Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Since its founding in 1893 by two legends, George Westinghouse and Reginald Fessenden, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt has excelled in education, research, and service.  Today, the department features innovative undergraduate and graduate programs and world-class research centers and labs, combining theory with practice at the nexus of computer and electrical engineering, for our students to learn, develop, and lead lives of impact.





Jun
18
2019

Engineering Synergy

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 18, 2019) … Following almost two years of intense investigation, research, and feedback, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is poised to begin a new chapter in the 126-year history of one of its departments. The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) received approval to adopt new curricula for its two undergraduate programs (electrical engineering, computer engineering) to provide greater synergy between the two fields, create more opportunities for hands-on learning, and address the needs of employers who demand that graduates have a greater breadth and depth of knowledge. The two new curricula will begin in fall 2019 for rising sophomores in these two majors and were greatly influenced by input from faculty, alumni, industry, and students. Alan George, department chair and the R&H Mickle Endowed Chair and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, explained that the time was perfect to modernize and seamlessly integrate the two programs and encourage greater flexibility in learning. “The genesis of Pitt’s ECE program is one for the history books. The electrical engineering (EE) curriculum was born in 1893 from the minds of George Westinghouse and Reginald Fessenden, two of the leading engineering pioneers of the late 19th century, while creation of the computer engineering (CoE) program in 1996 was a response to the incredible growth of the industry,” Dr. George explained. “And yet, for several decades there was a disconnect between what would become two very integral fields. This split was a missed opportunity for strength from synergy, especially today when both electricity and computers are ubiquitous to everyday human life.” The beginning of the curricula redesign began shortly after Dr. George’s appointment as department chair in 2017, when there was already a growing desire by faculty and students to improve the two programs, especially in response to industry trends and new guidelines released by IEEE and ACM (the two leading professional societies in ECE). The effort then escalated in 2018 with major contributions from many ECE faculty members, and with the appointment of two new undergraduate program directors in ECE: Assistant Professor Samuel Dickerson, who would serve as the director for computer engineering; and Assistant Professor Robert Kerestes, who was appointed as director for electrical engineering. Dickerson and Kerestes are both triple alumni (B.S., M.S., PhD) of Pitt in their respective disciplines.  “We could not be more fortunate than to have Sam and Bob as outstanding young faculty and alumni, with a passion for Pitt and commitment to leading programs and teaching classes for the next generation of engineers that are even better than they had as students.” Four Strategic Curricular Changes According to Dickerson and Kerestes, the changes in each program follow four strategies: Following the students’ foundational first-year experience, the sophomore year for both majors features four, two-course sequences in analog hardware, digital hardware, software design, and applied math, with a strong balance of classroom and lab studies. A modernized suite of required courses is featured in the junior year, including six core courses and one advanced math course unique to each discipline, plus a new course on Junior Design Fundamentals for both majors. Senior year includes four discipline-specific electives, three technical electives, and one general elective, providing greater depth and the ability for students to develop specialties and explore other fields. Lastly, design concepts, skills, and experiences are greatly expanded throughout the two programs, both explicitly (new junior and upgraded senior design courses) and implicitly (design-oriented lab experiments in many new and upgraded courses). “One of the complaints we heard from recent graduates – and which we both experienced as students – is that we don’t let them have “fun” until senior year,” Dickerson said. “Like any engineering discipline, electrical and computer engineers are very hands-on people, and so it’s critical for students to engage in those activities earlier than senior year, as well as understand the integration of design with theory.” “The input of our visiting committee, alumni and industry was critical in helping us focus on integrating the electrical and computer engineering skills that decades ago were independent, but today are complementary and intertwined,” Kerestes added. “I also think that by leveraging the strengths of our department – for example, from power engineering and systems in EE to embedded computer systems and applications in CoE – we can integrate those in the junior year and better prep our students for employment in co-op or industry, or help them better decide whether they want to continue to graduate school.” Both Dickerson and Kerestes acknowledge the level of difficulty increases with the new curricula, but the changes will enable the students to do much more as electrical and computer engineers. And Department Chair George agreed that such challenges are necessary to better prepare students for an increasingly competitive global environment. “I think that, after our students graduate, each will find that the new curriculum has benefited them by making them more adaptable, nimble, and impactful engineers,” George said. “Just as Westinghouse, Fessenden, and the first computer engineers could only have theorized how our disciplines would evolve over the century, we need to prepare our students to adapt to the next technological breakthroughs that we haven’t yet imagined. It’s an exciting time for the ECE Department, and I’m looking forward to the response and success of our undergraduates.” ###

Jun
11
2019

Pitt Team Makes Finals in Cornell Cup

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 11, 2019) —  A team of students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering competed as finalists in this year’s Cornell Cup – Arm Enabled with their project, V2 Communications, an inter-vehicle communication network. The Cornell Cup – Arm Enabled is a design competition that invites engineering students to submit an invention or project featuring embedded technology. It offers finalists funding, access to expert reviews, and the opportunity to present their project at a two-day expo at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. The team competed against 11 other finalist teams from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of California - Irvine, Purdue University, Boston University, University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech, and Drexel University from May 3-4. The goal of V2 Communications is to develop an inter-vehicle communication network so that any cars with a Controller Area Network (CAN) bus system can share real-time driving data such as speed, acceleration, and engine status with other cars within 100 meters—information that may lead to fewer accidents and greater traffic throughput capacity on the road. The system includes security measures, ensuring it is resistant to packet injection and spoofing attacks. The team consisted of Haihui Zhu, rising junior in electrical and computer engineering, and Zachary M. Mattis, who graduated this semester with a bachelor degree in computer engineering. The pair were interested in the concept of cars “talking” to one another on the road and decided to pursue the project last fall. Sami Mian, doctoral candidate, and Sam Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor and director of the Undergraduate Computer Engineering program, served as advisors for the team. Now, the team will spend time researching the market and determining what’s next for V2 Communications. “There are some technology companies already working on vehicle-to-vehicle communications. For example, Peloton Technology focuses on automated delivery and provides truck platooning,” Zhu explains. “One of the next steps is to do research on these companies and understand the market need. We also plan to improve our V2 solution with mmWave sensors and 5G beamforming.” “This was a great opportunity for our students to think critically and apply the things they’ve learned in the classroom,” says Dr. Dickerson. “We’re proud of them for representing us well at the finals and look forward to seeing what the future has in store for V2 Communications.”
Maggie Pavlick
May
4
2019

How Kevin Glunt Went From Struggling Student to Sending an A.I. Computer to the ISS

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

Around a decade ago, Kevin Glunt was more interested in drawing cars than paying attention in class, with his parents threatening that he would repeat a grade of school if he didn’t stop. Now aged 24, he’s in awe as SpaceX has launched his team’s creation into orbit: A radiation-tolerant supercomputer that will be used in experiments on sensing, image processing, and machine learning, aboard the International Space Station. “All of our names are on the board, like etched on it,” Glunt told Inverse this week, prior to the launch. “It’s like, your name will be in space. And it’s really, really weird to think about that.” It’s not just a name in space: the computer, made by Glunt and his fellow researchers and students from the University of Pittsburgh, could pave the way for a faster future in space. More powerful systems at lower cost, and with more efficient power usage, represent another step toward more reliable research in orbit. Read the full story at inverse.com.
Author: Mike Brown, inverse.com
May
3
2019

Pitt Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Sam Dickerson Wins 2019 Board of Visitors Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (May 3, 2019) — Recognizing his role in developing undergraduate programs, innovative teaching and leadership in his field, Sam Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has won the 2019 Board of Visitors Award. “Dr. Dickerson is the epitome of a faculty member devoted to diversity for the benefits of all students, staff, and faculty, demonstrating leadership in student recruitment, student retention, community engagement, and student mentoring,” says Roberta A. Luxbacher, chair of the Board of Visitors.  “He has had a tremendous impact on the mission of the department and the school. The Board of Visitors is proud of accomplishments such as his, which are extremely important if the School is to continue to be recognized as a national force in engineering education and research." Dr. Dickerson serves as director of the undergraduate Computer Engineering program in addition to his teaching. He joined the Swanson School as assistant professor in 2015 after completing his PhD, MS and BS degrees in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at Pitt. Examples of Dr. Dickerson’s dedication to the success of all students are abundant in the department. Dr. Dickerson pushed for examination space in ECE for students with disabilities and special needs and is the faculty founder of “Chat and Chew,” a diversity program in ECE meant to engage and support URM students. He also served as faculty lead in funding female ECE students to attend the annual Grace Hopper Conference; led an NSF project to create and study new teaching methods for broad demographic groups; and led the Hands-on-Science activity for Swanson’s Investing NOW Pre-College Program. Dr. Dickerson also advises the nearly 300 undergraduate students in Computer Engineering, one of the School’s largest programs. In addition to his leadership and mentoring roles, Dr. Dickerson is nationally recognized as an innovative and passionate educator. He has received NSF funding to implement new techniques in teaching electronics and has modernized the Senior Design Project course in a way that challenges students and pushes them out of their comfort zones. Dr. Dickerson received the School’s Outstanding Educator Award this year in recognition of this work. “Dr. Dickerson is consistently ranked by students as one of the best teachers in the School, and his commitment to the teaching profession is a model for every faculty member demonstrating great passion and commitment to teaching,” says Alan George, PhD, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department.  “When he was asked to assume the leadership role as director of our undergraduate program in computer engineering in 2017, his response was amazing and refreshing, replying that he would be happy to serve in this role but regretful that it would mean a reduction by one in his teaching load each year.” The Board of Visitors Award includes a $5,000 grant to support the recipient’s scholarly activities. It was presented at the Board of Visitors Dinner on May 2, 2019.
Maggie Pavlick
May
1
2019

New Pitt Supercomputer to Launch Into Space

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

This story originally appeared in Pittwire. Reposted with permission. Additional coverage at Inside HPC. A novel supercomputer developed by a University of Pittsburgh team is set to journey to the International Space Station on May 1, continuing a NASA partnership meant to improve Earth and space science. (Editor’s note: launch date is subject to delays.) It will be “one of the most powerful space-qualified computers ever made and flown,” said Alan George, department chair of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who led Pitt researchers and graduate students on the project. On the space station, the supercomputer will serve as a research “sandbox” for space-based experiments on computing, sensing, image processing and machine learning. Researchers said the main objective of these experiments is progression toward autonomous spacecraft, like a more advanced version of the self-driving cars seen in Pittsburgh. This radiation-tolerant computer cluster, called the Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing (SSIVP) system, is part of the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program-Houston 6 mission (STP-H6), developed at the National Science Foundation Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC). The system “features an unprecedented combination of high performance, high reliability, low power and reconfigurability for computing in the harsh environment of space, going beyond the capabilities of previous space computers,” said George, who’s also founder and director of SHREC. The project carries over from time’s spent with the University of Florida prior to moving to Pitt in 2017, when a pair of space computers developed by Pitt students and faculty was sent aboard the space station. Last year, the new space supercomputer embarked on a 1,400-mile land-based journey for rigorous testing, from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to the NASA Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston to the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Its final, much shorter and more meaningful trip will see it travel 250 miles skyward from NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the space station with the SpaceX-17 mission on a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket. Super powered Sebastian Sabogal and Evan Gretok, PhD students in electrical and computer engineering, pose by their workstation in SHREC (Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing), where they monitor their supercomputing cluster’s progress. They’ve worked on the cluster’s design, hardware configuration and image processing. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh) The new space supercomputer is more than 2.5 times more powerful than its predecessor, which was launched to the space station with STP-H5 on SpaceX-10 in February 2017. It includes dual high-resolution cameras capable of snapping 5-megapixel images of Earth, for detailed aerial shots like the city of Pittsburgh, all in a system about the size of a breadbox. The H5 system will remain on the space station, working separately from the soon-to-be-launched H6 system on a dynamic set of space technology experiments until at least 2021. The H6 system is expected to be in service for three to four years after launch. The large amounts of data the new system captures will pose their own challenge. “There are limitations in communications between ground and spacecraft, so we’re trying to circumvent these limitations with high-performance onboard data processing to more quickly transfer data,” said Sebastian Sabogal, a third-year PhD student studying electrical and computer engineering. “We also want our systems to be highly responsive to processed sensor data to enable spacecraft autonomy, which would reduce the amount of human interaction needed to operate the spacecraft and interpret data.” “Everyone in the space community wants to build sensor systems that are more powerful and autonomous,” George said. “We must process the data where it’s gathered, which requires very powerful computers, but space is the most challenging place to build and deploy powerful computers.” Space, too, is a challenging place for computers to thrive due to high fluctuations in temperatures, strong vibrations during launch and higher levels of radiation — all of which can affect performance, said Sabogal. During its time in space, the supercomputer will gather and monitor data on weather patterns, deforestation, and the effects of natural disasters on Earth and the effects of space and radiation on electronic devices, among many applications in Earth and space science. A goldmine for students SHREC also is collaborating for the first time with the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, with the latter designing, assembling and testing the system chassis to meet the structural requirements from NASA for the computing system. For students, these space missions are an opportunity to hone their engineering expertise and interact closely with experts at NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. The Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing marks the first known instance of the “Pitt Script” in space. (Courtesy of Alan George) “When I initially came in, it was one of the big projects going on here,” said Evan Gretok, a second-year PhD student studying electrical and computer engineering. “I was asked if I was up for a challenge, and I was put on developing some of the flight software for some of the secondary objectives of the mission.” These secondary objectives include studies regarding flight services, hardware configuration and studies on image processing. Gretok also earned his master’s degree in the same field at Pitt this year, and he has been working with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to certify the supercomputer’s ground-station software for mission operations that will be controlled by Pitt researchers in the SHREC lab meets NASA standards. “It’s really humbling to be part of a team that has this kind of access to such innovative technology,” Gretok said. “The amount of opportunities that open up for Earth observation for data analytics and for these students to develop their own applications and algorithms is exciting to see.” Other leading researchers for the project include Matthew Barry, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, who also works with the Center for Research Computing and was in charge of thermal modeling for the computer, and David Schmidt, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, whose team was in charge of the design and construction of the aluminum chassis to house the electronics, ensuring that it meets NASA specifications. For more information on the mission visit NASA’s missions page.
Author: Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications

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