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Big data a big deal at engineering retreat

Researchers gauge impact on health and security

by Marc Ballon

Big data was the star at the annual retreat of the Integrated Media Systems Center, based at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Speaking before an enthusiastic crowd, IMSC researchers and others discussed big data and its impact on innovative transportation, social media, and security and health research projects.

IMSC Associate Director Ugur Demiryurek provided an overview of ClearPath, a smartphone traffic app created by him, IMSC Director Cyrus Shahabi and USC Viterbi PhD students.

Over the past year, Demiryurek said, the ClearPath team has improved the app so that it can now take into account the impact of traffic accidents such as predicted backlog and clear-time to calculate optimal routes. In addition, Demiryurek and his team collaborated with Oracle to extend ClearPath’s technology to fleet-routing in dynamic transportation networks, a project that received a 2013 Oracle Spatial and Graph Excellence Award in Research and Education.

Although not quite ready for commercial release, ClearPath has received good press, including a recent segment on NPR. The app incorporates past historical data, crunching real-time traffic data provided by Metro to perform its calculations. Supporters claim it cuts travel time an average of 18 percent.

Like ClearPath, MediaQ continues to improve. The online mobile media management system, which has been under development since 2010, now features Web services and mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, said Seon Ho Kim, the project’s lead researcher and IMSC associate director.

In the broadest sense, MediaQ allows smartphone and tablets users to take photos and videos from their devices and organize, share, trade and collect them. All user-generated content is uploaded into MediaQ’s server and automatically tagged with information such as when and where recorded and the direction the camera was pointing.

A MediaQ crowdsourcing function called GeoCrowd would allow news organizations to send out requests to citizen-journalists to take pictures or videos of riots, protests, fires and other breaking news. MediaQ’s potential is such that six international partner universities in Germany, China, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia plan to soon release the system to their students for research and other purposes, Kim said.

“We want to bring people’s content to you in your own way,” he said.

In the safety and security sector, Janus has leveraged big data to improve surveillance technology. Using an algorithm, Janus can extract events from reams of video, instantly analyzing when and where they occurred.

For instance, if a female USC student complains about being stalked on campus at a particular date and time, Janus can quickly sift through video images captured throughout the university to identify the potential harasser. Janus could also piece together time-lapsed pictures of him following her to provide further evidence to law enforcement personnel, IMSC Associate Director Luciano Nocera said.

“It’s been a great project,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot by doing fundamental research while showing how technology can help law enforcement.”

The National Institute of Justice funded Janus from 2011 until last month. IMSC plans to apply for a new grant, Nocera said.

IMSC, founded in 1996 by C. L. Max Nikias, now USC’s president, is an informatics research center that focuses on data-driven solutions for real-world challenges. Supported by industry partners such as Google, Oracle, Northrop Grumman and Microsoft, IMSC is one of only 46 existing National Science Foundation-sponsored engineering research centers.

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Big data a big deal at engineering retreat

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