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iCampus funds student technology projects

Six student teams presented progress reports last week on iCampus projects ranging from tracking the campus shuttle bus to bringing technology to impoverished young adults in India.

Each student team received $30,000 for the yearlong projects. Almost at the halfway mark, the students described work they have accomplished since February.

"We thought that since this was about education, it was important to award money to students directly," said Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a MacVicar Teaching Fellow.


Champion Zone is an instant sports notification service created by Christopher Cassa and Matthew Notowidigdo, juniors in electrical engineering and computer science; Hai Ning and Abel Sanchez, graduate students in civil and electrical engineering; and Daniel Robey, a sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science.

To find a partner for a tennis game, a user would input her skill level, her preferred court location and the time and day she is looking for a game. When another person signs on who is a good match, the first user is notified. She then accepts or rejects, and the other user is immediately notified through his or her preferred method: AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, email or cell phone.

Other potential uses for the service include reserving court time for tennis, squash or racquetball, scheduling meetings with professors, getting up-to-date class information, finding a date or--maybe most important--being notified if free food is available anywhere on campus. A second message would alert you when it's gone.


LAMP is the Library Access to Music Project. Keith Winstein, a junior in electrical engineering and computer science, and freshman Joshua Mandel want to make music more readily available to MIT students. They like some things about libraries, such as their large collections, and dislike others, such as the inconvenience of getting to one. Ideally, Winstein said, "You would have headphones connected to a very long wire to the library" and when you wanted to hear a particular CD, the librarian would play it for you. The next best thing is LAMP.

Through the web, MIT students can request one of the hundreds of CDs that Winstein and Mandel plan to buy and store electronically. The user would hear the music through one of the 15 TV channels that MIT Cable has made available to LAMP. This is completely legal, it turns out, and once a song has been requested, others as well as the person who made the request could enjoy it. The sound quality? "Better than FM radio," Winstein said.


The Next Generation Mobile Classroom aims to put handhelds to work solving some problems inherent in large lecture classes. Raj Dandage, Sonia Garg and Sanjay Rao, all seniors in electrical engineering and computer science, don't like the fact that it's sometimes intimidating to ask questions and it's hard for professors to gauge how well students are catching on. Once each student enters the lecture hall, they would log in with their special-use PDA and be in business. They would be able to see an outline of that day's lecture, type questions anonymously (these would come up on the screen of the teaching assistant and would be fielded at his or her discretion) and take mini-quizzes that would help the instructor see if everyone understands the material. Outside of class, students could use the device to hook up with other students for study groups or to see when the final exam is scheduled.


Setu--"bridge" in Sanskrit--aims to use technology and MIT student expertise to help young adults in poverty-stricken areas of India connect with each other and get some valuable work skills and experience. Sloan School students Rishi Kumar and Maheesh Kumar, Sloan senior research scientist Amar Gupta, electrical engineering and computer science senior Sourav Dey, and mechanical engineering junior Tulika Khemani have set up centers in local schools in three divergent areas of India.

The centers contain computer clusters, generators and Internet connections, and local teachers were hired to work with students in grades eight through 10 to learn programs, complete a curriculum designed by the MIT students and share problems and information online with students at the other school centers. MIT interns will travel to India to kick-start the three pilot programs in three communities.

"We wanted to bring technology to India at the grassroots level. Some of these people had never seen a computer and never would have if it had not been for us," Rishi Kumar said.

DEVELOPER'S PLAYTIME is an online software developer's "neighborhood" with a twist. Not only does it help those who seek to learn about Microsoft and .NET technologies, it encourages participation through a role-playing game in which users can work their way from peasants to wizards. They collect points and earn prizes such as T-shirts along the way.

"Our focus is on learning, but we wanted it to be fun and engaging," said program manager T. Jonathan Lau, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science along with Edmund Chou and Peter Weng, and electrical engineering and computer science graduate students Eugene Chiu, Yi-Fung Lin and Norimasa Yoshida.

More than 300 colleges are represented among the 8,000 regular users of the site, so while users take tutorials and learn new programming tools, they can compare notes and interact with others. Lau's only complaint is that he has been so busy developing the portal, he himself has only amassed a modest number of points and attained the relatively lowly status of soldier.


A typical night in the life of an MIT student: working into the wee hours and then heading out to catch a SafeRide van back to the dorm or residence. The problem is that the vans, which run from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., are subject to the local weather and traffic conditions and don't always arrive at their stops at their scheduled times. The solution? Shuttletrack, a project by Krishnan Sriram, a graduate student in mechanical engineering; Salil Soman, a graduate student in electrical enginering and computer science; Terran Melconian, a research engineer in aeronautics and astronautics; Ryan Tam, a graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics; Ging Ging Liu and Cordy Crockett, graduate students in civil and environmental engineering; and Nina Menezes, a graduate student in HST.

They have developed a GPS-based system that operates through the four vans' existing radios. It allows students to see, in real-time on a web-based map, exactly where the shuttle buses are and when they will arrive at their next stop. With that kind of up-to-date information, students will be able to eke out a few more minutes of cramming and still make it home safely. For more information on this project, write to

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 22, 2002.

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