New ECE Graduate Programs Target Evolving Technologies, Make Daily Life Smarter

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By Mary Ceron-Reyes

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Illinois Tech’s Armour College of Engineering is further strengthening its graduate degree programs to offer students more focused tracks on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence and evolving technologies that are changing our daily lives.

Beginning in fall 2020, students will have the opportunity to embark on a more specialized journey with three new graduate programs offered through the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering: Master of Engineering in Wireless Communications and Computer Networks; Master of Engineering in Artificial Intelligence, Computer Vision, and Control; and Master of Computer Engineering in Internet of Things.

Jafar Saniie, chair of Illinois Tech’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says that he has pushed more targeted curriculum forward to address growing trends in the field. “We have always had the coursework, and now it’s time to leverage our expertise on research in this new program form, and to highlight the activities of our outstanding faculty,” says Saniie.

“It’s important that our department keeps on adapting—and our students are a reflection of that,” says Erdal Oruklu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, who has helped to spearhead these new degree programs alongside the department chair. He adds, “Our faculty is very active in such areas as machine vision, medical imaging, automation, and autonomous systems. This opens doors for more students to work with them and become leading experts in the field.”

The new Master of Engineering in Wireless Communications and Computer Networks program incorporates newly introduced and existing electrical and computer engineering coursework. Students will be exposed to the core of network communications; gain the latest applied computer network techniques including data security and privacy; and enhance their ability to design embedded system architecture for wireless communication systems and applications, including fundamentals of wireless radio communications and signal analysis.

“We developed this new graduate program to train and prepare students to become exceptional network and communication engineers in designing next-generation wireless technology solutions,” says Saniie.

Illinois Tech alumni have already made significant contributions in this area of research. Martin Cooper (EE ’50, M.S ’57) led the team that built the first mobile phone and is widely regarded as the father of the cellular phone. In 2004 Illinois Tech awarded Cooper an honorary doctorate degree, and he currently serves on the university’s Board of Trustees. 

The new Master of Engineering in Artificial Intelligence, Computer Vision, and Control will prepare students to overcome challenges in the field of core AI framework. Students will gain maximum exposure toward fast-evolving technologies, machine learning, and methods within such topics as computer vision, medical image diagnosis, power system distribution, robotics, and automation.

A growing number of companies are using these technologies to improve products and services, evaluate business models, and enhance decision-making processes.

Rohit Prasad (M.S. EE ’99), vice president and head scientist of Amazon Alexa Artificial Intelligence, and a member of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering advisory board, performed novel research in low big-rate speech coding for wireless applications while pursuing his master’s degree. As noted in the spring 2019 issue of Illinois Tech Magazine, Prasad set out to discover innovative ways for humans and computers to interact.

He shares, “Alexa is a great example of data-driven machine learning and AI. Understanding exactly how the human brain works is the ultimate goal.”

While other colleges and departments have started offering degrees in artificial intelligence, Armour’s electrical and computer engineering programs have been teaching students about AI topics for years in such areas as image processing, from medical imaging to crime prediction.

Oruklu shares that interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning continues to gain traction, and Illinois Tech remains at the forefront for advancing the industry. He adds, “The ECE department has identified artificial intelligence as one of the key areas of growth, both for the student body and for faculty research initiatives.”

Similarly, the new Master of Computer Engineering in Internet of Things degree offers students the ability to improve on the underlying technology that will help individuals communicate better using complex smart devices. Internet of things is also revolutionizing how embedded devices interact and communicate with each other in many automated environments.

Smart sensors on cars, fitness watches, and home appliances are all equipped with data chips that encompass the technology of devices connected to the cyber world. This new degree program will train graduate students to excel in solving complex system design challenges and adapting rapidly to evolving internet of things technologies.

“Currently at least 30 billion devices are connected to the internet. This necessitates a well-educated workforce of computer engineers capable of developing and implementing new standards and designing interoperable physical and virtual systems,” says Oruklu.

Students will master several key topics in the field of computer networking, embedded systems, system architectural design issues, communication and information systems, smart grids, and cybersecurity. Oruklu says, “To keep up with the world around us, students will come to class with abundant opportunities to explore how to make our devices—and daily lives—smarter.”