Carnegie Mellon University
September 18, 2015

Bright Minds, Big Ideas

Ten faculty members of Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering, School of Computer Science, Dietrich College and the Tepper School of Business have received the Summer 2015 Google Research Awards, which fund cutting-edge research in computer science, engineering and related fields.

Google Research Awards

Among the recipients is the team of Laurie Heller, an associate teaching professor in Psychology; Pulkit Grover, an assistant professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); and Bruno Sinopoli, an associate professor in ECE. The team is working on a device to allow people with little or no sight to navigate their environments using echolocation, a technique used by animals such as dolphins and bats.

"There are some blind and partially sighted individuals who can successfully navigate by using the echoes that they hear when they tap their canes, or make clicking noises with their mouths," said Grover. "But that's rare, as the method has to be taught one-on-one. We want to make a hardware or software interface, which will enable people to easily learn en masse, and simultaneously explore the informational limits of echolocation."

Google Research Awards

Heller said that her auditory research with the technical knowledge from the engineers was integral to the project.

"We can't use just any sounds," Heller said. "We have to consider what the senses can already do, in order to understand and develop the complementary signals that we can play to people to provide them with the most natural perceptual information that will allow them to navigate."

The work is an example of how CMU BrainHub scientists are constantly working together to create new technologies and explore how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.

"Technology is at the point where it can have enormous impact on visually impaired people's lives," Sinopoli said. "While many are focusing on making the next big, expensive gadget destined for mass consumption, I'm confident that we can create something that will be a real life-changer for many, by focusing on impact rather than on profit." 

Professor Chris Dyer received a Google Research Award for his work in machine-based translation.

"I'm taking a hybrid approach between the translation programs that have long been available and newer ones," said Dyer, an assistant professor in the Language Technologies Institute. "Because it's a relatively simple language, English is usually pretty easy to translate into, but difficult to translate out of, into more complicated languages. The idea has been pursued before, but with a more complex approach." 

The one-year awards are unrestricted gifts to universities to support the work of world-class full-time faculty members at top universities around the world. The grants cover tuition for a graduate student and provide both faculty and students the opportunity to work directly with Google researchers and engineers.

In addition to Dyer, Grover, Heller and Sinopoli the summer recipients include:

  • Lorrie Cranor, professor, Institute for Software Research, CyLab, and Engineering and Public Policy
  • Kayvon Fatahalian, assistant professor, Computer Science
  • Brandon Lucia, assistant professor, ECE
  • Andy Pavlo, assistant professor, Computer Science
  • Willem-Jan Van Hoeve, associate professor of operations research, Tepper School
  • Norman Sadeh, professor, Institute for Software Research