Inside USD

USD’s Ellis Reaches National Security Finals

Friday, May 13, 2011

A University of San Diego student was one of 10 finalists and only one of two undergraduates chosen for the finals of the fifth annual National Security Innovation Competition held late last month at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Joseph Ellis, majoring in both electrical engineering and mathematics, created a program to track a moving image for the competition open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Image recognition technology of a static object, like the kind used to confirm Osama bin Laden’s identity, is already widely used. Ellis’ project takes that further to help identify a moving image. Using Matlab, a sophisticated computer language, Ellis created a program to follow an image as it moves and changes in size and perspective.

In his presentation, he demonstrated a USD Torero logo moving toward and away from a video camera, thus changing its size. He was able to follow and generate a map of where the logo goes, even though the image moves and changes by updating the template image as the object moves in the video.

The technology has applications for surveillance and national security but it could also be used for commercial purposes as well, such as for tracking merchandise and materials, Ellis said.

“Joe is an extraordinary student,” said USD Professor of Electrical Engineering Kathleen Kramer who was his faculty advisor on the project. “His own work has brought a distinct new line of research into video tracking,” she said. “Where previously we had been using image correlation as a tool to combine different types of data, Joe’s work allows for better understanding and interpretation of video information.”

Ellis has developed his research skills “at an impressive pace,” said Kramer, adding that “he has now authored two publications related to his work in venues where he is being reviewed against students with far more experience.”

The competition in Colorado Springs was sponsored by the National Homeland Defense Foundation to address national security problems and present the project to a broad audience of industry, academic and government organizations. Sean Roche, director for the Office of Science & Technology at the CIA, was the speaker for the event.

“It was a great experience,” said Ellis, who presented his research on April 29. His parents, Greg and Mary Ann of Las Cruces, N.M., and both sets of grandparents were able to watch him compete.

A well-rounded student, Ellis played soccer at USD his freshman year and considered majoring in history or becoming a sportswriter before deciding to get into engineering. He hasn’t decided on graduate school but the experience of competing against graduate students has convinced him to do so. UCSD, MIT and Columbia are a few of the universities he’s considering applying to following his graduation from USD in December.

— Liz Harman

Updated on 5/18/2012

Following his graduation, Ellis began working for The MITRE Corp., a nonprofit organization that provides systems engineering, research and development, and information technology support to the government. He will be leaving this summer to earn his PhD in electrical engineering from Columbia University on a full scholarsip.

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