Following a three-year, COVID-19-induced hiatus, Bits On Our Mind — an annual showcase of technological projects created by Cornell students — returned to Duffield Hall on April 27 for its 25th anniversary, with students exhibiting projects such as multiplayer games, an algorithm that quantifies xenophobia and a map of New York City’s trees made using remote sensing technology.
The showcase provides project teams with the opportunity to receive public feedback, network with industry professionals and win monetary awards and trophies distributed by representatives from BOOM’s sponsor companies and faculty at the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.
This year’s BOOM attendees included Cornell students and faculty, local Ithaca residents and Code Red Robotics, a high school robotics club local to Ithaca. People of all ages were invited to attend the event — though Danica Rickards, the Cornell Bowers CIS program coordinator and BOOM committee chair, emphasized the importance of youth engagement with science, technology, engineering and math.
“Cornell Bowers CIS wants to help young people from all backgrounds learn about opportunities in tech, so that they will have the chance to pursue satisfying and much-needed careers in the STEM fields, if they so choose,” Rickards said.
The presented projects run the gamut of technological capabilities. Some students presented video games designed for players’ enjoyment — such as Cosmic Swing, Eudaemon and No Screws Attached. Other projects were physical products that BOOM attendees could interact with — like Spectrumsheet, which allows its users to compose their own music using paint markers that correspond to music notes, and the Bookkeeper, an inconspicuous device disguised as a stack of books, in which users can store distracting devices.
“The Bookkeeper… looks like an ordinary stack of books, but the top book is real and the rest are fake,” said Bookkeeper creator Joshua Blair grad. “When you pull off the top book, the platform rises up, giving you LEDs, and the bottom book is actually a secret compartment [that stores your distracting devices]. So basically this keeps track of how long you’ve been reading and then once you hit [your reading goal time] you can put the book back… pop it open [and] grab your [distractions].”
Many BOOM presenters expressed the desire to remedy problems faced by the Cornell community — such as Rica Craig ’23, the creator of Ithaca Hunt. Designed with first-year students as the target users, Ithaca Hunt is an app that seeks to help new Cornell students acclimate to Ithaca by connecting them to other students and local businesses and events.
“The project was for Information Science 3450: Human-Computer Interaction Design, where we had to design a solution surrounding a user problem we identified earlier in the semester,” Craig said. “So, we decided that the target audience will be first-year students who want to explore outside of campus but didn’t know how to do so.”
Similarly, the team behind Resell, an app that allows students to list and sell used items, hopes to provide solutions to on-campus sustainability. The app helps users reuse existing goods and alleviate the waste that comes with discarding clothing during move-out.
“Many seniors who graduate… can’t bring all their clothes back [home with them],” said Eddie Chi ’25, a member of the Cornell AppDev team behind Resell. “With our app, we want to solve that.”
While many BOOM project teams focused on solving issues within the University itself, others aimed to connect with communities outside of campus.
AI-Learners, for instance, is a publicly-available, educational math website that provides accessible math learning exercises for children with physical, cognitive and behavioral disabilities. Created by Cornell students, their intention is to aid in the learning process of children with disabilities through understanding their specific needs.
“We’re right now targeting pre-K to second grade, and our goal is to make a website that’s accessible for kids with a wide range of disabilities,” said Juan Delgado Mayo ’24, a researcher for the site. “We try [to] use a lot of different accessible and customization features so that a student can adapt a game to their specific standards.”
Another project aiming to address larger issues is the Xenophobia Meter, which uses a classification system created by the Cornell Law School to measure how xenophobic a given Tweet is. The project’s team created machine learning models that can discern the intensity of xenophobia in a tweet and hopes to use this technology to assess the degree of xenophobia on a national scale.
“One main motivation was to determine how xenophobic certain areas could be. … What we want to do [later] is take the U.S… take the most trending tweets in each state and see how xenophobic each state [is],” said Ray Zhou ’24, an undergraduate student researcher who worked on the project.
Other projects, like Treefolio — a digital simulation that utilizes artificial intelligence to map trees in New York City — also seek to combat inequality. The application’s creators, Joe Ferdinando grad, Sarang Pramode grad and Jiahao Dong grad, aim to use the technology to address tree-planting inequalities within the city.
As a research associate in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, Ferdinando shared that the application is designed to solve problems from a city planning perspective.
“Are tree planting strategies in cities equitable? Are they providing equal benefit to everyone across the city? Are there ways that we could better plan for trees?” Ferdinando said.
The BOOM Showcase concluded with an award ceremony for the participants, in which representatives from LinkedIn, Goldman Sachs, EY, Air Liquide, Pepsico, Sandia National Laboratories and Boeing awarded one project each with $750 and a commemorative trophy. Grant award winners included Xenophobia Meter, AI-Learners and Treefolio.
Additionally, Cornell Bowers faculty presented three awards in the categories of computer science, information science and statistics and data science.
Aside from the monetary rewards and trophies, BOOM also offered the opportunity for practical experience and networking for the project teams presenting.
“BOOM is a wonderful opportunity for students to showcase their technology projects and innovations and to gain practice talking with a wide variety of people, ranging from school children to experts in their field,” Rickards said. “Presenters can hone their project elevator pitches and network with corporate sponsors as they discuss their work. It’s a unique opportunity rarely afforded to students.”
Christopher Walker is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].