Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News
When University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE) classes went online this spring because of the novel coronavirus, instructors were immediately faced with the challenge of bringing collaborative, hands-on learning experiences into an online, virtual environment. As a result, access to a computer with a dependable video camera connection became an essential need for every student.
To help UW ECE students, faculty and staff meet these unique and timely challenges, Yun Zhang, a 2006 UW Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering alumnus, is generously donating 1,000 Wyze cameras to UW ECE through “Wyze in Response,” his company’s community outreach program that aims to mitigate novel coronavirus impact. The donation came about as a result of a conversation between Zhang and Professor Payman Arabshahi, who is the UW ECE Associate Chair of Advancement and ENGINE Program Director. ENGINE is a UW ECE capstone program, representing the culmination of electrical and computer engineering education and enabling students to work in teams on industry-sponsored projects.
“I had previously been in touch with Yun about ENGINE capstones in years past. This year, I noticed the need in some projects for multiple cameras that could be placed around devices to facilitate remote collaboration,” Arabshahi said. “So, I just emailed Yun and asked if they would consider donating around 50 or so cameras. He immediately said yes, and in fact, Wyze upped their donation to 1,000 cameras, enough for all UW ECE students, faculty and staff!”
A key advantage of the Wyze Cam is that unlike a traditional desktop or laptop camera, it is mobile and adjustable, which makes the camera very useful for students who need to show projects they are working on from multiple angles.
“Our students spend a lot of time working on team projects. For these teams to work effectively, it is important our students have the ability to see each other and to show each other the prototypes that they are developing,” said Professor Daniel Kirschen, UW ECE’s Associate Chair for Education and Entrepreneurship, who along with UW ECE staff members Bill Lynes and Mike Kane, helped coordinate the receipt and distribution of cameras to students.
A generous donation with students in-mind
Based in Kirkland, Washington, Wyze launched its first product, Wyze Cam, in October 2017. Since then, the company has served over 3 million customers. The donation of Wyze Cams to UW ECE aligns with the company’s mission to make quality technology accessible to everyone.
“During this pandemic, Wyze, like many startups, is dealing with unprecedented difficulties. But we also think about how we can help others,” Zhang said. “Wyze Cam is designed to create visual connections for many different use cases. It can help students livestream their projects or help with video conferencing.”
The cameras are being shipped in batches over Spring and Summer quarters. So far, 400 cameras have been received by UW ECE and 260 have been shipped to students. And, students are already benefiting.
“When I started working from home a few months ago on my Ph.D., I needed to purchase a nice webcam for virtual meetings,” said Brody Mahoney, a graduate student working in the lab of UW ECE Professor Josh Smith. “I quickly realized that there was a severe shortage of webcams, along with toilet paper! There were very few available, and of those, most were very expensive. I was forced to tape my cell phone to my computer monitor and use it as a webcam. Thanks to Wyze, I now have a solid HD webcam; plus I can use my phone normally again.”
“I love how clear the images are — I can conference call with ease,” said Alyssa Rose Johnsen-Krogh, a UW ECE undergraduate student studying biomedical instrumentation.
Kirschen, Arabshahi and UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins all expressed their gratitude for the donation.
“Having to carry on with their studies remotely has been stressful for our students. Anything that makes them feel closer to their classmates and instructors reduces that stress and helps make their learning experience a bit more normal,” Kirschen said. “We are therefore extremely grateful to Wyze for helping us ensure that all our students have access to essential technology.”
“It was extremely generous of Wyze to donate these cameras,” Arabshahi added. “They have made positive impacts for our students who did not have webcams, or needed one or more for project work.”
“This donation will help many of our students who are struggling to attend class remotely,” Klavins said. “The support from Wyze is greatly appreciated.”
For more information about Wyze and their response to the novel coronavirus, visit the “Wyze in Response” webpage. A summary of UW ECE’s response to the novel coronavirus can be found on our COVID-19 Resources webpage.