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Replacing a Camera with a Computer: Computational Imaging with Professor Laura Walker

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How can we capture the world based on how light interacts? On November 1st, Professor Laura Walker spoke at Femtech Talk about how computational imaging does this. Computational imaging is a multidisciplinary field that blurs the lines of electrical engineering, computer science, and biology. It focuses on the physics of how light propagates, and the algorithms that can be developed for optimization.

The Computer as a Lens

But what exactly is computational imaging? What kind of problems can be solved in the field? Walker describes computational imaging as hardware and software working together. Optics, Walker says, is trying to design lenses in a camera so that they take better pictures. But computational imaging is “rethinking how we make this camera in the first place”! Traditional imaging systems are boring. “Can computers do the job of lenses?”, she proposes to her audience.

More specifically, computational imaging focuses on how to design the image system, given sensors and an object. The design process is like art, Walker explains. The design must be practical, cheap, and efficient, so computational imagers must consider how to redesign hardware for easy computation. They also must be familiar both with optics and signal processing to accomplish this.

Applying Computational Imaging to the Real World

The applications of computational imaging are numerous and varied. Walker introduces the Light Field camera, one such application. This camera collects data in a different way than a normal camera, so that you can change the focus of a picture from the background to the foreground after you’ve taken it! Walker explains that the rays hitting the sensor can be computationally back traced to accomplish the digital refocusing.

Another application is Computational phase imaging, an application of computational imaging that essentially gets a map of surface shape and the density of cells. It helps scientists see which cells are transparent, and is therefore useful for disease diagnosis. In malaria, for example, it allows us to look for an infected cell among tens of thousands of red blood cells!

Getting into Research as an Undergrad

And how might someone get involved in computational imaging? Walker mentions she got involved in optics quite randomly; she emailed a bunch of CS professors and happened to get a position in optics! She also says that she did a lot of work in signal processing as an undergrad. Most importantly, the Berkeley Center of Computational Imaging is expanding! She greatly encourages undergrads to get involved in research; in computational imaging, there are both building and coding projects for undergrads to work on.

Walker also emphasizes the importance of having diversity in technology, and of always checking your biases. She encourages her audience: “Be bold. Be resilient. This is wonderful place to work in, sometimes not the best culture and environment, but you can get around that and be happy.”

Written by Michelle Verghese

Ashwin Vijayakumar talks working with startups at Intel

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Ashwin Vijayakumar is the Lead applications architect at Intel Corporation, and works to directly with startups during their development to get them to market faster. On Tuesday October 25th, he talked to Femtech about his latest projects and his advice for prospective entrepreneurs.

At Intel, Vijayakumar aims to help startups attain a faster path to production. He does this by working to create technology that will help startups through the design process, so that they can get to market as quickly as possible. An example of one such project is Intel ® Real Sense™. This product features three cameras – a 1080p HD camera, an infrared camera, and an infrared laser projector. Together, it can serve a variety of uses for a startup working on product design because it enables the user to actually scan objects in 3D!

“What is perception? How do we perceive our environment?” Vijayakumar asks his audience at FemTech Talk last Tuesday. He revealed that the idea of perception was key in the design of sensors in the revolutionary technology behind Intel ® Real Sense™. The technology, Vijayakumar explained, is much like the human eye. Perceptual computing is implemented – which is how we give machines the sensors and intelligence to perceive its environment like we can. Doing this is complex: we must be able to give the robot instructions via some kind of software so that it is capable of object recognition.

The sensors themselves are very advanced. The product actually features two types of depth infrared sensors, one for time of flight and the other for structured flight. Time of flight sends the beam of light to the object and estimates how long it takes for the beam to come back. Structured light on the other hand casts a beam of light and creates a set of features. Together, these depth sensors allow continuous movement to accompanied by continuous depth perception by the machine.  Ultimately, the processor can sense depth and track motion, allowing the machine to sense objects in three dimensions!

Vijayakumar first became interested in the topics he would later work on at Intel back in college, when he wrote his master thesis on automotive electronics. Talking about the ideas with professors and fellow students helped grow his understanding and interest in the field.

And what’s it really like working for Intel? “Intel is home. It gives me the freedom to do what I want to do…Intel has a diverse culture and helps people grow from a social perspective as well”, Vijayakumar describes. The company, he notes, is quite large but still feels like a startup because of the smaller groups it is broken up into. Intel is also very committed to fostering a diverse workforce, Vijayakumar says. From his experience, a gender balanced team is extremely beneficial because it brings diversified thought: “Men solve things differently than women…Gender brings different points of view”. And these ideas align well with Intel’s, he adds.

Finally, Vijayakumar was able to offer some valuable advice to future entrepreneurs – or anyone interested in creating a startup. He reveals that hands down the most important thing is to work hard. Secondly, don’t worry too much about whether someone else will sue or steal your idea – simply “solve a problem that’s existing”. There are so many ideas being patented, he says, but not being executed. Execute on the idea!

 Written by Michelle Verghese

FEM Tech wins Oski Award for Best Event

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FEM Tech is the latest recipient of the award for Best Program/Event of the Year at the Oski Awards, held at Pauley Ballroom on May 4. The event is hosted by Berkeley’s LEAD Center, an organization providing support to student leadership on campus.

FEM Tech was nominated after hosting a Girls in Tech event in April which explored roles in the industry with speakers from companies like Github and LinkedIn. The event was sponsored by Google.

FEM Tech Share is there for all your coding needs

FEM Tech hosted its first “Share” event earlier tonight, a new self-paced, project based coding workshop. Here, you can get answers to all your coding queries, from Data Science 8 homework to iOS app development to building your own website. Come eat free ice cream (or other unmentionables) and mind meld with women in tech! Scroll below for photos of tonight’s event.

FEM Tech Share meets every Friday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in Jacobs 310.

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Melisa Lin, founder and CEO of Nommery, talks to FEM Tech

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Melisa Lin, founder and CEO of restaurant meet-up site Nommery, chatted with FEM Tech earlier this month about her journey from Berkeley student to owner of one of the most promising start-ups in the industry. 

Nommery has its roots in SF Foodies, the other meet-up community Lin started years ago, back when she worked at Veritable Vegetable, the country’s oldest organic produce distributor.

“There was a point when I was thinking, should I be trying to advance my career in the food industry and progress further there, or can I build something out of this community that is exploding,” Lin said. The group was holding 100 events a month, and filled entire restaurants on some nights.

But before Veritable and SF Foodies, Lin was a student at Berkeley studying mostly, well, food: besides selling her own, homemade granola, leading organic gardening at People’s Park and basically majoring in food (B.S. In Conservation and Resource Studies with a focus on Sustainable Food Business), she also helped found the Student Food Collective, the vegan food-haven located on Bancroft.

A veritable violinist (she’s performed on tour in Europe with the Stanford symphony and at the Davis Symphony Hall in San Francisco) Lin says her love of music taught her the discipline needed to get Nommery off the ground.

“As a performer, you learn how to present yourself in front of a large audience, learn how to command, learn how to project your voice.” This skill has invariably helped in talking to big names, like, for instance, the CTO of Coffee Meets Bagel, a user of and mentor to Nommery.

People First, Company Last

Nommery sprouted in a backwards way, launching with a consumer base already established, with little question as to its viability.

“Having a community first, and understanding what they want and building it for them makes it worth it, because you’re saving time, you’re saving money on developing. It just seems like a no brainer to me.”

Lin says there are three things to have established before looking for funding: the minimal viable product (your website), sales and marketing. Sales will prove the viability of your product, which will particularly capture venture capitalists’ interest.

Logging onto Nommery, there are a handful of restaurant meet-ups created by different hosts at different price points. The cheapest meal is a non-inclusive RSVP of $5; the higher priced reservations can climb up to $300, but that includes everything from appetizers to the tip.

She describes the mood at restaurant meet-ups as “warm, open, excited.” The meet-ups have attracted many food business executives from companies like CISCO, Walmart and OpenTable.

“I’m just kind of awestruck, still,” Lin says. “To go to an event and dine with someone, and not have them mention who they are, and then go on LinkedIn later and see that they’re the VP of eCommerce at Walmart, is kind of mindboggling. It’s amazing how down to earth they all are and how humble they all are.”

Nommery has plans to expand into Chicago, New York and Los Angeles as well as overseas in late 2016.