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News Archive : January - March 2014

York to host NASA Space Apps Challenge 2014 for second year running

Date Added: 19th March 2014
Join us for one of world’s largest coding events, hosted by NASA on 12-13 April 2014, and design an app that could end up in space!

The Space Apps Challenge is a global student-organised event created by NASA, its supporting agencies and collaborating companies. The Challenge takes place at locations across the globe simultaneously, and the Department of Computer Science at the University of York is among the 83 host locations.

The Challenge is a codeathon-style event, which will bring together people interested in collaborating on developing solutions to address some of NASA's real-life challenges, to improve life on Earth and in space. Challenges cover five areas – technology in space; human space flight; asteroids; Earth watch; and robotics - and data visualisation and educational challenges will cut across all five themes. Find out more about the challenges involved at

The challenge is an international collaboration between government agencies, organisations, academic institutions and individuals from across the globe. Participants will work together in teams to create these solutions over the two-day event. Over 9,000 people participated simultaneously in last year’s event from over 50 locations on the globe.

York's event is organised and run by PhD students from the Department of Computer Science, and will also include involvement from industrial partners. The York event is sponsored by the Department of Computer Science, Google, the Met Office, The Test People and ETAS. Several of the sponsors will host stands at the event and provide local prizes, and act as judges.

Pedro Ribeiro, a PhD student in York’s Department of Computer Science, is one of the organisers of the York student-led event. He said: “We’re really excited about hosting Space Apps in York, and the event has been made possible by the generous support from both our academic and industrial partners. Anyone who has an interest in space or Earth-related sciences can get involved, and work with others to develop their skills and make a difference to human space travel and exploration.

“It’s a unique opportunity to compete with people from all over the world – and to showcase your skills not just to industry at a local level, but to NASA and its supporting agencies and collaborating companies from all over the world.”

Participants are encouraged to form teams, whose members can be either physically co-located or collaborating remotely from other locations. Local winners will be nominated to compete at a global level, and winning global projects will go on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with the winning teams receiving special attention from NASA to further develop their app.

Between 60 and 80 people are expected to take part in the two-day challenge at York, with additional input from virtual participants from across the UK and beyond. The NASA Space Apps Challenge will take place from 9.30am on Saturday, 12 April until 6.30pm on Sunday, 13 April. Before the event ends, teams will present their solutions to a panel of judges and their peers attending the event. The challenge is open to anyone interested in helping humankind explore space.

To join the challenge at York visit

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By taking part, you could be creating something that may be blasted into space in the near future!

Fancy seeing Google Glass in action? Head down to Venturefest this week

Date Added: 11th March 2014
Computer Science student Sam Heather will be demonstrating Google Glass at Venturefest in York on 13 March 2014.

Sam recently took an internship at Google in Zurich, and there had the opportunity to try the new Google Glass. Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head mounted display (see the picture of Sam above, modelling his Glass). Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format, that can communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands.

Sam is a second year student on our MEng in Computer Science with a year in industry, and is currently evaluating Google Glass. His interest in the technology is its possible applications to helping those with disabilities.

Sam said, "Venturefest is a free one-day event showcasing the latest science and technology from Yorkshire's entrepreneurs. I'll be there to demo Google Glass as a piece of wearable technology. Although the uptake of Glass in the US has now got underway, with many large companies now developing Glassware and it being seen as more socially accepted in society, this is not happening in the UK and many people have yet to experience a wearable computer and its benefits. I'm hoping that by demoing Glass to a group of innovative individuals, they'll start thinking more about developing for this platform.

"Venturefest is also a fantastic opportunity to network with other delegates. If you haven't interacted with technology companies in Yorkshire yet, or are looking to make connections (for example, to get an internship), you should definitely be there."

Sam is a regular blogger for the Department, so look out for a blog entry on his experience at Venturefest and his future projects with Glass. You can view his blog at

Venturefest is a free entry, one-day event for Yorkshire entrepreneurs to showcase inspiring science, technology and innovation. It is being held on Thursday 13 March 2014 at York Racecourse. For more information, visit

University of York hosts Big Data Analytics Innovation Masterclass

Date Added: 4th March 2014
Join us for a masterclass on 30 April 2014 on Big Data Analytics.

The Department of Computer Science at the University of York will host a masterclass examining how high-performance analytics and Big Data can aid innovation and fundamentally change business processes.

The event on Wednesday, 30 April, will feature keynote speaker John Spooner from SAS UK & Ireland, who has over 18 years experience of applying analytical techniques across a number of different industry areas. He leads the SAS UK & Ireland analytics practice, a team that enables organisations to apply data and text mining techniques, as well as forecasting and optimisation routines, to increase profits and reduce costs through fact-based decision making.

Hosted by the University’s Department of Computer Science, the masterclass will present a range of case study examples of intelligence based on Big Data, including prediction of crime, measurement of responses to natural disasters, prediction of elections and disease outbreaks, as well as anticipation of economic and financial instability. These will be used to offer solutions and insights to help participants to understand and utilise data-driven strategies.

John Spooner said: “For years organisations have made decisions based solely on structured data. But structured data accounts for only about 25 per cent of the data that might be used by a business. The other 75 per cent is unstructured – including things like text and video - and is often not fully considered when it comes to making important corporate decisions.

“Textual, unstructured data is everywhere - in emails, contracts, warranties, customer feedback surveys, social media, insurance claims, pharmaceutical trials and countless other places. As these Big Data assets continue to proliferate, organisations are missing enormous opportunities and substantially increasing costs and risks by failing to properly incorporate them into their analytical and corporate decision-making processes.”

John Spooner will argue that it is important to remember that the primary value from Big Data comes not from data in its raw form, but from the processing and analysis of it and the insights, products, and services that emerge from analysis.

And the sweeping changes in Big Data technologies and management approaches, he will say, need to be accompanied by similarly dramatic shifts in how data supports decisions and product/service innovation.

Professor John Robinson, York’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Information, will chair the masterclass. He said: “The challenge of Big Data is being met in universities and industry by fundamental research and the development of practical analytical methods. This masterclass is a fantastic opportunity for our students to learn from a leading expert about how powerful analysis methods are applied in all sorts of fields and organisations, including in the industries that many will work in after graduation."

The Big Data Analytics Innovation Masterclass will take place on Wednesday, 30 April from 2pm to 3.15pm in the Ron Cooke Hub on the Heslington East campus. For more information and to book a ticket visit

ABOUT SAS SAS is the leader in business analytics software and services, and the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market. Through innovative solutions, SAS helps customers at more than 65,000 sites improve performance and deliver value by making better decisions faster. Since 1976 SAS has been giving customers around the world THE POWER TO KNOW.

Computer Science professor appointed company Chairman for Rapita Systems

Date Added: 21st February 2014
Professor John McDermid OBE FREng has been appointed by Rapita Systems as company Chairman.

Rapita Systems was founded in 2004 as a spin-out from the Department of Computer Science. Rapita develops on-target verification software solutions for the avionics and automotive electronics industries. The tools they produce measure, optimise and verify the timing performance and test the effectiveness of critical real-time embedded systems.

Professor McDermid is a widely-respected authority of high-integrity systems, and is a Professor of Software Engineering. His work centres around the High Integrity Systems Engineering research group in the Department of Computer Science, and he has advised companies and governments on safety-critical systems around the world.

Professor McDermid said, "I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to influence the future direction of this rapidly expanding company, which combines providing a valuable verification solution to the aerospace and automotive markets with innovation from the research projects in which they participate. Furthermore, I look forward to maintaining the mutually beneficial link between the University of York and Rapita."

Dr Guillem Bernat, CEO of Rapita Systems, commented, "We are delighted to welcome John as our new company Chairman. He is widely respected in both industry and academic for his work in the area of high integrity systems, a background which perfectly complements Rapita Systems' target market.

"We are also very grateful to Professor Alan Burns, also of the Department of Computer Science at the University of York, who has been with us as Chairman since the foundation of the company 10 years ago. We count ourselves very fortunate to benefit from the wisdom and experience of two world-leading authorities in the area of safety-critical and real-time software."

University of York steps up quantum research drive

Date Added: 4th February 2014
The University of York has announced the establishment of a new centre to provide a focus for its growing inter-disciplinary research into quantum technologies.

The York Centre for Quantum Technologies is a joint venture between the University’s departments of Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science and Chemistry.

Its founding director will be Professor Tim Spiller, who will take up his post of Chair in Quantum Information Technologies in the University’s Department of Physics in April.

The Centre will build on the University’s existing expertise across a range of quantum technologies – from communications, through metrology and sensing, to computing – along with underpinning quantum information research. Initially the Centre will involve around a dozen researchers, but aims to expand its activities enhancing collaboration and the impact of York’s activities in the quantum arena.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Deborah Smith said: “We have a substantial body of expertise in quantum technologies at York. The establishment of this centre is an exciting advance that recognises the growing importance of research in this area and the expanding scope of its practical applications.”

Collaboration will give new insights by digging into archaeology data

Date Added: 30th January 2014
York academics are part of a successful international research bid to develop new insights, tools and skills in innovative humanities and social science research using large-scale data analysis.

Digging Archaeology Data: Image Search and Markup (DADAISM) is a collaboration between the Universities of Amsterdam, York and Saskatchewan and will investigate how interactive systems can be designed in conjunction with image processing and text mining techniques to help archaeologists find, organise and analyse the thousands of image and document resources available to them for answering archaeology research questions.

DADAISM aims to dramatically transform the way in which archaeologists interact with online image collections. It will deploy user-centred design methodologies to create an interactive system that goes well beyond current systems for working with images, and will support archaeologists’ tasks of finding, organising, relating and manipulating images. In particular, it will seamlessly combine human expertise with powerful image processing, image search and text mining techniques.

Professor Helen Petrie and Dr Chris Power are two of the Computer Science academics involved with the project. Professor Petrie had previously been successful in gaining funding from the second Digging into Data challenge, with the project ChartEx (charter excavator).

ChartEx developed new ways of exploring European medieval charters that deal with the buying, selling or leasing of property, using a combination of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Data Mining to extract information automatically and find new relationships between these entities.

Professor Petrie commented, “In the age of digital photography, there are thousands of images taken of archaeological artefacts that could help archaeologists enormously in their tasks of classification and identification if they could be related to one another effectively. DADAISM will create an interactive system that supports archaeologists in their research, specifically new ways of doing exploratory search, organising and labelling image data and showing relationships between images.”

The team is made up of Professor Petrie and Dr Power from Computer Science and Professor Julian Richard from the Department of Archaeology at York, who will work with Prof. Dr. Maarten de Rijke and Dr Cees Snoek from the University of Amsterdam, and Dr Mark Eramian from Saskatchewan.

Games enthusiasm could benefit society and science

Date Added: 24th January 2014
A groundbreaking event at the University of York will bring together members of the games industry and leading academics to discuss how digital games can be put to social and scientific uses.

The Game Intelligence event on Wednesday, 12 February marks the official launch of a new research project, New Economic Models and Opportunities for digital Games (NEMOG). NEMOG aims to use games and game ideas in creative new ways, yielding additional social benefits from the UK games industry – the third largest in the world - and is analysing new business models that could be used to achieve this.

The event features two influential keynote speakers from the games industry: California-based Jeffrey Lin, Lead Designer of Social Systems at Riot Games, and Charles Cecil MBE, Founder and Managing Director at Revolution Software.

Jeffrey Lin is a key member of the player behaviour team at Riot Games, ensuring the 32m monthly active League of Legends players enjoy a positive experience as part of a fair online community. He will explain how ‘big data’ can be used to design game systems and enhance and enable sportsmanship in online games.

Revolution Software specialises in adventure games (Broken Sword, Lure of the Temptress). Its founder Charles Cecil will discuss business models for games, particularly Revolution’s success with crowdfunding.

Professor Peter Cowling, from the University of York’s Department of Computer Science and the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA), leads the NEMOG project. He said: “The digital games market is an enormous and fast-growing industry with extraordinary impact, contributing over £3bn a year to the British economy.

“We are looking at how we can harness the widespread enthusiasm for digital games to contribute to advances in society and science. For example, games can be used to test economic theories by analysing the artificial economies in online games, or as a means of collecting data for scientific investigations. We only need to persuade a small fraction of the games industry to consider the potential for social and scientific benefit to achieve a massive benefit for society.”

The NEMOG project is a partnership between the Universities of York, Durham and Northumbria; Cass Business School, City University London; and games companies and industry network associations.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the NEMOG research consortium is examining the current and future state of the industry through sectoral analysis. The consortium is investigating ways of innovating new business models to create commercial, social and scientific value from games. It is also looking at how data mining techniques can be used to analyse gameplay data and understand game players in unprecedented detail.

Professor Feng Li, Associate Dean for Research & Enterprise and Professor of Information Management, at Cass Business School, said: “We are looking at games that go beyond the realm of digital entertainment to address social and scientific objectives. Developing robust and sustainable business models is a key part of the project.

“We are particularly interested in new products with operational scalability, which have the potential for significant long-lasting impacts. New strategies and business models in the digital economy is one of our academic strengths at Cass Business School. With our location close to both the City of London and the London Tech City, we are in a unique position to leverage our connections with both for this project.”

Kiran Fernandes, Professor of Operations Management and Head of Department of Management, Durham University Business School, said: “The use of digital platforms for wider social benefits has become increasingly important over recent years. Gamification has provided a fresh and engaging platform for companies to do this.

“Although still in its infancy, it is predicted that by 2015 gamification will be a primary mechanism by which event organisers engage and gather data from their audiences. We are excited to be bringing together representatives from industry, policy and academia, to present to them a new set of ideas and opportunities.”

Every action in an online game, from an in-game purchase to a simple button push, generates a piece of network data, providing an enormous source of information about player behaviours and preferences. NEMOG will explore what online data is available now and might become available in the future, investigate the issues around gathering such data, and develop new algorithms to "mine" that data to better understand game players as an avenue for making better games, societal impact and scientific research.

The official launch of NEMOG will take place at the Ron Cooke Hub, University of York on Wednesday, 12 February. Anyone working in the digital games industry who is interested in attending the free event can register online at To find out more, contact Sarah Christmas, NEMOG Administrator, on 01904 325334 or email