The collaboration between Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass., and Boston’s Wentworth Institute of Technology began, as so many collaborations do, with a personal connection: Rob Muehlbauer of Axis and Annamaria Wenner, Wentworth’s dean of students, have been friends since the days when Annamaria lived in Rob’s building in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. So when the business development staff at Axis wanted to try out a partnership with a university computer science program, Rob thought of Wentworth.
I feel confident that Axis, an industry-leading manufacturer of security cameras, is familiar to readers of this blog. Judging from visitors to Axis’s Partner Pavilion at ISC West, Rob and four Wentworth alumni may have been the only attendees familiar with Wentworth.
Founded in Boston in 1904, Wentworth began as a trade school, teaching skills such as bricklaying and carpentry. In subsequent decades, Wentworth evolved to offer associate degrees in technology fields and related subjects; then bachelor’s degrees; and, in the last three years, graduate programs in Architecture, Construction Management, and Facilities Management. Today, Wentworth enrolls some 3,800 students in 19 majors, including a range of engineering and engineering technology programs; design fields including architecture, interior design and industrial design; several management options (facilities, construction, technology management, and entrepreneurship); and applied math. Students are very career-oriented, and all Wentworth undergraduate curricula require two semesters of co-op work experience. Most importantly for Axis, Wentworth has a strong Department of Computer Science and Networking, including 14 full-time faculty and some 450 undergraduate majors — a perfect setting to see what applications might develop from giving bright, curious undergraduates access to Axis cameras, training, and technical support.
For those of us at Wentworth, collaboration with Axis offers precisely the kind of learning opportunities we want for our students. Wentworth’s provost, Russ Pinizzotto, has long championed interdisciplinary project-based learning (IPBL) as an alternative to traditional classroom lectures. Wentworth’s recently adopted strategic plan calls for the university to become a national leader in industry-collaborative IPBL over the next 20 years. Partnerships with firms such as Axis offer lots of opportunities for learning both in and out of class, as well as relationships that can lead to co-op and full-time job opportunities.
The collaboration between Axis and Wentworth has yielded promising results. Axis cameras have been used in Computer Science classes: for instance, Professor Leon Deligiannidis has had students in his Parallel Processing class do (almost) real-time modification of video images from Axis cameras, at 30 frames per second. With varying amounts of faculty supervision, a half-dozen students have been working independently on applications for Axis cameras. Two of those applications were featured at ISC West. Sophomore Joshua Ramirez demonstrated an object-recognition system (developed to provide facial recognition for staff entering and exiting the broadcast booth at Wentworth’s online radio station), while freshman
Nicholas Gelfman displayed an application that measures velocity and distance of an object coming straight toward (or away from) the camera.
This summer, Professor Durga Suresh will offer her senior project students the option of developing applications for Axis cameras. Students may pursue an application of their own devising, or build on suggestions from Axis engineer Bjorn Berglund (who will be making a return trip from Sweden in mid-June to offer training and technical advice) or Axis partner Elerts (a Wentworth collaboration that grew out of our work with Axis).
I’ve been extremely pleased by our almost year-long relationship with Axis. In addition to the learning opportunities for our students, the connection with Axis has exposed our students to the many interesting career opportunities in video analysis and Web-based security; raised Wentworth’s visibility in the important and growing security industry; led to secondary relationships with Axis clients and partners; and demonstrated to other departments on campus the benefits of industry-collaborative IPBL. Based on our experience with Axis, we are looking for other companies with potential for win-win collaboration.