Friday, March 20, 2020

URSP Student Mitch Martinez Works to Research and Develop a Cyber Reconnaissance Working Dog System

Working dogs often play a niche role in various military operations and investigations. They are are historically recognized for their unique sensory and search capabilities in which humans have vitally depended on. Growing up, working dogs have always been an integral part of my life. My dad was a former explosives canine handler and division specialist. In Fall 2019, I was looking for a course project that I could use to simultaneously further my experience outside of the classroom. So, I decided to look at what I already knew. I discovered that non-line-of-sight (NLOS) canine control was well sought after by handlers and that little research had been conducted involving working dogs in the cyber domain. I initiated a plan of research and began reaching out to canine trainers and relevant researchers. I asked my professor, Dr. Winston, to mentor a project that bridges the gap between working dogs and cybersecurity.

Despite recent developments in artificial intelligence and an increased emphasis on robotics, nothing compares to the to the portability, agility, and trainability of working dogs in mission environments.  By developing a mobile low-power signal and packet gathering sniffer, harness-wearing working dogs would be able to directly contribute to passive reconnaissance operations as the delivery device to areas of interest.  Once the dog reaches the target location and hides, operatives would then be able to remotely execute probing commands and automated scripts utilizing modern hacking software and log analysis tools. However, long distance off leash handler-to-canine communication remains a challenge. 

Nevertheless, based on current canine training practices, this project aiming to solve the dilemma by integrating established lidar, radar, and GPS technologies coupled with wireless signal capturing capabilities. Following a ‘just enough data’ paradigm, fault tolerant NLOS communication between handler and canine may be achieved

By utilizing a smartphone, microcomputer, and software-defined radio, remote communication via audio frequencies and harness vibrations may be established over a peer-to-peer LTE network supported by machine learning detection algorithms and signal engineering techniques. The development of this technology would provide governments and agencies a niche risk averse alternative to unmanned-aerial-vehicles and hardware dead drops. The intended cyber psychical system use-cases are for discrete night operations where human-threatening boundaries are present. Working dogs may be the most reliable and non-invasive weapon for delivering cyber reconnaissance tools in these scenarios.

Monday, March 16, 2020

URSP Student Ellie Carlson Researches the Experiences of Mobile Food Venders in Washington D.C

Last spring, I conducted a research project about the experiences of mobile food vendors in Washington, D.C., through OSCAR’s URSP.  My favorite part of this experience, by far, was the data collection phase.  On a typical day of collecting data, I would canvass food truck hotspots around the city and interview vendors during the downtime before the lunch rush.  Vendors shared their stories, offered tips and tricks of the trade, and gave me the lowdown on what’s happening in the vending community. At one point, I was even recruited on board to help cater to a sudden crowd of tourists!  

While there were many laughs, almost everyone shared their struggles since the city enacted more restrictive vending policies.  Many traditional street vendors disclosed multiple arrests, criminal charges, and excessive fines as a result.  On the other hand, many gourmet food truck drivers shared stories of success and how they expanded their businesses despite the change in policy. This contrast begged the question: why are the experiences of mobile food vendors who operate in the same industry, governed by the same set of rules, so different? As it turns out, my findings from last year raised more questions than answers that I hope to address in continuing my research this semester.  

 Overall, my URSP experience enhanced my education in so many ways. It enabled me to follow my curiosity, challenge myself as a student, and explore a different career path that I would never imagine considering. It also gave me a chance to engage with student researchers from various disciplines.  I found it incredibly inspiring and motivating to join a community where everyone is just as excited about following their curiosities. Finally, this experience fostered a greater appreciation for my education. It offered me a unique vantage point where I could see the culmination of all the knowledge and skill that I’ve worked so hard for throughout my years at Mason. This makes it all worthwhile.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

URSP Student Allison Dockum Explores the Differences in the Tibialis Anterior between Able-Bodied and Drop Foot Subjects Using Sonomyography

The goal of my project is to image the muscular differences in the tibialis anterior (located in the shin) between able-bodied and drop foot patients using sonomyography, also referred to as ultrasound. This will be done as a first step in my long-term goal to create an alternative method for the treatment of drop foot. Drop foot (sometimes called foot drop) is a neuromuscular condition that prevents a person from lifting their foot in dorsiflexion during the heel strike phase of the gait cycle. Current treatments include ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) and functional electrical stimulation (FES). However, both treatments are limited in their ability to provide a long-term therapeutic treatment of the condition. A therapeutic treatment improves muscle function over time and helps the patient regain independence. Eventually, I would like to combine the AFO and FES treatments in new, hybrid device, hopefully able to provide a novel therapeutic treatment. 

I am passionate about this research from my own personal experience with drop foot. Frustrated by the inefficiencies with AFO’s, I decided to create my own. I learned along the way how FES was being used to treat drop foot and decided to incorporate it into my design. The mentorship of Dr. Siddhartha Sikdar and PhD student Joseph Madji have helped me explore my interests and taught me how to frame a scientific research project. I am grateful for their guidance.

Throughout the week, I spend my time reading various journal articles and modifying my research approach and questions. I collect data using pulse echo ultrasound and continuous wave doppler of the tibialis anterior, and then perform some preliminary data analysis in Matlab and LabView. 
From this experience, I have learned everything is not always as straight forward as it would seem. There are often multiple sub-questions that must be answered before reaching the end goal, and sometimes you may have to back track or perform the experiment again. Patience is key.

Monday, March 2, 2020

URSP Student Maggie Walker Researches AZE Threatened species

The Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) identifies the world’s most vulnerable species. These species are considered endangered or critically endangered and only have one remaining population in one location. These locations are known as AZE sites, a designation which allows them to be prioritized for conservation efforts. AZE species are all considered endangered or critically endangered. However, threatened species can also be listed as near threatened, vulnerable, or extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

For my URSP project, I am working with Dr. Luther and the Biology Department using Geographic Information Systems to compare a global map of AZE sites with global data on all categories of threatened species. We will analyze the data to determine how many other non-AZE threatened species exist at each site, what percentage of threatened species are and are not covered by AZE sites, and how many are already in protected areas, along with other breakdowns. Since AZE sites already receive special conservation attention, we are hoping to demonstrate that by protecting these sites, other threatened species would also be protected. This project is very timely as this year the global Convention on Biological Diversity is expected to adopt a Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework in its efforts to work towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. As decisions are made for the future of conservation, it is important that world leaders have all the information necessary to do what is best for our planet and its species.