NMSU students tie for first in international technology competition

Students from New Mexico State University’s Departments of Computer Science, Engineering Technology and Psychology recently won $13,000 and tied for first place in an international competition aimed at making first responders’ jobs safer.

At the inaugural Icehouse Challenge, held in San Francisco this past June, NMSU’s team designed software to make wearable technology, such as smart phones, smart bands and smart glasses, more helpful in making the jobs of firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other first responders safer.

NMSU developed its emergency evaluation software after discussing with NMSU Fire Department Chief Johnny Carillo what hazards first responders often face, and what could be done to make emergency situations easier to deal with and safer.

Once the team had an idea for the recurring problems first responders face, they used smart phones, smart bands and smart glasses provided by Sony—which sponsored the Icehouse Challenge—to write coding for its software. This coding allows the smart phones, bands and glasses to exchange information more fluidly between members of an emergency response team.

The software each Icehouse team submitted had to meet certain requirements. Each software application had to:

  • Track and display the physiological characteristics of a software user.
  • Allow for the user to easily assign degrees of urgency to a victim’s injuries.
  • Alert the user to hazards in the environment.
  • Allow users to interact with the system.
  • Display the position of users and their teammates.
  • Summarize team performance.
  • Permit easy communication between team members.

This information, once gathered by the phone and band with little manual input, would then be displayed in a user’s smart glasses in easy-to-understand menus, allowing first responders to better plan their courses of action in an emergency.

The students on the team were Hitesh Nidhi Sharma, a computer science master’s student, Sultan Alharthi, an interdisciplinary doctoral student, Sachin Sunka a computer science graduate student, and Cayden Wilson, an engineering technology major.

Wilson was the only undergraduate student on the NMSU team. He was brought onto the team by Rolfe Sassenfeld, an assistant professor in the Engineering Technology and Surveying Engineering Department, because of his experience with Android programming, which was the interface used in the competition.

“We were judged in several categories,” Wilson said. “They looked at the code’s cleanliness, how well we structured it, if it made sense. Then we were also judged on how the U.S. Coast Guard and the United States Special Operations Command liked the interface.”

The U.S. Coast Guard preferred the interface of a team from the University of Erlangen in Germany, while the Special Operations Command preferred NMSU’s, Wilson said, which tied the two teams for first place.

Because the schools tied for first place, the prize money for first and second places was pooled together to make $26,000 and then split between the two teams.

Sassenfeld said the team faculty advisers, which included, besides himself, Zach Toups, assistant professor of computer science, Wei Tang, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, and Igor Dolgov, associate professor of engineering psychology, decided to allow the students on the team to keep the prize money.

Wilson said he plans to use his portion of the winnings to pursue a graduate degree in electrical engineering, with the hope of eventually becoming a researcher into digital logic.

“The competition highlighted that engineering and technology and computer science at NMSU can compete internationally,” Sassenfeld said.

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