The future is automated. Just ask Dr. Gregg Vesonder.
Dr. Vesonder, program lead and industry professor for the software engineering graduate program, has been working on important research projects including sensors for smart cities, smart homes and robots who can monitor the care and activity for elderly individuals. With his research, Dr. Vesonder hopes to create a more integrated world focused on streamlining the process of software engineering.
Can you discuss your research in the area of smart cities?
My general research topic is ubiquitous computing, or pervasive computing, which is computing that is distributed throughout its environment, and which people can access in a variety of ways, either through intermediaries or directly. Think of smart cities as pervasive computing in an environment embedded with sensors and computation, some of which can be directly accessed by citizens. What we're trying to do as a research area is use a citizen science approach to make the city smart.
Why did you start working on the smart cities project?
There was a Stevens’ professor before my time who bought hundreds of smart city sensors that he began to put up throughout Hoboken. When he left, I took over the project and my students and I worked to make those sensors operational and useful. However, by the time we began the project, the equipment had been discontinued and there was no support for it. We got one sensor working down by the Hudson River that was measuring noise, but that was out of 19 installed on light poles across the city. I thought "there has to be a better way we could do this", because even when we put them up, the costs of having someone go out to fix them was too expensive. At the same time, I had been teaching high school students about using Raspberry Pi and sensors. We worked to create a low-price smart city node that would monitor temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, air quality and noise. We did it using low-cost sensor packs for about $150 each.
How has your research advanced since those first days of smart city monitoring?
About two years ago we applied for a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that would be applied to teaching students how to build and program hardware that they could place on the sides of their house. They would use their home’s Wi-Fi and power, and the sensors would deposit data in a central location. After that, we would teach them about using analytics and data mining their data. At the same time, they would also learn about public policy. We're still actively working on that.
Can you talk about how you are working on elder care in a smart environment?
The elder care project focuses on the use of robots within a smart home to manage three tasks. The first task is to deliver medication to the elderly person. The second task is that if the smart home or robot does not notice any movement in the room for a while, the robot will be dispatched to find the elderly person. If the elderly person seems to be in distress, the robot will use the home Wi-Fi, camera and microphone to establish contact to a caregiver. The third task is that if the smart home detects a fire, the robot can come and find the elderly person and lead them to safety.
How else are you planning utilize smart sensor strategies in everyday surroundings?
We want to take those smart home sensors and distribute them around the Stevens’ campus. We already have sensors working now in our Design Lab, and in the next six months we will start distributing them. What we're interested in is the quality of the spaces, and to understand what places around campus are highly desirable to students and what makes them desirable. We also hope to determine where Wi-Fi is congested and where it isn’t and provide a map to show people where it's not so bad. Over time we'd like to get access to the campus' data on electricity and water and start displaying visualizations on that.
How do you hope your research impacts the software engineering field?
When you have millions, or billions of sensors on computers out in the world producing massive data feeds, what is the software engineering you need to keep it all working well and working together? It's an invitation for chaos. This is a world of multiple and often incompatible vendors and tools, operating with security, privacy and software engineering principles in mind. With the elder care research, it’s economically attractive if they are placed into assisted living facilities. On that large scale they would be spending a lot of money. If elder individuals are allowed to stay in their homes and use this technology, it would be far less expensive, providing them with a better quality of life. This is also an opportunity to come up with software that is strong and reliable enough to trust with someone in your family.
What sets the software engineering program at Stevens apart from other university programs in your research field?
For software engineering, we are unique in that we have people who are well-versed in research but have also worked in industry for a long time. Half our faculty is academic and the other half is more industrial-based software engineering. Students who come here for our master's in software engineering get a unique mixture of experiences.