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Students access new technology through UW engineering, Sonos partnership

December 14, 2017

Engineering students gathered to receive exclusive access to the Sonos API and smart speakers.

University of Washington engineering and design students gathered to receive exclusive access to the Sonos API and smart speakers. These students are the first to receive this level of professional developer access. In the past, only companies like Pandora and Spotify have been able to secure this opportunity.

Sonos, the home sound system developer, presented students with a design challenge to build smart speaker experiences that improve the moments in someone’s daily life. Real Industry, an organization that partners with companies to create workshops to help students develop real-world skills under the guidance of industry experts, chose UW EE as a top collaborator.

“We’re thrilled to work with UW students and the Department of Electrical Engineering because the next generation of technology leaders are here,” said Real Industry Program Director Priyanka Shekar. “UW students have a strong intersection of engineering, entrepreneurship and fresh perspectives that they can bring to this challenge facing industry.”

UW Electrical Engineering Professor Les Atlas collaborated with Sonos to recruit students to participate in the challenge. Atlas’ 518 Digital Signal Processing class presented the foundation for students to succeed.

According to Sonos Director of University Programs Susan Monaghan, UW EE students are a part of the next generation of thinkers and creators. This partnership offers UW EE students the valuable experience they need to succeed in industry.

“There is a synergistic belief that great opportunity exists at the intersection of technology and music,” said Monaghan. “Both Real Industry and Sonos seek to play at this intersection and believe that upcoming graduates will drive the future in this space – UW is one of the top ranked Engineering schools and we have had great success with UW graduates in the past – there is a strong educational and cultural fit for Sonos. In addition, with our ever expanding Seattle office, it is a great time to partner up with UW.”

As designers and developers, students created mobile apps, embedded software, or new hardware smart speaker experiences. “Student innovations included using Sonos speakers to facilitate jamming and karaoke with your favorite tracks, reducing background noise, and determining which person is actually in a room listening”, said Real Industry Executive Director Jay LeBoeuf.

“There is a surprising amount of technical complexity within a seemingly simple smart speaker,” said Sonos Advanced Concepts Lab SW Director Ron Kuper. “It’s a problem space that touches a broad spectrum of hardware and software domains, so there’s bound to be something for everyone. Also, music has the potential to create magical experiences for listeners, when it’s done ‘right.’ Figuring out how to create and then build these amazing experiences truly takes the exercise out of the classroom and into the real world.”

A selection committee reviewed the 17 entries from over 60 students, and three teams were recognized with the top projects.

Electrical engineering student Alvin Cao and Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering students Ege Gurmericliler and Emilien Pilloud received a top spot for their project “An Intelligent Speaker that Can Recognize Your Voice.”

Electrical Engineering students Colin Pate, Muhammad Farooq, Dhanush Kannagola, Jordan Drew and Glenn Paden were recognized for their project “Beamforming.”

Electrical Engineering students Akshay Randad, Abdullah Othman and Ashwin Badrinath, Allen School student Akshay Chalana and Inforation Management student Shipra Gupta were acknowledged for their project “Sound Transition.”

Offering students an outlet to engage with industry has become a priority of UW EE. In 2015, the department launched its Engineering Entrepreneurial Capstone Program, which partners students with industry mentors on real-world research projects. This year, over 40 percent of the UW EE senior class is participating in the program, and the projects range from a variety of top areas, including health, transportation, security and communication.