Missouri State University
Computer Science Blog

The capacity to improve daily life

Two students working with a robot

“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” This famous quote may echo in the minds of some when the term “robot” is brought into a conversation. Though we don’t have fully autonomous, human-like robots just yet, they are being used for a number of jobs and functions already.

“Robots have been a significant part of our lives for quite some time,” said Anthony Clark, assistant professor of computer science at Missouri State University. “A large part of automated manufacturing and fabrication is completed with robots, and we are starting to see these industrial-style devices work their way into more applications, such as brewing coffee and preparing food. They are also used quite heavily in scientific exploration.”

Robots in centimeters

Clark’s research focuses on small—think centimeters—autonomous robots. He studies how the adaptability and robustness of robotic devices can be improved. To conduct this research, Clark uses different methods:

  • Evolutionary optimization – A population of robots compete against each other and the better robots are preferentially chosen to create the next generation.
  • Bioinspiration – Researchers take design ideas from living animals. For example, the flexibility of a fish’s caudal fin, or the adhesive properties of a gecko’s appendages.
  • Adaptive control theory – This includes a large amount of rigorously proven methods and practices for dealing with varying environmental conditions.
  • Soft robotics – Traditional rigid components and actuators are incorporated with flexible materials to improve the performance and safety of designs.

‘Robots have the capacity to improve lives’

Though a majority of robots are used in manufacturing, they can also be used in environments that are too hazardous for humans, such as locating victims during disaster recovery or assisting humans in dangerous occupations such as mining and firefighting.

Robots have also started being used in the field of health care.

“Two applications that we’ll see soon are in assistance and surgery,” said Clark. “Robotic devices are being developed to act as medical assistants where they can help check patient vitals and deliver medication at set times. This has the chance to bring down medical costs for people who cannot easily afford in-home caretakers.

“Robots are also being developed to aid in surgery and other in-hospital scenarios. The precision of robotic devices has the potential to reduce the risks of some surgical procedures.”

Robotics at Missouri State

As the field of robotics grows, so does the interest at Missouri State. Clark is currently working on an autonomous mobile robot that can adaptively adjust its traction, and some faculty members are using robots as tools in their work.

“We are in the early stages of creating a student robotics team, and several students have begun working on their own robot-based projects,” said Clark. “To address these interests, MSU’s library is establishing a robotics space where students can come check-out mobile robots and learn to program them.”

For more information, contact Clark at 417-836-5438.

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‘Are you still watching?’: How website metrics sell advertising space

Dr. Iqbal
Dr. Razib Iqbal

Has Netflix ever asked you the question, “Are you still watching?” If so, you’ve experienced a small piece of the power of website metrics at work.

Websites use metrics to measure user engagement. When you haven’t clicked on anything in a while, they begin to worry you might not be paying attention anymore.

These metrics can be useful for more than just making sure you do not miss an episode of your favorite show.

Dr. Razib Iqbal, assistant professor of computer science at Missouri State University, studies how website owners use metrics to sell space to advertisers.

The problem

Online advertising is big business. In 2013, revenues reached nearly $43 billion, a 17 percent increase from 2012, according to Iqbal.

To attract advertisers, website owners must have strong data that justifies the price they want to charge. This is where metrics come into play.

One of the most important metrics used when selling advertising space is the duration index. This index shows how much time a user spends on a specific site.

While this data can seem helpful, Iqbal warns that it can often be misleading.

“The duration index cannot measure time away from the computer or when the user switches to a different tab,” said Iqbal. “Because of this, these metrics have some drawbacks.”

Explore a computer science degree

The solution

To address this issue, Iqbal proposed two new metrics in his recent conference paper, “Measuring Actual Visitor Engagement in News Websites.”

Focus ratio tracks the difference between the time a webpage has been open versus the time it is visible on the screen.

Active ratio goes one level deeper to track the difference between the time a webpage is visible on the screen versus the time the user is actually interacting with the page.

This data offers a deeper look into online browsing behavior that was not possible before.

“These metrics help identify the webpages where users spend a lot of time and where they interact with the content most,” said Iqbal. “These pages can then be promoted to potential advertisers at a fair price based on much more reliable data.”

For more information, contact Iqbal at 417-836-4944.

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National Student Employment Week

National Student Employment week was April 11-15, 2016. We have four great student employees in the Computer Science Department. Sam Bumgardner and Klayton Curran both work as tutors in the Cheek 213 lab. Jared Hall is a grader for Dr. Jamil Saquer. Tara Walton is a grader for Dr. Yang Wang and also works as a tutor in the Cheek 213 lab. Tara was recently nominated for Student Employee of the Year and attended the Student Employee of the Year Reception. We appreciate all of our student workers and the help they give other computer science students and faculty. We couldn’t do it without you!!!Tara Walton

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Announcing a new degree option for Computer Science majors!!

We’re happy to announce a newly-approved, second degree option for a Computer Science major at Missouri State University! Both degree options are Computer Science degrees. The existing option will be called the “Computer Science” option, and the new option will be called “Software Development.” The Software Development option encourages a broader, multi-talented and multi-disciplinary degree outcome. Students choose any Missouri State University minor as a complement to their Computer Science studies. More information can be found on our website soon.

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Two new faculty joining the Computer Science Department

Dr. Razib Iqbal joined the faculty in Fall 2015 as an Assistant Professor. Born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dr. Iqbal’s academic background is in Computer Science. He earned a Bachelor’s degree from North South University in 2004. He then moved to Canada to pursue graduate studies at University of Ottawa. He received his Master’s degree in 2006 and defended his PhD dissertation in December 2010. His academic and professional experiences are in the areas of multimedia communications, software engineering, and software quality assurance.

In the Fall of 2016 Anthony Clark will be joining the Computer Science faculty as an Assistant Professor. Mr. Clark will finish up his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Michigan State University this summer. Mr. Clark’s research is in the area of optimization and control algorithms for small, autonomous robots. His robot designs incorporate adaptive and self-modeling algorithms to overcome unexpected damage and/or changing conditions while balancing trade-offs among different objectives (e.g., speed and efficiency). In the fall he will teach CSC 325 Algorithms and Advanced Data Structures and CSC 333 Languages and Machines.

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Missouri State computer science student wins awards

Gregory Donnell, a computer science major at Missouri State University, has been competing in programming competitions his entire college career. Donnell recently placed 1st in the Mobile Applications division and 2nd in the Microsoft Office division of the Association of Information Technology Association conference last month.

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Expanding Your Horizons teaches disaster preparedness to middle school females

Keeping young women interested in the sciences is a goal for all STEM professionals, and each year Missouri State University’s College of Natural and Applied Sciences hosts Expanding Your Horizons to reach middle school aged females. This year, the theme was “Introduction to CERT (Community Emergency Response Team).”

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Students showcase new mobile app for Missouri State visitors

mockupTwo computer science students, Joshua Li and Greg Donnell, have demonstrated a mobile app for guidance to high-resolution Missouri State University locations from a user’s present location. The app uses GPS and other features typical on modern smartphones.

The app has potential to guide visitors in the “last ten miles” of a visit – once they get to the Springfield interstate exit, guide them straight to the parking lot and destination building.  In addition to permanent buildings, the menu could contain information on one-time or annual events, with guidance to the check-in location for that event. Additional features may include a live superposition of a visitor’s pathway upon live photo or map feed.

Screenshot_DThese students are a point of pride for our department. Nice work!

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