SAVING VIRTUAL LIVES WITH NANOBOTS GOAL
OF UH-LED PROJECT
Computer Science Student to Compete in World Semifinals of Microsoft
HOUSTON, May 11, 2005 – Building and controlling a team
of nanobots to seek and destroy infected tissue within a simulated
terminally ill patient, a University of Houston computer science
student and his teammate have advanced to the 2005 Microsoft Imagine
Cup world semifinals.
With two consecutive wins so far, Jonathan Dowdall, a UH graduate
student, and Mike Hall, his collaborator, have advanced to round
three of four in the visual gaming category with their Team ContAInment,
the “AI” capitalized to represent artificial intelligence.
An annual competition, the Microsoft Imagine Cup challenges participants
to excel in one of nine IT-related categories and is designed to
recognize students who demonstrate excellence in a diverse range
of technical and artistic pursuits. According to Microsoft, entries
are expected to address the competition theme to “imagine
a world where technology dissolves the boundaries between us.”
Out of about 2,000 participants in the world qualifying round March
15, Dowdall and Hall tied with eight others for first place, with
Team ContAInment being the only U.S. team in that top group. In
the national elimination round April 15, they were the top-scoring
team in their division. Now, advancing to the third of four rounds,
they will compete in the world semifinals May 15. The first two
rounds of competition took place online, as will the third, which
will narrow the playing field to six teams that will travel to Japan
July 27 to compete in the world finals for a grand prize of $8,000.
As visual gaming participants, Team ContAInment had to write an
algorithm to build and control a team of nanobots within the simulated
human body of a terminally ill patient. The nanobots are injected
into the blood stream to locate and collect infected tissue. While
attempting to deliver medicine to these sites, the nanobots are
attacked by white blood cells in the patient’s immune system.
For each round of competition, Microsoft adds another challenge,
such as a virus that attacks the nanobots.
“The visual gaming challenge is actually a logistics problem
that you are solving, and path planning is a big part of it,”
Dowdall said. “The strategy involves a collaborative multi-agent
programming system of nanobots, and you must give them intelligence
– the algorithm – so they know how to react in their
To put it very simply, a computer program written by Team ContAInment
tells the nanobots to move up, down, left or right or to follow
any other variety of instructions in reaction to what they encounter
in the simulated environment.
As head software developer for Associate Professor Ioannis Pavlidis’
Computational Physiology Laboratory at UH, Dowdall is well prepared
for this challenge. Pavlidis has gained a reputation for his work
in medical imaging, bioinformatics, robotics, computational biomedicine
and biometrics that have various medical applications. Being part
of this research group has given Dowdall a solid background in applying
computer science to medicine.
“Projects like this where students are given an opportunity
to harness their imaginations often provide the type of forum where
ideas are born,” said John Bear, dean of the UH College of
Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “It’s great to see
ingenuity of this caliber receiving worldwide recognition.”
For a related story, see http://www.uh.edu/media/nr/2004/09sept/090704Ioannispavlidis.html.
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