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Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering & Computer Science

News & Awards

Dr. David Gao, expert on 7NEWS Investigates

No recall of Fisher Price Soothe and Glow Seahorse toddler toy, despite fire
safety concerns.
 Parents report smoke, heat, melted plastic
BY: Keli Rabon, Sandra Barry at 7NEWS

Dr.Gao- Expert on 7NEWS Investigates

Arrow Electronics Information Session on the University of Denver campus!

Arrow Electronics will be hosting an Information Session on Wednesday, February, 5 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM in the Anderson Academic Commons Special Events room. Dinner will be provided.

Arrow will be bringing Raime LeebyMuhle, VP of Finance and Regional CFO, and Adam McCoy, Director of Human Resources and DU alumnus. The Arrow executives will provide an overview of Arrow and the opportunities for undergraduates interested in their robust summer internship program at their corporate headquarters in the Denver Tech Center. All undergraduate majors are invited. Currently, Arrow is specifically targeting business, communication, computer science, and engineering majors. 

Click the image below for the PDF

Arrow Information Session Flier 2.5.14



On Thursday, October 3, 2013 Dr. Kimon Valavanis was officially awarded the 2013-2014 "John Evans Professorship". The "John Evans Professorship," named in honor of Dr. John Evans, the founder of the University of Denver, is the most prestigious award a faculty member can receive at the University of Denver. Selection is granted in recognition of national and international distinction for outstanding research or other creative, scholarly achievement. Professor Kimon Valavanis is the current Chair of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Kimon is an active researcher and international recognized for having a beautiful mind. Presently, we can officially call Professor Kimon Valavanis, the Ritchie School's fourth faculty member to receive the "John Evans Professorship."

Professor Kimon Valavanis s is author and editor of:
•   15 - books
•   26 - book chapters
•   93 - Journal Articles
•   165 - Referred Conference Symposium
•   50 Invited colloquia, seminars, and workshops

Since Professor Kimon Valavanis's arrival to the Ritchie School in 2008 he has:
•   Received over 4.5 Million dollars in external funding
•   2 Million in eternal funding that is pending
•   Established the DU Unmanned Systems Research Institute (DU²SRI)
•   A Curriculum Vitae that spans 52 very full-pages and growing
•   Created the only Mechatronics undergraduate and graduate
    degree programs in the USA accredited by ABET.

Watch the DU²SRI Research Facility in action!


                        John Evans Professor Kimon Valavanis


It starts with passion.

That's the best way to explain senior Justin Hollenbeck's ambition. Even as a high school student, he was fascinated by the human body and how it moves.

During Hollenbeck's freshman year at the University of Denver, the mechanical engineering major capitalized on that fascination, plunging into serious research at the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science's Center for Orthopaedic Biomechanics. There, he worked alongside Associate Professor Peter Laz in the Probabilistic Mechanics Lab and Professor Paul Rullkoetter in the Computational Biomechanics Lab, learning how to apply engineering principles to the investigation of clinically relevant issues. The center offers undergraduate and graduate students a hands-on opportunity to develop and advance technologies that lead to improved outcomes for patients.

Justin Hollenbeck & Back LumbarPhoto: Wayne Armstrong

Hollenbeck's hard work at the center paid off. In June, at the end of his junior year, he attended the American Society of Mechanical Engineering's 2013 summer bioengineering conference in Sunriver, Ore., where he shared his work on "Statistical Shape and Alignment Modeling of the Lumbar Spine" in the student paper competition.

Hollenbeck's paper grew out of a collaborative project involving not just Laz and Rullkoetter, but also Dr. Christopher Cain, an orthopedic surgeon at the Spine Center at University of Colorado Hospital. Cain shared some of his operating room challenges with the DU team, which set to work exploring them.

As Laz describes it, some of Cain's most pressing challenges are presented by patients with disc injuries. "A lot of the surgeries he does are these total disc replacements," Laz explains, noting that replacements often give the patient greater mobility than, say, a spinal fusion. But not every patient is a good candidate for the disc replacement.

"What Dr. Cain is interested in is to identify who are the right patients to get the implant and then where to place the implant," Laz explains.

Enter Hollenbeck. Funded in part by DU's Partners in Scholarship (PinS), a program that underwrites undergraduate research, his work tackled this question head on. "We pretty much developed a method to account for population variability within the lumbar spine," he explains, noting that the work has ramifications not just for surgeons wanting to assess appropriate implant sizing and alignment, but also for implant designers and manufacturers. "With these quantifications, you can develop implants that can serve a larger population," he says.

The ASME conference was packed with research- and innovation-minded engineers. Students got the chance to showcase their research at an exhibition space set aside especially for them. Conference attendees strolled through the displays and quizzed the students about their methodology and findings.

"I had to have my 'A' game for hours. I had no idea who was evaluating me," Hollenbeck recalls, noting that hundreds of people stopped by his exhibit. "It was a stressful day, but I got to meet people from all over the world."

Unfortunately, Hollenbeck's busy schedule did not allow him to stay for the last day of the conference. However, a week later, he learned what he had missed by leaving early. That's when a letter arrived from the ASME, congratulating him on receiving second place in the competition for undergraduate conference papers. Hollenbeck greeted the news at his home in Breckenridge, Colo., with an exuberant cheer. "It was unexpected," he recalls. "I was very excited!"

As a conference presenter, Hollenbeck will see his paper published in the event's proceedings. With this honor to his credit, he plans to continue his research into spinal implants. That means revisiting the paper with an eye toward publication elsewhere: "We're trying to make it a little more robust, so we can submit it to the Journal of Biomechanics," Hollenbeck says. In addition, he recently submitted some of his follow-up work to the annual meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society.


Home > Security > Privacy  News    

Computerworld Magazine

Usage-based auto insurance found to pose privacy risks

Even the non-tracking driving habits data collected by insurers can reveal a lot, researchers say

By Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld - Pay-as-you-drive insurance plans, where premiums are based on an individual's actual driving habits, pose a potential privacy risk for motorists, a recent study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Denver, Colorado, found that driving habits data such as speed, time of travel, number of miles driven, braking and acceleration data could paint a surprisingly detailed picture of an individual's movement in a specific time period.

Insurance companies often like touting the fact that no location data is collected under usage-based insurance plans. But that only creates a false sense of privacy among users of such insurance plans, the researchers noted in their study, titled "Inferring Trip Destinations From Driving Habits Data."

"Customer privacy expectations in non-tracking telematics applications need to be reset, and new policies need to be implemented to inform customers of possible risk," the research paper said.

With pay-as-you-drive plans, insurance companies typically require drivers to plug in a small telematics device into the vehicle's on-board diagnostic port. The device monitors the vehicle operator's driving behavior and records data like speed, cornering and braking patterns over a specified time period.

The information is used to adjust insurance rates and to offer more customized plans for individual drivers. Insurance companies claim that such plans can help substantially lower auto insurance rates, especially for safe and low-mileage drivers.

Several major insurance companies, including Progressive, State Farm, National General and Esurance currently offer such plans. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners predicts that 20% of all vehicle insurance in the U.S. will incorporate some form of usage-based insurance within five years.

Vehicle telematics-based insurance programs offer many advantages for consumers and insurance companies. But they come with hidden risks, said Rinku Dewri, one of the authors of the study and assistant professor of the department of computer science at the University of Denver.

While insurance companies may not collect any actual tracking data, a lot can be inferred from the data that is collected, Dewri said. "Our work started with the hypothesis that non-tracking driving habits data can potentially be used for tracking," Dewri said.

Using just speed and distance data, the researchers attempted to find out if they could correctly identify the destinations of the trips during which data was collected. As part of the effort, the researchers extracted "quasi-identifying" information such as traffic stops, driving speed and the number of turns made by the driver during the trip. They then matched that data with publicly available map information to see if they could identify the destination.

"Assuming that we know where the trip started our algorithm consults a road map to identify all those routes that has intersections at least at those distances from the start point of the trip where the driver made a stop or a turn," Dewri said. "In some cases, we found 10 candidate routes; in others, we found more than 150 candidates."

The researchers applied a ranking method to the routes to predict the top destinations for the trip. "We observed that in 60% of the cases, our algorithm placed the true destination in the top three possibilities," Dewri said. Even when the number of potential routes was large, the destinations often tended to end up with a small geographic area.

The study highlights the issue of unwanted disclosures, where consumers unknowingly reveal something they do not want to with data they are willing to reveal, Dewri said. "Unfortunately, there is no theory that will immediately tell what may get disclosed, or inferred, from the data we share."

The best way that consumers can protect themselves against privacy risks associated with usage-based insurance is to demand more transparency from their insurance companies, he noted.

"Programs using these devices should make the consumer aware of the potential risks, even if these programs are themselves not involved in making secondary inferences," Dewri said. "The clearer we are on how the data is used, the better methods we can design that will retain the utility of the data, without making it prone to unwanted inferences."

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed Vijayan RSS. His e-mail address is

See more by Jaikumar Vijayan on 


                         ScienceDaily Magazine Online

Sep. 10, 2013 — Yes, those "pay as you drive" programs used by insurance companies to record your driving habits sometimes can be used to accurately infer your destination -- a long-time concern of privacy advocates.

That's what four University of Denver computer scientists found in an experiment.
"With access to simple features such as driving speed and distance travelled, inferring the destinations of driving trips is possible," they write in a paper published in the proceedings of the 2013 ACM Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society in November. "Privacy advocates have presumed the existence of location privacy threats in non-tracking telematics data collection practices. Our work shows that the threats are real."

The scientists, Rinku Dewri, Prasad Annadata, Wisam Eltarjarnan and Ramakrishna Thurimella, developed an algorithm and applied it to data from 30 routine trips made in and around the Denver area. In 18 of the trips, the algorithm was able to place the actual destination within the top three projected destinations. Numerous auto insurance companies offer discounts to policy holders who enroll in "pay how you drive" programs. These programs rely on the collection of driving habits data such as speed, time of driving, and mileage, during a monitoring period. This information is then analyzed to offer a customized discount to the policy holder. The "pay how you drive" programs generally do not track global positioning system (GPS) locations and thus imply an expectation of privacy that the customer's destinations are not tracked.

The University of Denver scientists, however, working through the Colorado Research Institute for Security and Privacy, found that a mixture of "quasi-identifiers" can be used to infer destinations even without GPS data. "Quasi-identifiers" are driving data that are non-tracking by themselves but can be used to infer driving routes when used in combination.
In addition to measuring driving speed and distance travelled, they tracked traffic stops and turns. They matched this information to road maps to determine the potential destinations of a trip, and then ranked them to deduce the most likely destination.

"We argue that customer privacy expectations in non-tracking telematics need to be reset," they write, "and new policies need to be implemented to inform customers of possible risks."

Their paper is titled, "Inferring Trip Destinations from Driving Habits Data."

-Dick Jones Communications and the University of Denver


Robot May Help Kids With Autism Become More Sociable

by Andrea Dukakis

Dr. Mahoor NAO Robot,Autism Assist Research
(Photo: Courtesy of Wayne Armstrong, University of Denver)

Dr. Mohammad Mahoor and his robot Nao were guests on the series called "Colorado Matters", hosted by Colorado Public Radio (CPR). The series focuses on the state of Colorado's people, issues and ideas.  

Listen to the interview here: Colorado Public Radio (CPR)

August 23, 2013 - Colorado Public Radio, Colorado Matters

Dr. Mahoor's research video with Nao.
Facebook: Autism Humanoid Robot Research
Dr. Mahoor's research website
To participate in the research, contact

August 23, 2013 - Colorado Public Radio, Colorado Matters

                         SHORT COURSE

Unmanned Aircraft Systems, September 5, 2013

DU²SRI organizes the following short course:

Short Course: Unmanned Aircraft Systems: A Comprehensive Overview

Date:             Thursday, September 5, 2013; 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

Location:        Front Range Airport, Watkins, CO

DU²SRI Logo with link to webpage

Download Short Course Agenda


Academics & Research
DU Today
July 15, 2013
By: Tamara Chapman

   Autism & Robotics Research Dr. Mahoor ECE

For children growing up with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), interacting successfully with others often presents enormous challenges.

When it's customary to make eye contact, children with ASD often gaze elsewhere. When a smile would be appropriate, they may deliver a scowl. And when a playmate communicates frustration via a facial expression, autistic children often don't recognize the signal, responding with behavior that makes matters worse.

As a result, children with ASD often struggle to make friends or thrive in any setting that requires people skills.

Enter NAO, a personable robot with a mission. He's helping an interdisciplinary faculty-student research team, based out of DU's Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science, conduct a pilot study exploring whether humanoid robots can improve social and communication skills in children with ASD.

"He can walk, talk and dance," says Mohammad Mahoor, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. The 23-inch-tall NAO, made by Aldebaran Robotics of France, can also direct autistic children in a host of activities designed to improve their recognition of facial expressions and to help them direct their gaze appropriately. When the kids succeed, NAO can even enlist them in a celebratory high-five.

The robot project is one of several research initiatives led by Mahoor, an expert in visual pattern recognition, social robot design and bioengineering. With this project, he aims to build on studies pointing to the therapeutic potential of robots for the ASD population. He hopes to enlist up to 50 children with high-functioning autism in his two-year study, scheduled to conclude in another year if funding permits.

"You may ask, why a robot? Why not a human?" Mahoor says of his research premise. "Humans are very overwhelming for kids with autism."

Toys and technology, on the other hand, are less intimidating. "A lot of kids on the spectrum like mechanical things," says Sophia Silver, a junior psychology major intent on a career in child psychology. Silver brings her insight into autistic children to the research team. She also recruits study participants, schedules their visits and talks with parents while their children are playing with NAO.

To date, Mahoor's study has enlisted 24 participants, ages 7 to 17, who, over the course of six months, come to a University experiment room every two weeks for 30-minute sessions with NAO. Equipped with four microphones and two cameras, NAO records lots of data about each participant — everything from the duration and frequency of their direct gazes to the range of their facial expressions.

"Why are these important?" Mahoor asks. "These are the bases of human sociability."

NAO is programmed, scripted and operated by members of the DU research team. Huanghao Feng, a graduate student in computer engineering, has been with the project from the beginning. Initially, he joined the team to learn more about the newfangled NAO, but the project has also taught him a lot about working with autistic children. When they don't respond to the robot, or when their attention wavers, he repeats the robot's requests or helps them stay on task.

One of the activities enlists a handful of small beanbags, each of them sporting a photo of a person demonstrating an expression — happiness, perhaps, or sadness or anger. The child is asked to find, and show NAO, the toy with the angry face. This exercise helps participants identify the emotions attached to facial expressions—a skill, Silver says, that often eludes children with ASD.

"If kids can't identify that another child is angry, they'll get in more fights. They'll have trouble making friends," she says.

Other exercises, Mahoor notes, work on what is known as joint attention—in other words, shared focus on an object. NAO may, for example, ask the child to follow his gaze to, say, a line of boxes. "I have kids who are able to follow what NAO asks them to do. 'Look at that object or pick up that object.' Then NAO gives them a hug or a candy, a reward," he explains.

These moments of triumph are captured on NAO's cameras. "After the sessions," Feng says, "I go back to the lab and process all the data."

The cameras capture some interesting information, such as the duration of direct gazes and the frequency of gaze shifts. Preliminary findings suggest that NAO is helping some of the children maintain a direct gaze for longer periods.

Mahoor and the research team are hoping to add a second robot, Zeno, into the mix. Made by Hanson Robokind of Dallas, Zeno can display a range of facial expressions and instruct participants in mimicking them. And, Feng adds, like NAO, he can record those expressions, allowing the research team to gauge the social development of study participants.

Robots bring another advantage to a research team intent on repeating exercises and measuring data over time, Mahoor says. Robot interactions can be conducted precisely the same way again and again. That simply wouldn't be possible with a human, who might introduce a new variable into a game or conversation.

It's too soon to know just how effective robots can be. Not every child engages with them, but Feng and Silver have witnessed significant progress in several children.

Take the case of one nonverbal little boy. "At the beginning," Feng says, "he was completely scared of the robot. But after several sessions, he hugged the robot and kissed the robot. He even came up and hugged me."

Silver takes equal pleasure in such developments. "To see them excited about something is fun," she says. "And it is really liberating for their parents as well."

Watch NAO in action here!

For more information visit: Dr. Mohammad Mahoor's Research Website  


May 20, 2013, 1:07pm MDT UPDATED: May 20, 2013, 2:25pm MDT

By : L. Wayne Hicks
Social Media Engagement Officer / Digital Producer-
Denver Business Journal

Three donors have given the University of Denver a combined $40 million, with $27 million coming from former chancellor Daniel Ritchie.

Daniel Ritchie speech

The donations will allow DU to add an engineering and computer science building, which will house a new interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiative. The new building also will be home to the new Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging.

Ritchie's gift is the largest in the history of the university, and is in the form of a working avocado ranch he owns in Montecito, Calif. DU's chancellor from 1989 to 2005 and chairman of the board of trustees from 2007 to 2009, Ritchie transferred ownership of the ranch to the university.

In honor of Ritchie's father, the new building will be called the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science. The 110,000-square-foot building will be between the Newman Center for the Performing Arts and Olin Hall, on the south end of the campus.

The other donors to fund the new project are the estate of William Peterson, who graduated DU in 1969 with a degree in engineering; and Betty Knoebel, widow of Ferdinand "Fritz" Knoebel. DU's College of Business already is home to the Knoebel School of Hospitality Management.

The Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging will take up a floor in the new building.

For the original article, please visit  Denver Business Journal.

L. Wayne Hicks is Social Media Engagement Officer / Digital Producer of the Denver Business Journal, writes for the "Cultural Attache" blog, and compiles the daily "DBJ Morning Call" email. Phone: 303-803-9221.


University Announces Gifts To Fund New Engineering Building And STEM Initiative

By: Greg Glasgow
May 20, 2013
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An architect's model shows the new Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science between Olin Hall and the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.

new secs building image

Photo by: Wayne Armstrong, University of Denver

The largest financial gift in University of Denver history will go toward the construction of a new campus home for Engineering and Computer Science.

Chancellor Emeritus Daniel Ritchie has donated more than $27 million to build the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science, which will be named for his father. The 110,000-square-foot building on the south side of campus also will house the new Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging. It is slated to be completed in early 2015.
"We have wonderful faculty; we have wonderful students; what we don't have is wonderful facilities. That's the piece that's missing," Daniel Ritchie said at a May 20 press conference to announce the new building. "This will make a huge difference for the University, for the faculty and for our students."

The new building is part of a new interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiative at the University that will address societal needs of the 21st century and prepare globally competitive graduates for business and entrepreneurship. The Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science will bring together multiple complementary STEM activities and research already taking place on campus.

"These are the disciplines that are driving the growth of the worldwide economy," Chancellor Robert Coombe said at the press conference. "Today, with the U.S. economy rebounding, many of the jobs that are being created are in these disciplines, and we find that this is driving interest among students and among students yet to come to the University of Denver. There is an enormous wave in interest in STEM disciplines, and that wave is washing ashore at the University of Denver with considerable vigor."
Additional funding for the new engineering building comes from Betty Knoebel, widow of Denver food-service pioneer Ferdinand "Fritz" Knoebel, and the late Bill Petersen (BSEE '69), an alumnus of the DU School of Engineering. The gifts will allow the University to increase student scholarships, faculty support, industry partnerships and experiential learning programs.

According to Chancellor Coombe, the interdisciplinary focus will allow the University to dramatically expand its current engineering and computer science programs, with a vision of further developing mechatronics, bioengineering and software engineering curricula. Added capacity will allow the school to increase its faculty by more than 30 percent and enhance particular areas of scholarship and instruction. Coombe added that the initiative also responds to the shifting interests of college-bound graduates who are increasingly interested in sciences, math and engineering.

"The University of Denver will be on the cutting edge of developing a new breed of STEM graduates ready for the complex technological needs of the future," Coombe said. "Our students will create real-life solutions to real-life problems with an integrated approach to learning."...Read more on DU TODAY