. At the time Ragan was writing his dissertation on educational virtual environments and obtaining information through on-site learning. Each seeking an interest in using augmented reality to view historical content in the context of the real world, the trio soon brought in Bowman and Cline.

“The augmented reality application is exciting, but the project is about more than just making a slick educational tool,” said Ragan. “It’s about studying new and effective ways to teach people to think critically and evaluate evidence.”

Further, leaving a historic site does not mean the end of learning, said Bowman, as the team is devising curriculum material to be used before and after site visits. “Students could use the mobile device to collect, annotate, and organize data at the local site, and then explore, manipulate, and analyze the data in the classroom.”

Designed to serve as a model for future apps, the platform could reshape historic tourism, leaving behind static signage or prerecorded digital audiotapes, making the experience of visiting landmarks an interactive, evolving experience for adults and students alike. The app also could find use in such fields as solving engineering problems, as well as the humanities and creative endeavors, such as art museums.

“I do see this being how we all interact with historic sites in the future; hopefully the near future,” said Ogle, adding that smaller research projects and commercial projects that use similar virtual apps for tourism are starting to emerge in various fields.

Additional members of the app team include Aaron Johnson of Sanford, N.C., a doctoral student with the School of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning; Charles Layman, an augmented reality developer with Virginia Tech’s information technology office; Gurjot Singh, a post-doctoral researcher with the computer science department; Mohammedkhair “K.” Alnajar of Warrenton, Va., an undergraduate in computer science; and Rosemary Zlokas of Pittsburgh, a master’s student in history.

The team members, pictured from left to right, standing, are: Cristian Moral Martos, of Madrid, Spain; Mahdi Nabiyouni, of Tehran, Iran; and Doug Bowman, faculty adviser and professor of computer science at Virginia Tech. Seated is Felipe Bacim, of Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Blacksburg, VA , April 22, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

For the fourth time in five years, a team of Virginia Tech doctoral students from the College of Engineering’s Computer Science Department and Center for Human-Computer Interaction has won the top prize in the IEEE 3-D User Interfaces contest.

The contest, sponsored by the Computer Society of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, was held at the 2014 Symposium on 3-D User Interfaces in Minneapolis, Minn. This year’s competition focused on three-dimensional point clouds, dense sets of points in 3-D space.

Point clouds are commonly produced by devices such as laser scanners. For example, a building can be scanned to obtain a detailed 3-D geometric model. The contest required teams to design and build systems for labeling such point clouds. This challenging task involves the precise selection of regions of points in 3-D space so that those points can be labeled.

The Virginia Tech team devised a solution entitled “Slice-n-Swipe” that provided multiple virtual tools to allow users to annotate point clouds using natural in-air gestures. For example, the “chef’s knife” tool allowed the user to slice through the point cloud in mid-air, and then swipe away the unwanted points. Further slicing and swiping can refine the selection until only the desired points remain.

Additional tools included a resizable “bubble” that could be used to paint the desired points and a “lasso” similar to the tool used in painting and photo editing software. The system was implemented using the Leap Motion Controller, a new input technology that can track the positions of the user’s hands and fingers in mid-air, and a 3-D mouse for controlling the user’s view of the point cloud. The team members produced a YouTube video describing the entire system.

“Our design was inspired by the possibilities for natural gesture-based interaction with devices like the Leap Motion Controller,” said Doug Bowman, faculty advisor to the team and professor of computer science. “The challenge was to design a precise and usable interface based on in-air motions that are inherently imprecise. We achieved this by designing a variety of tools and by using the concept of progressive refinement, where an initial rough selection is refined step-by-step until the precise result is accomplished.”

Computer science team members were: Felipe Bacim of Porto Alegre, Brazil; Mahdi Nabiyouni of Tehran, Iran; and Cristian Moral Martos, a visiting Ph.D. student from the Polytechnic University of Madrid in Spain. Bacim has been a part of all four of Virginia Tech’s winning teams in the 3-D UI contest (2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014).

At the symposium, the team competed against four other finalists from around the world, including two teams from Brazil, one team from Germany, and one from France. Judging was done based on live demonstrations over two days, and the winner was determined by a popular vote of the symposium attendees, including top 3-D user interface researchers from around the world.

In addition to the 3-D UI contest award, Nabiyouni, Bowman, and Bireswar Laha, a Ph.D. student in computer science from Konnagar, India, received an honorable mention best poster award for their poster, “Designing Effective Travel Techniques with Bare-Hand Interaction.” This research also used the Leap Motion Controller and investigated how to enable navigation through 3-D environments based on in-air gestures.

Dan Tra, 2014 Virginia/Washington, D.C., educator award winner; and Akila Prayaga, Lillian Xu, Alexandra Hsain, Annabelle Marsh, Jennifer Louie, Mary Susannah Jones, Alexis Melio, K.C. Cowan, Tianna Woodson, Alayna Fortuck, Sreya Atluri, Maddie Zug, Cassadie Civil, Natalie Oldenburg, Monica Karas, and Megan Charity, all 2014 regional student award winners.
Blacksburg, VA , April 04, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

The Virginia/Washington, D.C., affiliate of the National Center for Women in Information Technology held its 3rd annual Award for Aspirations in Computing ceremony during the recent Capital Area Professional Women in Computing Conference.

The event, held at Virginia Commonwealth University, honored a high school teacher and 18 high school students for their efforts to, respectively, teach and learn computer science.

The affiliate includes founding members George Mason University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia, as well as members James Madison University, Norfolk State University, University of Richmond, and Virginia State University. Barbara Ryder, head of Virginia Tech’s computer science department, is a member of the center’s Pacesetters program, dedicated to increasing the number of women in computer science. 

Organizing the event was Mary Lou Soffa of the University of Virginia. Ryder served on the organizing committee, as did Libby Bradford, director of external relations and undergraduate studies for the computer science department.

Dan Tra of West Falls Church, Va., a teacher at Falls Church High School, received the 2014 Outstanding Educator award from the affiliate. 

Student winners were:

  • Sreya Atluri and Maddie Zug, both of Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria; 
  • Megan Charity and Cassidie Civil, both of Deep Run High School in Glen Allen;
  • K.C. Cowan of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford;
  • Alayna Fortuck of Midlothian High School in Midlothian;
  • Alexandra Hsain of Colonial Heights High School in Colonial Heights;
  • Mary Susannah Jones of Buckingham County High in Buckingham;
  • Monica Karas and Silu Tang, both of Battlefield High School in Haymarket;
  • Jennifer Louie of Chancellor High School in Fredericksburg;
  • Annabelle Marsh of Westfield High School in Chantilly;
  • Alexis Melio of Norview High School in Norview;
  • Natalie Oldenburg of Bishop O’Connell Catholic High School in Arlington;
  • Akila Prayaga of Langley High School in McLean;
  • Michelle Vaccaro of McLean High School in McLean;
  • Tianna Woodson of Manassas Park High in Manassas Park;
  • Lillian Xu of Western Albemarle High School in Crozet;

Student runners-up were:

  • Cindy Bang and Michelle Lynskey, both of Falls Church High School in Falls Church;
  • Amanda Barkan of South Lakes High School in Reston;
  • Emily Bertrand of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford;
  • Corinne Brodowski of Semper Doctrina in Purcellville;
  • Mia Brunal of Albemarle High School in Charlottesville;
  • Niara-Maysa Chambers and Elizabeth Gohmert, both of Powhatan High School in Powhatan;
  • Jiwon Choi, Satvika Kumar, and Haley Stumvoll, all of Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria;
  • Peyton Cooper, Katiya Goodman, and Amanda Husak , all of Deep Run High School in Glen Allen;
  • Catherine Cura of Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn;
  • Morgan Davis of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in Suffolk;
  • Angela Li of Western Albemarle High in Crozet;
  • Piper Sigrest of Osbourn Park High School in Manassas;
  • Arshiya Singh of Henrico High School in Richmond;
  • Ksenia Sokolova of Oakton High School in Vienna;
  • Brook Vess of Rockbridge County High School in Lexington;
  • Karen Xu of Manassas Park High in Manassas Park.

The event was funded with $500 in seed money from the national organization, with additional support and gifts for winners provided by Bank of America, Genworth Financial, Google, Heyo, Northrop Grumman, and SWIFT.

Winners received prizes from multiple companies, as well as gift cards for Amazon and Google. Each winner received two trophies: one for the winner and one to be displayed at her high school.

At the ceremony, the honorees heard from three previous national winners, including two Virginia Tech computer science students, Allison Collier of Fredricksburg, and Kara Vaillancourt of Hamilton.

The award honors young women at the high-school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. Awardees are selected for their computing and information technology aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education.

On the national level, the award is part of the center’s talent development program that encourages young women to succeed in a field where they are underrepresented. It provides winners with visibility, community, leadership opportunities, support, research experiences, scholarships, and internships.

Winners of the Virginia/Washington, D.C., regional Award for Aspirations in Computing are offered a $1,000 renewable scholarship if they choose to study at Virginia Tech’s computer science department, said Ryder. Virginia Tech is the only university in Virginia to offer this type of scholarship.

Doug Bowman
Blacksburg, VA , April 01, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Doug A. Bowman, professor of computer science and director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has received the 2014 Visualization and Graphics Technical Committee technical achievement award in virtual reality from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

The international award recognizes Bowman for his research and design achievements that have significantly advanced knowledge in the fields of three-dimensional user interfaces and virtual reality systems.

Bowman’s work in these fields has resulted in both important interaction technique designs and a deep understanding of principles and guidelines for designing effective three-dimensional spatial interfaces.

He has also contributed significantly to the theory and practice of virtual reality through his research on the effects of fidelity on the effectiveness of these systems.

The institute’s award announcement stated Bowman’s “work has profoundly influenced the way that three-dimensional user interfaces and virtual reality systems are characterized and designed.”

A 2003 National Science Foundation CAREER award recipient for his work in three-dimensional interaction, Bowman’s research group focuses on the topics of three-dimensional user interface design and the benefits of working in virtual environments.

For three consecutive years, 2010, 2011, and 2012, Bowman advised teams of doctoral students to first place finishes in the international 3-D User Interfaces contest, also part of an Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ conference.

Bowman received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in computer science from Georgia Tech in 1997 and in 1999, respectively. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science in 1994 from Emory University. He started his career at Virginia Tech in 1999.

VGTC is a technical committee of the Institute’s Computer Society that is responsible for the annual conferences and journals in visualization, virtual reality, and computer graphics. Each year it gives out a technical achievement award and a career award in both virtual reality and visualization, selecting from researchers worldwide.

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