University of Washington computer science students offered a glimpse into the future on Tuesday evening at the Paul G. Allen Center.
The impressive work being done at one of the top computer programming departments in the nation was on full display as nearly 100 research groups showed off their projects to industry representatives, regional alumni, and friends as part of the UW’s Industry Affiliates Annual Meeting.
Seattle’s Madrona Venture Partners has awarded the Madrona Prize for the past nine years to the research with the greatest commercial potential. This year’s top prize went to Supasorn Suwajanakorn, a UW graduate student working with two professors — Steve Seitz and Ira Kemelmacher — on “What Makes Tom Hanks Look Like Tom Hanks,” a project that “is based on a novel combination of 3D face reconstruction, tracking, alignment, and multi-texture modeling, applied to the puppeteering problem.”
In his demo on Tuesday, Suwajanakorn showed how he can map the way someone is speaking to anyone’s face — for example, Barack Obama speaking words that George Bush had actually said.
The technology is bizarre-yet-fascinating and Suwajanakorn said there is potential for real-world applications.
“One idea we’re thinking about is replacing Siri, or adding a face to Siri,” he said. “Can you imagine a personal assistant with a face? It can convey emotion and be much more expressive than just voice alone. That’s the future of the personal assistant.”
Another use could be to digitize real-life people — even those that have passed.
“We can reconstruct a person and animate a person so that it still has his or her likeness and preserve his or her identity,” Suwajanakorn explained. “Ultimately, you could imagine archiving anyone, or bringing back fond memories of your distant relatives.”
Ed Lazowska, the longtime computer science professor who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, said that he’s blown away with the progress of computer vision technology over the last decade.
“I’m just so impressed with what has happened to that subfield,” he said.
Scott Jacobson, managing director at Madrona, told GeekWire that Suwajanakorn’s demo was “so freaking cool.”
“The puppeteering they do has a lot of interesting applications in a broad set of areas, with virtual reality potentially being one of them,” he said.
Madrona, which has funded 15 companies that started out of the UW, has sponsored the Madrona Prize at this event for the past nine years.
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Greg Gottesman, venture partner at Madrona. “It makes you feel very excited about the future, and also the UW and specifically what’s going on here at the computer science department.”
The UW has made a recent push to not only spur innovation and research on campus, but also help get these types of ideas commercialized with the help of groups like UW CoMotion. Ana Mari Cauce, the UW’s new president, said last week that innovation and commercialization of startup ideas will “escalate.”
“What’s really important is the impact that that has in the world,” she said of all the research being done at the UW. “We want to make sure our discoveries actually make a difference in the world.”
There was various technology demonstrated on Tuesday, from computer graphics to machine learning to robotics to sensors to natural language processing.
“It’s cutting edge stuff in so many different areas,” Gottessman added. “I love it.”
Below are the runner-up and people’s choice prize winners from Tuesday’s event. Madrona handed out a total of $5,000 in prize money. You can see all the past winners from previous years here.
Building Consistent Transactions with Inconsistent Replication (runner-up) — Irene Zhang, Naveen Kr. Sharma, Adriana Szekeres, Arvind Krishnamurthy, Dan R. K. Ports
HyperCam: Hyperspectral Imaging and their applications (runner up) — Mayank Goel, Eric Whitmire, Alex Mariakakis, Scott Saponas, Neel Joshi, Shwetak Patel
Apneaapp: Diagnosing sleep apnea (runner-up) — Rajalakshmi Nandakumar
Passive Wi-Fi: Bringing Low Power to Wi-Fi Transmissions (people’s choice award) — Vamsi Talla, Bryce Kellogg, Shyamnath Gollakota and Joshua R. Smith