Columbia Engineers Take Top Honors at NYC Media Lab’s Annual Summit

Oct 02 2019 | By Jesse Adams

For the third year in a row, Columbia engineers took home top honors at NYC Media Lab’s Demo Expo awards this fall, garnering some $10,000 in prizes.

More than 1,000 engineers, entrepreneurs, designers, technologists and more convened in downtown Brooklyn September 26 for NYC Media Lab’s annual summit, hosted this year by CUNY’s New York City College of Technology and NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. Among the day’s highlights was the sprawling Demo Expo showcasing 100 emerging media and technology prototypes developed by faculty and student groups from across the Media Lab’s consortium of city universities, including Columbia, Cornell Tech, CUNY, The New School, NYU, and Pratt.

Nima Mesgarani, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Columbia PhD candidates Hassan Akbari and Bahar Khalighinejad MS ’16 MPhil ’19 were part of the team that earned the $5,000 Grand Prize Overall award for the project Reconstructing Intelligible Speech from the Human Brain. Partnering with neuroscientists, neurosurgeons, and other researchers, they used electrodes to record the brain signals of subjects listening to speech and, by utilizing deep neural network models, managed to reconstruct that speech from the neural responses with impressive clarity.

“We eavesdrop on neurons,” said Khalighinejad, a member of Mesgarani’s Neural Acoustic Processing Lab. “By incorporating machine learning algorithms, we’ve managed to translate neuron talking into human talking.”

The technology promises to one day give voice to people who lack the ability to communicate by rendering their brain signals intelligible.

“Being recognized by NYC Media Lab enables us to connect with many brilliant people who might be interested in investing in this work in the future,” said Akbari, who is also a member of the Digital Video Multimedia Lab headed by Shih-Fu Chang, senior executive vice dean of Columbia Engineering, the Richard Dicker Professor of Telecommunications, and professor of electrical engineering and of computer science. “It means a lot and is worth so much more than the award.”

Receiving the $3,000 Second Prize Overall was Project Fovea, co-founded by computer scientist Sharath Munna Koorathota MS’19, who has also studied with biomedical engineering Professor Paul Sajda. The startup integrates eye tracking research with video production in order to better personalize multimedia content delivery.

Project Fovea Introduction

Columbia Engineering researchers Carmine Elvezio MS’12, Frank Ling ’18, and Jen-Shuo Liu from Professor of Computer Science Steve Feiner’s group won the $1,000 Top Prize in the Future Interfaces and Spatial Computing category for Bounce! Collaborative VR for Low-Latency Interaction. They were able to collaboratively roll and bounce a virtual ball on a platform, which could help advance capabilities in remote therapy for motor rehabilitation.


Collaborative Virtual Reality for Low-Latency Interaction

Working under professors Gil Zussman and Ethan Katz-Bassett from electrical engineering, PhD candidate Craig Gutterman MS’13, Sarthak Arora ’19, and Trey Gilliland ’22 were among a team awarded the $1,000 Top Prize in the Enabling Technology category for Requet: Real-Time QoE Detection for Encrypted YouTube Traffic. The project uses machine learning to enable consumer satisfaction measurements in encrypted online traffic.


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