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Undergraduate Researchers

Matthew Newcomer

Matthew Newcomer, Mechanical Engineering

NIST Researcher

“Performance Assessments of Tactical Handheld Android Applications for Warfighters”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working for several years to develop and field tactical handheld applications running on Android-powered devices to the US military. These devices have been used in Afghanistan by US Soldiers for over a year now and are regularly met with a positive response. Some Soldiers have explicitly stated that the devices have saved their lives during combat situations.

The NIST evaluation team has a core expertise in evaluating advanced technology where some members have extensive experience in assessing user-interface. NIST’s role in this effort is to lead the evaluation of these tactical applications. This includes identifying errors and faults in addition to offering suggested improvements. Extensive testing is done on the devices where the data is provided to the DARPA sponsor for review. This information aids DARPA in making informed decisions as to whether or not an application is ready to be field.

I have had two tasks this summer. The first is creating test plans that exercise nearly every feature of the handhelds under more operational scenarios (as compared to testing in an office). Extensive data sets will be gathered once these test plans are exercised. This data will provide the developers with richer information better enabling them to make improvements in the applications. This task required me to do some research on test methodologies, including those targeting handheld devices. My second task is simply testing the handheld, including regression testing. Regression testing is where you test an unchanged function or feature in a new application version to determine if unrelated changes have had negative consequences.

How did you find out that you could do research in your field in the summer?

My neighbor is an employee at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and suggested that I apply.

How did you know that research at NIST was what you wanted to do?

All I knew was that NIST would be an incredible place to work.

Did you apply to other places?

No, however I plan on applying to many internships this upcoming February for next summer.

Was the application difficult to do? Did you have help with this?

No, the application was very easy to fill out. I put a good amount of time into my personal statement, but other than that it was quick and easy.

What was your summer research project?

This summer I have been working on military handhelds (smart phones). I have had the opportunity to work on these handhelds, testing them, finding bugs, and reporting back to the developers. The really cool thing about this project is that what I am doing really matters right now. These are being used in the military and have been saving lives.

Who was your mentor for this project?

Dr. Brian A. Weiss in the NIST Engineering Laboratory Manipulation and Mobility Systems Group

How much time do you put into this work?

I do a lot of testing and a lot of writing test plans or scenarios and work 40 hours per week for this 11-week summer program.

Are you paid? Where do you live during the summer research?

Yes, this is a paid internship, and they even pay for us undergraduate researchers to live in a very nice hotel right up the street from NIST. I have greatly enjoyed living with other undergraduate researchers. Living with people you have so much in common with makes things fun.

What academic background did you have before you started?

I have completed two years in the Mechanical Engineering Program at UMBC.

How did you learn what you needed to know for this project?

My advisor is extremely helpful and patient with his interns. He got me up to speed quickly.

What was the hardest part about your research? What was the most unexpected thing?

The hardest part is getting used to the 9-to-5 style of this job. Sitting in the office and staying focused and on task for that long is a difficult thing to do. I’ve been doing well with it, but I don’t quite think I could handle it for more than a summer. The most unexpected thing is making so many great friends.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

Be creative. Think of many different ways to contribute to the project. If all you do is what your boss tells you, you will likely complete the task then sit around bored. Instead, if you do what your boss asks of you, then do a handful of things that you think may help too, you will impress your advisor, and not waste time at work.

What are your career goals?

I would like to become a successful Mechanical Engineer working on the latest automotive technology.

Are you a transfer student or did you start at UMBC as a freshman?

I started my first semester at UMBC, then got in to UMD College Park spring semester, and went there. After one semester at UMD I hated everything about it, and I quickly rushed back to UMBC. UMBC is a great school.