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A "Year of Firsts" for ADSC in 2011

1/23/2012 12:19:00 PM

For ADSC, 2011 was a year filled with firsts: ADSC researchers received their first best paper award, protected their first trade secrets, finalized the first license for ADSC technology, created the first demonstrations of several new technologies, and received two new faculty appointments, all while having over 40 papers accepted at various conferences and journals.

"We made enormous progress in 2011, which was ADSC's second full year of operation," Advanced Digital Sciences Center Director and Illinois computer science professor Marianne Winslett said. "I'm really proud of the great work that our young people are doing, and it's been a joy to see them blossom here. From our interns to our research scientists, we've got a fantastic staff, and that's why we've done so well."

ADSC's 2011 research portfolio includes eight research projects in interactive digital media, three on the smart grid, and two independent projects. The areas of research vary from hardware synthesis and video tracking to radio networks and biomedical research.

The year began with researchers demonstrating their work to the upper management of Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). It was the first time many of the technologies, such as ARISE entity search, video cut out, and finding of the directions of sound in 2D (which has since been made 3D), had been demonstrated in public.

"For many areas of computer science, seeing is believing," Winslett said. "For example, if you watch our demo of background removal in live video, you very quickly understand what the research is about and literally see the contribution."

ADSC can now offer at least nine demonstrations of its research results, many of which can be seen in ADSC's research highlights and application highlights series.

In May, computer science affiliate professor Deming Chen (ECE) and ADSC researcher Eric Liang, among others, were awarded ADSC's first best paper prize at the IEEE Symposium on Field-Programmable Custom Computing Machines (FCCM). Their paper, "Multilevel Granularity Parallelism Synthesis on FPGAs," addressed the difficulty and slow turnaround time for producing a hardware implementation of a software algorithm.

Traditionally, the fastest approach is for the software developers to work with a hardware developer, who can produce a design for a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), an integrated circuit that can be customized after its manufacture. Chen and Liang's research seeks to eliminate the need for a hardware developer, while also cutting the design cycle from approximately six months to just a couple of weeks. Their award-winning paper showed how to take programs written in CUDA, a C-like language that is already popular among software developers for programming GPUs, and compile the program into a good-quality FPGA design.

"We're happy that the collaboration between ADSC and us was very fruitful," Chen said. "The best paper award is recognition from the community, showing we have done research with impact and with high-quality results."

Chen hopes this is just the beginning and that further research will lead to commercialization opportunities that will bring real technology benefits in Singapore and beyond.

Chen, along with Illinois Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Minh Do and ADSC researchers Kyle Rupnow, Liang, Yinan Li, and Dongbo Min, were also nominated for a best paper award at the December 2011 IEEE International Conference on Field-Programmable Technology for their paper entitled "High Level Synthesis of Stereo Matching: Productivity, Performance and Software Constraints."

"It's a humbling experience because both conferences are very competitive," Chen said. "Both are considered top conferences in the field, so winning one award and being nominated again within this short period of time, during the first year of the project, is very exciting."

One of ADSC's goals is to turn fundamental research into real-world applications. In 2011, ADSC had its first vision research protected as a trade secret by Exploit Technologies, the commercialization arm of A*STAR. ADSC researchers are also involved with two Singaporean companies that are commercializing research results from ADSC and Illinois.

"This shows that it's possible to do basic research that has an impact in the real world," Winslett said. "Even though it's fundamental research, it's close enough to the real world to have immediate application."

Winslett added that ADSC works to take advantage of the unique opportunities Singapore has for startup companies, and that ADSC encourages the scholar-entrepreneur model that is popular at top U.S. academic institutions.

"ADSC helps bring these novel technologies into Singapore, and the center offers a platform for people in Illinois and Singapore to get together and make contributions," Chen said. "Through effective collaboration, the center is pushing for technology transfer, publishing high-quality papers and engaging local communities for science education. These are quite beneficial to Singapore as a whole."

Educational Ventures

ADSC is a partner in two Ph.D. fellowship programs, the A*STAR-University of Illinois Partnership (AUIP) and the Singapore International Graduate Award (SINGA). Typically, Singaporean students enrolled in AUIP spend their first two years studying at Illinois, followed by two years of work with ADSC in Singapore. Illinois faculty, including Kevin Chang, Pierre Moulin, Minh Do, and Thomas Huang, are currently advising five AUIP Ph.D. students, with three more enrolling in 2012.

International students sponsored under A*STAR's SINGA scholarship program can receive a Ph.D. from the National University of Singapore (NUS) or Nanyang Technological University (NTU), while carrying out research under the sole or joint supervision of ADSC researchers. The two SINGA scholars currently working on ADSC's smart grid projects will be joined in January 2012 by one more, whose research will be in computer vision and machine learning.

As ADSC's mission includes both research and educational components, Winslett is proud of ADSC's alumni, such as interns and software engineers who have gone on to enroll in graduate programs at universities like Seoul National University in South Korea, as well as postdocs who have gone on to positions at places including Google and The State University of New York (SUNY).

Additionally, several of ADSC's research scientists have taken joint appointments at local Singaporean universities. Smart Grid Program Director David Yau is an adjunct professor at NTU and NUS, while Winslett is an adjunct professor at NTU. ADSC researchers Gang Wang and Richard Ma have joint appointments at NTU and NUS, respectively. Researchers Kyle Rupnow and Jason Gu will have tenure-track appointments at NTU and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), respectively, in 2012.

Illinois Growth in Singapore

In addition to research and educational accomplishments, ADSC hired over 30 software engineers, research scientists, post-doctoral fellows, and accounting and administrative assistants in 2011. ADSC will undergo its first remodel in early 2012 to open up space for new and existing employees.

"We've filled up all our office space," Winslett said. "It shows how our research has expanded over the past year--a visible sign of all the things going on."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faculty members took over 40 trips to Singapore in 2011 to conduct research, explore new research and business opportunities, and teach short courses. Illinois professors Chen and Yih-Chun Hu both spent much of the summer in Singapore to concentrate on their respective research projects.

"ADSC has a very diverse group with diverse expertise in a small, open environment," Hu said. "The open atmosphere seems to be a good environment for fostering collaborations. Also, being in Singapore gives us ready access to information about opportunities that are unique to Singapore."

In addition to Hu's "Reliable Cognitive Radio Networks for Smart Grid" project, he also has a "WiMAX Protocol Fuzzing" project that is funded by Singapore's Center for Strategic Infocomm Technologies (CSIT).

"The CSIT contract is a great example of something we couldn't have done at Illinois, simply because we were able to use some resources that were only available in Singapore," Hu said. "Also, some data and opportunities are only available for use in Singapore, such as the taxicab location data that we applied to get last summer. To make use of that information, we need to have people on the ground in Singapore."

ADSC also hosted a variety of short courses and symposiums at its Fusionopolis headquarters throughout 2011. Illinois professors Kevin Chang and Jiawei Han led an Information Integration short course in January, covering large-scale data mining and integration. In July, ADSC, along with three other institutions, hosted a four-week High-Performance Computing Certification Course, in which Illinois faculty taught participants how to parallelize and optimize their code using popular high-performance computing paradigms, such as OpenMP, MPI, CUDA, and OpenMP + MPI. The attendees came away with the knowledge they needed to visualize and optimize the performance of their code, the ability to compare different approaches, and the tools necessary to develop a parallel program ideal for their environment.

ADSC sponsored multiple one-day events, including an Interactive Digital Media Symposium in August that focused on new techniques for image and video processing and analysis. IDM researchers showcased technology being developed at ADSC and the Institute for InfoComm Research (I2R). In November, ADSC held an Alumni Demo Day, at which University of Illinois alumni in Singapore were invited to view demonstrations of ADSC's current research projects.

While 2011 has seen many firsts for ADSC, Winslett is confident that the future holds more accomplishments.

"In 2012, I'm expecting additional really exciting developments in basic research, plus more commercialization activity related to some of these fundamental results," Winslett said. "We're excited to have the chance to get our results out of the lab and into the real world."

The Advanced Digital Sciences Center is a Singapore-based research center for faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. ADSC focuses on breakthrough innovations information technology.