The Charger Blog

Working Remotely on Software Capstone Projects Proves to be the Essence of Collaboration and Innovative Thinking

Computer Science professor Liberty Page says her students rose to each challenge they faced as they worked to complete complex capstone projects – all while research team members were scattered across the country.

May 20, 2020

By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer

Image of Amber Marrero
Amber Marrero works remotely on her senior capston design project.

For Amber Marrero '20, the capstone project as part of her software course tested her in ways she never could have imagined.

A cybersecurity and networks major, she and the members of her team were at work designing, developing, and creating a robot that would be able to navigate unknown spaces, recognize faces, and "converse" with others. The plan was to unveil the robot at the University's Centennial Ball.

Amid the University moving to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marrero and her teammates had to quickly figure out a way to continue development of the robot while team members continued their studies from home.

"I’ve learned that I underestimated myself and my capabilities ... I was able to overcome those obstacles and be more confident in the work I am producing."Amber Marrero '20

Marrero says the group was determined not to be stopped by these new logistics. They would just do what engineers and computer scientists do: They would problem solve their way around it, she says.

"Working on a project remotely did have its challenges, but we pushed through," Marrero says. "With the help of Professor Page, we were able to come up with a plan on how to approach working on this project with all of us being in different states.

"To communicate, we used Slack and Zoom conferencing," she continues. "For any documentation and presentations, we used Google Docs. In terms of the robot and its functions, we used IBM Watson Assistant, Ubuntu 1604, ROS Kinetic, and Tensorflow."

'Very essence of collaboration'
Image of Centennial Robot team.
Marrero (center) and her team had to complete the robot remotely due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The software capstone projects reflect the "very essence of collaboration," says Prof. Page, a lecturer in the Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science Department. Her students – computer science, computer engineering, and cybersecurity and networks majors – as well as several faculty advisers, industry leaders, and an array of University staff members, shared their expertise, skills, and resources to ensure the projects moved forward.

Soon after the University announced that the remainder of the spring semester would be conducted online, Prof. Page's students learned that the northeast regional conference of the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges – where two of the teams earned spots as finalists and the other two were invited to display their research posters – was cancelled as a result of the pandemic.

The four capstone projects included:

  • The conference finalist Centennial Robot team of Charisma Banks-Obanor '20, Justin Francis ’20, Noah Jorgensen ’20, John Lang ’20, Brendon Malouf ’20, Amber Marrero ’20, and Me’Lia Ramos ’20 worked on developing the robot and “learning about voice recognition, natural language processing, and facial recognition using machine learning autonomous robot control systems.” Marya Neary, the University’s campaign director, worked closely with the team. The Centennial Scholarship Ball has been postponed until October 24, but the project continues.
  • The second conference finalist team was Network Anomaly Detection. The group, which included Matt Grubelic ’20, Andrew Rittenhouse ’20, Anthony Saldana ’20, Chris Saliby ’20, and Luke Turbert ’20, “leveraged machine learning techniques to automatically detect anomalous traffic using the Domain Network System protocol, seeking to eliminate the need for manual examination of suspicious log files by allowing a machine-learning algorithm to make decisions.” They worked closely with Vahid Behzadan, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science and data science.
  • The ReverseU team of Steve Bumbera ’20, Matthew Piscitelli ’20, Illya Shavrov ’20, Adnan Sumra ’20, and Tyler Thomas ’20 collaborated with research advisor Ibrahim Baggili, Elder Family Chair, assistant dean and associate professor of computer science, to design a “collaborative web-based reverse engineering platform to provide an intuitive user-friendly experience that encourages collaborative and innovative thinking.”
  • The Land Maverick team of Aidan Conahan ’20, Ryan Morton ’20, Taliyah Rivera ’20, Jenna Uba ’20, and Austin Webber ’20 worked with Emily Yale, president, and Larry Studwell ’19, lead programmer, at Land Maverick in Branford to “replace the software of an existing robot so that it can be controlled by a remote as well as run autonomously.” The purpose of the robot is to monitor the health of soil on large pieces of property, initially targeting golf courses, by using a navigation system and measuring sensors.
'Flexibility and determination'

Prof. Page says the transition to remote learning required nimble thinking.

“One research group used Google Colaboratory so they could write code together using tools such as Jupyter Notebook or Google Docs,” she says. “Google Colaboratory allowed them to take advantage of the processing power of Google’s graphical processing units (GPUs) for machine learning.

Image of Charger robot.
The Charger robot.

“The two robot-based projects had additional challenges, which we worked with IT and our lab supervisor, Mark Morton, to address,” Prof. Page adds. “One obstacle was that the students could not meet physically for their safety, so only one student had the robot. The other students accessed the robot remotely.”

John Lang ’20 had the robot at his home, and he focused on developing parts using 3D printing, while other team members tackled other important tasks from their homes. He says the “flexibility and determination it takes” to collaborate in this way will serve him well in the workplace.

Marrero’s tasks included developing the exterior of the robot and writing the user manual. “This is being created for any office or person to use moving forward,” she says. “This will also be a foundation for future senior design groups that work on this project.”

'There is always a solution'

Working on such a complex project far from her team has taught Marrero a great deal, she says.

“I’ve learned that I underestimated myself and my capabilities,” she says. “There were times that I thought something was impossible to do, that I could not do it. But because of the support from my group, client, and professor, I was able to overcome those obstacles and be more confident in the work I am producing.

“There is always a solution and a way to be efficient in the work you do, even if it is in an environment you are not necessarily used to,” she adds.

Prof. Page says she is extremely proud of her students and not at all surprised by their resilience and ingenuity.

“These students worked hard for many months on these projects, and they were so devoted that they took home equipment, with our Chair’s and the project owner’s permission, in order to complete their work,” she says. “Throughout this process, they continued to find new and innovative ways to work together.

“They showed the will to persevere,” she adds. “Every one of my students is walking away from this semester with a new found confidence in their ability to overcome adversity. I think this is the birth of the next ‘greatest generation’ happening before our eyes.”