Logo: University of Southern California

IMSC’s "Geo-Immersion" Vision is Inspiring Students and Faculty - and Attracting Industry Attention

“This paradigm enables people to connect across time and space. Isn’t this what humanity is all about?”

February 25, 2011 —

One of the Viterbi School’s longest-running research efforts recently assembled an enthusiastic industry audience to hear about its new realm: space. Not the space of rockets and satellites, but the space of people living and working together.

Viterbi School Dean Yannnis C. Yortsos and IMSC Director Cyrus Shahabi
Cyrus Shahabi, director of the USC Integrated Media Systems Center, presided over a demonstration of IMSC’s “Geo-Immersion” vision -- an effort to apply sophisticated IT techniques to designated geographical areas. The pilot Geo-Immersion locale is the USC University Park campus, or “iCampus.”

Introduced by Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, the daylong retreat attracted an audience of representatives from companies like Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, NEC, Northrop Grumman, Oracle, Qualcomm, and Samsung, including many of the 30 who serve on the IMSC advisory panel. It also brought dozens of USC faculty, not just from the Viterbi School but from the USC College and the schools of Architecture; Policy, Planning and Development; the Annenberg School for Communication, Keck School of Medicine; the Office of the President; and the Stevens Institute for Innovation. The audience also included several directors of other centers at USC such as CiSoft, CREATE and the Energy Institute.

The retreat presented work in three areas: iCampus (Intelligent Campus); iWatch (Intelligent Surveillance) and CT (Intelligent Transportation). The focus of the efforts ranged from making buildings more comfortable for their occupants, to ways of helping people working in those buildings get to work faster, or helping them to get out of those buildings quickly and safely in the event of a disaster.

Throughout, the effort was to consistently make spaces more user friendly using a two-way back-and-forth process that both effectively gathered information from people sharing an area (viz, the USC campus) and then efficiently distributing the information back to them and to the area’s infrastructure organization. The ubiquity of easily programmable cell phones and GPS positioning systems is a key enabling factor.

For example:  Burcin Becerik-Gerber of the Astani Department described a system aimed at a win-win: making buildings more comfortable to their occupants and making the buildings more energy efficient. The system uses hard data from battery-powered electronic sensors distributed through the structures, three to five per floor, and subjective input from building occupants as reported on a cell phone app.

On a similar but more personalized note, undergraduate Nicholas Bopp described a system enabling him to get to his lecture on time while grabbing a quick bite.  He uses a system that instantly finds the food trucks on the path from his house to his lecture hall, while tracking the arrival time of campus shuttle vehicles passing the food truck.

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IMSC iCampus program director SeonHo Kim, right, with undergrad Nicholas Bopp, who has created an app that gets him around the iCampus.

Other presentation titles, clearly in the same realm, included “Technical Challenges, the Fun of the Road,” “iWatch: Connecting-the-Dots in Real-Time,” “3D Object Recognition from LiDAR Point Clouds”

Shahabi has been developing these new “Geo-Immersion” ideas, which form the basis for what he calls a ‘reboot’ of IMSC.  He became IMSC director in June, 2010 – 14 years after joining the starting-up center as a research assistant in 1996.

He discusses the emergence of “Geo-Immersion paradigm” of IMSC on the IMSC blog.

“The paradigm,” he writes, “uses the four dimensions of 'what, when, where and who' to enable people to naturally operate in this hybrid virtual-real world. After all, the human brain is wired to operate in time and space. For example, I am obsessed with planning my future based on where and when (conflicting with my spiritual teaching of living in the present). Then why not use the same concepts in the virtual world to both operate more naturally (by searching, filtering and customizing the information) and better integrate the real-world data, phenomena and observations into the virtual world.

“I am excited about this new paradigm as it encompasses research in many of my favorite topics such as multimedia, participatory-sensing, privacy, trust, web, geospatial and temporal data management, etc. But more importantly, it brings up new fundamental research challenges in computer and social sciences.

“For example, how would one blend social-networks (represented as a graph) with geospatial (represented as 2D or 3D space) and temporal (represented as points or intervals) spaces? Is it possible to derive social-networks by analyzing people’s movements in time and space? How about the other way around?

“At IMSC,” Shahabi’s explication concludes, “We have just started scratching the surface of this transformative paradigm. But above all, this paradigm enables people to 'connect' across time and space. Isn’t this what humanity is all about after all?”

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Shahabi discusses Geo-Immersion. To view the complete program and many of the presentations, click on the image.
At the event, following the research presentations a panel discussed this overall vision under the topic “The Geo-Social Revolution: Hype or Real?”

Moderated by Shahabi, panelists and their perspectives included Geo: Beth Driver (NGA) Social; Greg Badros (Facebook) Geo-Social Applications; Jonathan Taplin (USC) Geo-Social Market; Peter Marx (Qualcomm) Geo-Social Research; Shashi Shekhar (UMN).

Shahabi said the response following the event was exceptional. “I was impressed by the richness of the program and your amazing hospitality,” wrote one industry participant, before launching into discussion of specific application possibilities he thought might work for his company.

“We would be very much interested in making this connection," wrote another, expressing specific interest in iCampus. "Thank you for hosting an excellent seminar,” wrote a third. “I learned many things, and have several areas where I think [my company] and USC should work more closely together."

"You may be contacted by one of our people, who are interested in the geo-social computing concept." wrote a fourth. "Thanks for inviting me to the meeting. I met so many smart people."

Shahabi hopes for tangible support in the form of funding to carry on many of the projects discussed. IMSC, working with the USC METRANS center recently received a $1.8 million grant to analyze Los Angeles traffic patterns.