By Xochitl Rojas-Rocha
Several years ago, a handful of students from South Korea boarded a plane and flew to UC San Diego for a hackathon that would reshape their careers. The event was the culmination of the Internet of Things (IoT) Platform Development Project at the Qualcomm Institute, where students from UC San Diego and Keimyung University mingled and learned together.
Today, former Keimyung University students Changeun Mason Park and Junhee Jack Park, and those who were with them along the way, reflect on how their experiences with the Qualcomm Institute (QI) and UC San Diego shaped their path forward.
Bringing it Home
Mason and Jack are now the co-founders of INTUSEER Inc., a startup company specializing in artificial intelligence and big data in Daegu City, South Korea. Both use the skills they gained in college and QI’s IoT program to further their career goals.
For Jack, in particular, the IoT program had a “huge impact” on his path forward. At QI, he was able to attend technical seminars led by prominent tech companies, something he says was very difficult for an engineer of his age to experience back home. He also learned to design systems and interfaces, and worked with American students to create apps that would allow the user to monitor air pollution and heart rate.
“It was very important to us that the students have opportunities to learn about how we foster innovation through direct participation,” said Ramesh Rao, Director of the Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego. “With the skills they gained through the IoT Platform Development Project, we hope they build long lasting relationships with UC San Diego students as well as contribute to their community.”
As part of the IoT initiative, both Korean and American students worked together to use IoT sensor boards to program health-related applications for both phones and the web. They also learned how to track and visualize the location of IoT sensors and measurement data collected from IoT sensors in real time, then forward the data to the web server and have that information displayed by both the app and web clients.
Shortly after returning home, the students were invited back by QI for both the 2016 and 2017 San Diego SmartCity Hackathon. The hackathon was a three-day competition where student teams competed to design technology for climate-related solutions that would help the city meet its environmental goals. At the 2016 hackathon, Mason was a member of a team that took home the “Best in IoT” award for their invention of One Drop, a software and sensor system for monitoring water use. The team designed the system for both public and municipal use, to tackle water consumption habits at different scales.
A Future on Both Sides of the World
UC San Diego alumnus Carmel Fiscko was also a member of the winning team. Now a Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, she credits her involvement with QI as one of the factors that helped develop her interest in research and steer her into graduate school.
Working with the Korean students was a unique experience, too. “I could talk and hang out with them in ways that the professors couldn’t,” Carmel said. Despite some initial language barriers, she and the international students formed a strong team. Without their perspectives, she said, they couldn’t have built as much as they did.
“I think it is the most valuable experience for me to be able to meet many good people in QI,” Mason said. In the future, he and his co-founder and friend, Jack, want to expand INTUSEER’s reach to the U.S. and deliver tech talks, just like the ones that inspired them.
As for the IoT program at QI, Director Ramesh Rao hopes to inspire more students from Korean universities to found startup companies. The Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space, or QIIS, is an incubator for startups ranging from those in the aerospace industry to non-profits seeking to promote equal access to education. With direct, hands-on experience interning for a startup in QIIS, future pupils of the IoT program can learn from former students who pursued their own business ideas and transformed them into reality.