23rd annual IGVC hosted at Oakland University

Stephanie Sokol for Oakland University

Engineers from around the world visited Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. to compete in the 23rd annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition.

Started in 1993, groups that participate in IGVC are judged for the navigation and design of their unmanned vehicle.

Photo/Stephanie Sokol Oakland University was awarded 3rd overall at this year's IGVC.

Photo/Stephanie Sokol
Oakland University was awarded 3rd overall at this year’s IGVC.

This year, 26 teams competed, including students from as local as Lawrence Technological Institute in Southfield to as far away as colleges from Australia, Japan and Wales.

“The levels (of the unmanned vehicles) always improve over the years as technologies advance — computers, sensors, actuators, software,” said KaC Cheok, co-chairman and co-founder of IGVC, OU engineering professor and Oakland Robotics Association adviser.

Each year, OU not only hosts the event, but the Oakland Robotics Association competes as well.

“This year’s IGVC was the most competitive that I’ve been a part of,” said Brian Neumyer, ORA president.

“Many teams made drastic improvements to their programming and robots which allowed them to perform very well. For me it was also the most satisfying. This year I was able to see my mostly new team come together and manufacture a world-class robot. Seeing the veterans work with the newcomers to figure out problems is just as satisfying as the robot that gets created.”

Their robot, the award-winning “Mantis,” made a return this season with some modifications.

Mantis saw some software upgrades — updating Robot Operating System (ROS) to Indigo, the ability to detect potholes on the ground and the addition of an artificial neural network (ANN) to detect lines with two new cameras.

The robot placed third place overall, landing second to qualify, third place in the basic Auto-Nav course, sixth place in the advanced Auto-Nav course, second place in the design competition and winning the Lescoe Award.

To put on IGVC, OU partners with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) to host the event.

Sponsors of the event include Continental, NDIA -Michigan (National Defense Industrial Association of Michigan), FEV,Magna Electronics, Valeo, BAE Systems, American Elements, Math Works and General Dynamics Land Systems.

“The IGVC emphasizes on student education, development and hands-on experience in integration engineering systems and technologies,” Cheok said. “This robotics and team experience is very relevant to the automation, automated active safety and autonomous cars of the future.”

Halestorm rocks Flint at The Whiting

Halestorm at The Whiting.

Halestorm at The Whiting.

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

It was a hurricane of positive energy at The Whiting Auditorium in Flint, Mich. last week, when Halestorm brought a gale of good music to the stage. Opening acts Starset and The Pretty Reckless also added strength to the show.

To kickoff the evening, Starset literally lit up the stage with their track “First Light,” wowing the audience with their cool, space age costumes. Throughout their 8-song set, Starset conveyed that the band had entered a new world, the “Starset society,” as they called it. The band wrapped up with a high energy performance of “My Demons.”

The Pretty Reckless was up next, and Taylor Momsen was the star of the stage. As the band opened with “Follow Me Down,” the lights went up, but Taylor still seemed mysterious half bent over with her hair covering her face. She really got into the music, and when she played “Heaven Knows,” fans belted out all the lyrics as she continued singing strongly and dancing as the star of her band’s performance. Before finishing up their set, The Pretty Reckless performed “Going to Hell,” off of their new album, which also received gratitude from the audience.

The anticipation built as fans waited for Halestorm to make their way on stage, and as the lights went up and they opened their 19-song set with “Love Bites (So do I),” front-woman Lzzy Hale belted out the song vocally and on guitar, complimented by her talented band mates, drummer (and her brother) Arejay Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith.

“Hey Flint Michigan!” Lzzy shouted to the audience with a smile, sharing her love for the city and its fans. Halestorm has a close connection with Flint; Their video “I Miss the Misery” was shot in the town and they’ve grown up as musicians putting on many shows there.

The entire band was lively and energetic, especially during performances of “Scream,” “Sick Individual” and “Gonna Get Mine.” Each member’s talent was spotlighted throughout the show with an amazing solo.

Things calmed down a lot and got emotional when Halestorm performed the slow sentimental “Dear Daughter,” which Lzzy said was about how her parents had always supported her, even when she wanted to start a rock band at age 13 with her friends.

The night went back to a fast rock n’ roll party, even towards the end when Lzzy brought out the Jägermeister and did a shot with the audience. The band returned to the stage for an encore, rocking until the last moment when they closed the set with “I Miss the Misery” and “Here’s to Us.”

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Lzzy Hale tweet

SECS student and father of four beats the odds, graduates with master’s at 25

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS
On May 1, Matthew Franklin will walk across the stage to accept his Masters in Embedded Systems Engineering. Completing undergraduate and graduate degrees in five years would be a challenging feat for most people, but this hasn’t been the biggest challenge he has faced.
Photo/Stephanie Sokol 25-year-old Matthew Franklin completed his Masters Degree and two Bachelors degree, all in 5 years while raising 4 children.

Photo/Stephanie Sokol
25-year-old Matthew Franklin completed his Masters Degree and two Bachelors degree, all in 5 years while raising 4 children.

25-year-old Franklin is also a husband, and father of four.

“I always struggled, but kept working hard at it —I knew either I was going to become poor and stay poor, or graduate,”Franklin said. “The statistics of it are really small —there aren’t that many people that graduate with kids, let-alone graduate with four kids, so I was excited I could be (one of) the first.”

Engineering was always his goal, though he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with it at first.

He started out focusing on computer science, then shifted his studies to electrical, to the point he is currently at —a focus on robotics and artificial intelligence.

After changing his major twice between various engineering concentrations, at age 20, Franklin and his wife had their first child. Shortly after, they had twins, and then a fourth daughter.

As he and his wife worked to raise the four children and make ends meet, one thing became clear to him —giving up was not an option. Instead of falling behind, his family became his motivation, transferring to Oakland University to continue his studies, earning Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering.

Throughout his college career, Franklin not only went to school and took care of his kids —he also found time to get involved in student organizations, including NSBE, club football and the team at his first university, FIRST robotics and business leaders, to name a few —all while working full-time to make ends meet.

Each semester —including every summer session —Franklin took 16 credits. He wanted to complete his degree and succeed.

Professor Darrin Hanna knew Franklin from his ECE 378 class, and they kept in touch after the course ended. He said he saw a lot of positivity and ambition despite the hardships that were thrown Franklin’s way.

“Matthew transferred to Oakland and had a tough start; he had a full personal life and great responsibility for such a young man while pursuing a University degree, but he was very organized, found a study routine that worked for him, and worked hard and it paid off,”Hanna said. “I saw it in my class, he would come and talk with me in my office about hardware design and concepts that we were covering in class. We also talked about ways in which he might change things up and try different study techniques —and he would.  Matthew was always engaging and is very personable.  He did well on his labs and exams, worked well with others, and designed an excellent final project.  He graduated with a high GPA and went on to work towards a Master’s degree in Embedded Systems. I am very proud of him.”

Despite hardship, the experiences he had and the friendships he gained made his OU experience even richer.

“I will always give back to OU and I will always come back to OU, because they gave me opportunities that helped me out,”Franklin said. “There was always something that made me continue wanting to help OU out in anyway possible. If I own a company I’d sign checks to donate to the school because they helped me out. OU gave me the opportunity, they gave me the chance and accepted me, and at that point thought it was struggle it was well deserved.”

His first internship, for example, presented a struggle. Living in Pontiac, Franklin knew it would be tough to commute to Ohio to work for DTE, but despite bumps in the road, he made it happen.

From there, he went on to do other jobs, including an internship at Valeo.

The road to success wasn’t easy, but it was something he said he knew would be worth it.

Currently employed at General Motors as a systems developer, Franklin said he’s not done yet. His next step is his Masters in Business Administration, which he hopes to earn from Harvard, Stanford or University of Michigan.

“If my story can help other people feel a certain way, if you believe, you can achieve,”Franklin said. “I may not have graduated as fast as others, but when I meet other people that have had four kids in the engineering field or any other program, they’re all pretty much way older; When they look at me they are shocked, but this is just the tip of the iceberg —there is so much more I want to do. My advice to others is to keep working hard and from there you’ve already made the steps toward getting better —which is the goal. Any little bit is still better than where you were yesterday.”

Going green on campus with help from academic programs

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

The Oakland University Engineering Center was completed in Fall 2014.

The Oakland University Engineering Center was completed in Fall 2014.

With eco-friendly courses and clean energy efforts across campus, it’s no surprise that Oakland University has a good reputation for “going green.” Infrastructure and courses help build morale towards energy efficiency, from the power supplied to the campus to the School of Engineering and Computer Science itself.

“Energy-efficient buildings have made a huge difference to the entire university,” said Louay Chamra, dean of Engineering and Computer Science. “These clean energy systems provide a healthy indoor environment for the students, faculty and staff. Furthermore, we are being a great neighbor to our surrounding communities by caring about the environment and implementing many energy conservation techniques to qualify for top LEED honors.”

Efficient facilities 

From the Human Health Building (HHB) to the Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) and the new Engineering Center, OU is filled with an abundance of energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly establishments.

OU’s campus will utilize multiple existing and planned sources of on-site clean energy, according to James Leidel, director of Clean Energy Systems. A Central Heating Plant gas turbine, SECS microturbines, solar projects and a dual-fuel diesel-gas peaking system, among others, are the separate entities of clean energy at the school.

“It saves money, and being energy-efficient is the right thing to do,” Leidel said. “These buildings are examples of green technology and clean energy. What better place than a university to engage in this sort of technology? Universities should be at the forefront to demonstrate and to educate.”

Human Health Building
The HHB was completed in fall 2012, and is the only campus building certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum designation in Michigan, assisted by Leidel’s $2.75 million geothermal technologies grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The building features energy-efficient LED lighting, a geothermal heating and cooling system, recycled materials, a 50kW solar PV system on the penthouse and a large solar thermal system to assist the geothermal cooling with summer desiccant dehumidification.

Engineering Center
While it hasn’t yet been designated LEED, the Engineering Center is very energy-efficient and would rank Gold, according to Chris Kobus, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Director of Outreach and Recruitment.

Chilled beams cool the building, two 200kW Combined Heat Power (CHP) microturbines provide a large portion of electricity and waste heat is brought back into the building for space and water heating.

Clean Energy Research Center
Another innovative clean energy building on campus is the CERC, which uses LED and induction lighting and is heated by a high-tech, automated wood chip boiler.

The CERC was made possible with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Chamra said that the goal is to make the entire campus “the first sustainable campus in the US.”

The CERC is embedded in the OU INC, a Smartzone business incubator located on the OU east campus’ Shotwell Pavilion.

U.S. Department of Energy grants helped fund the CERC bio-energy demonstration modules and building wood chip boiler, the geothermal/solar-thermal system for HHB, solar PV projects and an outdoor LED lighting pilot project with DTE Energy.

“Heating the entire campus on wood chips would make an even more significant impact,” Kobus said.

The study and proposal undertaken by Leidel, formerly with Facilities Management, culminated with a public bid and a third-party financed proposal. However, as natural gas prices fell, the project was shelved in favor of a Central Plant CHP gas turbine.

In October 2013, the OU Board of Trustees approved Chevron Energy Solutions to undertake a public-private partnership for a 4.6MW natural gas CHP system.

The Chevron group recently spun out to a new company, OpTerra Energy Services, and installed and operates the CHP system to help power and heat the campus. Switching from mostly grid coal to clean-burning natural gas with waste heat recovery will lower OU’s environmental footprint by 40 to 50 percent.

From 2006 through 2008, wind speed data was collected on a 50-meter-tall meteorological tower and a wind power study was commissioned by Leidel.

Resources for learning 

In addition to being an eco-friendly energy producer on campus, the CERC provides engineering students and faculty with a place for research projects and hands-on opportunities with operated bio-fuel production systems.

“Clean or renewable energy is important because of the great environmental and economic benefits,” Chamra said. “In addition, the clean energy systems will be used as living laboratories for SECS students and faculty to study and conduct research.”

While there is a limited budget, there are still many volunteer and internship opportunities — paid and unpaid — to help students gain class credit and real-world experience.

Students can come to Kobus or Leidel to help on existing projects, or pitch proposals of their own.

“I definitely want more people here helping,” Leidel said. “Students get to see hands-on real equipment — it’s not just lab-scale. We have real equipment operating and they’d work with hardware and prototyping. I focus on real-world experiences in the university environment.”

“All the buildings built on campus, including HHB, the new residence hall and the new Engineering Center, are being designed as living laboratories.”

— Chris Kobus, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Director of Outreach and Recruitment

In addition to research, the building and structure of the campus can be a clean energy living laboratory.

Through outreach programs, younger students get a taste of engineering and computer science, during week-long summer STEM camps.

Students tour campus, where they learn how the grid works and are shown the modern architecture and green design and technology of the buildings.

“As part of the outreach program and the one-week camps we brought here in the summer, there are always tours going on there and it’s not a campus tour like admissions does, it’s more of a technology tour,” Kobus said. “We’ve gotten great feedback on the tours. The kids love seeing technology in action — they’ve seen some really neat stuff.”

According to Kobus, the buildings also provide great research experience for University students to learn outside the classroom without going too far away.

His students learn from the school’s energy system and efficient buildings; and many professors take their students to CERC for research and field trips.

“All the buildings built on campus, including HHB, the new residence hall and the new Engineering Center, are being designed as living laboratories,” Kobus said. “We can teach students theory in the classroom with little table-top experiments to get practical experience, but to go out and see it in its full form — that’s really what we want. So when we design these buildings, we design them with the perspective that we want this to be part of a learning laboratory for students to be able to tour through and see the technology in action.”

Education in energy 

With the resources available, it’s also important to understand how everything works. More energy-focused courses are being made available for students.

Recently, classes in energy efficiency have been proposed and added, and now engineering students can take their studies a step further with the new energy management master’s concentration. Kobus described it as a course teaching how “to optimize energy distribution systems, better manage environmental resources and help employers or clients significantly reduce energy costs.”

The class “Alternative Energy Systems” goes over major energy technologies. There is also a hybrid electric battery course and a fuel cell class, in addition to a series of three other conservation-focused energy management courses that will be taught executive-style next summer.

“The one technology that is truly clean is the energy you never use, so if you can learn to do more with less, not using energy is the cleanest thing you can do — conservation is number one,” Kobus said. “In the alternative energy universe, if you don’t have conservation first, simply switching to other sources makes little sense.”

Leidel is looking to launch more classes in clean energy to drive the importance back home and give students more experience learning about power systems engineering and combined heat and power systems.

“We have a lot of infrastructure projects,” Leidel said. “The existence of the Clean Energy Research Center, combined with multiple infrastructure projects provides a comprehensive educational front in clean energy systems. Students are drawn to Oakland by the visibility of these systems, classes and web sites.

Many students have stated that they come to OU because of the things we’re trying to do with solar power, and the platinum LEED building we have on campus. Clean energy is a significant area of focus for many universities, so to have that here is hopefully a draw for students.”

Right now he is developing a proposal for a clean energy and power engineering program, which could be offered as a master’s program in Clean Energy Engineering.

“The United States is a little behind in clean energy investment,” Leidel said. “However, in Michigan, we have a huge amount of engineering and innovative capacity that can be channeled into the clean energy sector. Here at Oakland, numerous clean energy projects have created a living, learning laboratory for students to experience these systems first hand, and learn. =As additional engineering courses are brought online, they can capitalize on this unique infrastructure.”

New social app makes a “Buhz” on campus

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

A new social application is growing in popularity at Oakland University. Founded by computer science students Chuck Kelly, Brett McIsaac and Zach Fregoli, ‘Buhz’ connects people on campus, getting word out about events, and

Photo/Chuck Kelly

Photo/Chuck Kelly

helping build communication.

Described as “Twitter for college,” the idea for Buhz came to Kelly as a freshman — he wanted an easier way to know about social things on campus, so he could get involved while still focusing on school. From there the idea grew from a concept into a full application.

“A more connected, more informed campus would probably be the short answer (for what this app provides), but it’s so much more than that,” Kelly said. “Even this early on while the product is still rough we have had couples that met through Buhz, countless friends made, freshmen students have found out and joined orgs they otherwise would not have known existed.”

Currently, the app is available to OU and University of Michigan students, primarily for iPhone, but is in development for Android and the Web.

With thousands of students signed up, the campus feed provides a good outlet for users to share their thoughts, ideas and campus news with members of the university community.

Keeping the app to just two schools and one phone have helped the team find out what students want, which Kelly said allowed them to go in just a few updates “from a product students like to a product students love.”

“We have (received feedback) and the feedback has been great so far, but it’s a lot more than making a solid app that people think could be useful, it needs to be special,” Kelly said. “It needs to make people smile and light up when they use it and it needs to keep users interested and coming back. Right now we’re working on these types of things and they are sort of like the final touches to an app.”

To download the application for iPhone, visit buhz.com or the App store. The invite code GRIZZ can be used for immediate download.

For more information about the computer science program at OU, visit oakland.edu/secs/cse.

Engineering degree helps alum succeed as entrepreneur

Stephanie Sokol for Oakland University

Shawn Ward cites his Oakland University Engineering studies as a big part of his success. After earning his master’s in engineering in 1998, he moved to New York City, worked the stock market, and in 2003, became a successful entrepreneur with his twin brother Shane through their fashion company Shane&Shawn.

“My time at Oakland University was great because I felt like I was achieving something that was really bigger than myself,” Shawn said. “To go and get my master’s degree, and do it at a place that was near home — I was able to go see my mom a lot, and work at Chrysler during the day. It was great.”

With his engineering background, Shawn takes on the role of planner and approaches things analytically. After designing for other companies, he and his brother wanted to do some work of their own — and develop a brand people would know them by.

Partnering with large companies like Roos (the original shoes with pockets) has brought them success. Shawn said his engineering degree and the hands-on experience he had at OU has helped him with his entrepreneurial work.

“One thing I’m very proud to say is that I’m an engineer, and even more, that I have my master’s in mechanical engineering,” Shawn said. “Which sounds ultra impressive when you’re in New York because there are so many people in the arts, and a lot of finance people, but there are not a lot of engineers.”

Shawn said he plans to visit OU next year to share his story and expertise with engineering students.

For more information about the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Oakland University, visit oakland.edu/secs.

OU students succeed at MHacks national programming competition

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

Out of 1,000 students from across the nation competing at this year’s MHacks, 14 were from Oakland University, and Dominic Dabish, a senior computer science major, was on the team that earned the gold prize from Microsoft for their app development “Pong With Me.” 

Photo/Stephanie Sokol Dominic Dabish demonstrates "Pong With Me" during one of Sebnem Onsay's programming courses.

Photo/Stephanie Sokol
Dominic Dabish demonstrates “Pong With Me” during one of Sebnem Onsay’s programming courses.

“The experience was pretty awesome,” Dabish said. “Everyone was really inviting. I went there not really knowing what it was about but I got the idea. There was a lot of food and it was really good. I barely slept, but not because I was working too much — because I was having so much fun.”

MHacks started as a small University of Michigan-Ann Arbor hackathon group of 50 participants using their computer programming skills to compete. It now draws programming students from across the United States and is open to students at all levels.

“This is not a small event,” said Sebnem Onsay, OUSECS special instructor. “The fact that they (Dominic’s team) got selected and made it to the finals and got a gold prize is a huge deal. I treat them like local celebrities.”

Onsem said in addition to Dabish, many other OU students did great at the competition, including Andrew Clissold, Bhargavkumar Rughani, Stephen Payne, Ryan Conroy, Brandon Powell, Steven Wiggins, Arpan Rughani, Jack Stouffer, Archana Sevak and Ziyad Ol Obaidi.

The first time Dabish applied, he did not get in. He was then asked to take a C# programming test, and later,was invited to compete. 

Going in on his own, Dabish joined a group with 2 other students from other universities. 

Over a series of three days, the team created 3 applications, including the award-winning “Pong With Me,” which earned them the $1,299 Microsoft Surface Pro 3. 

The application was programmed for iOS, Android, Blackberry, OS X, Linux and Windows — and the people at Microsoft were impressed.

“We caught all of the Microsoft employees playing it when we stopped by, hours after we initially showed them,” he said.

In addition to competing, attending the hackathon gave Dabish and other students involved a great networking opportunity. Representatives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and company representativeswere onsite judging and interacting with participants. 

“Code Michigan,” a state-wide competition is coming up in early October, in addition to another MHacks in January and more programming competitions throughout the year. Dabish is looking to create a team with OU students. Through his student organization, League of Engineers and Computer Scientists, Dabish wants to get people more excited about computer programming. 

“Let’s try to get some OU people to be in the same group this time,” Dabish said. “Last time I worked with people from other universities, and that’s cool but I would love to work with students from my own university. I think that would be spectacular.”

Onsay and Special Instructor Laura Dinsmoor recommend students get involved in future programming competitions, regardless of their level of experience. 

They also hope to someday host a hackathon on campus.

“As soon as students see there’s a competition, they should sign up,” Onsay said. “The sooner they sign up, the sooner they see what they’re getting into. A lot of the students that we have are very talented programmers, but they question themselves. My advice to them: do not question — apply and go there. What’s the worst that would happen? You won’t like the project, so what? You’ll meet many people. Go there and take the opportunity.”

Regarding upcoming hackathon teams and LECS, Dabish can be contacted via email at dom@lecs.me. For more information about the computer science program, visit oakland.edu/secs/cse.