Oregon Team Wins Siemens Competition with Emotion Recognition Project

Computer science research on recognition of emotion in the human voice earned top honors for the team of Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez in the Region One Finals of the 2010-11 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, the nation's premier science research competition for high school students.

The Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by the College Board. The winners will be invited to compete at the National Finals in Washington, D.C., Dec. 3–6, where winners of six regional competitions will vie for the $100,000 Grand Prize and national acclaim for extraordinary scientific achievement at the high school level.

"Each year, the Siemens Foundation invites America's high school students to make their mark in the world of science," said Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, President of the Siemens Foundation. "We commend these students on rising to the challenge and pushing the envelope of scientific thought."

The students presented their research to a panel of judges from California Institute of Technology (Caltech), host of the Region One Finals.

Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez, juniors at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, Ore., won the team category and will share a $6,000 scholarship for their computer science project, The Recognition of Emotion in Human Speech.

In their research, the team sought to accurately determine emotion from the human voice. The team was inspired by the movie I, Robot, in which a robot can sense when its user is under stress. Using an emotional speech database with 18,216 files and five emotions (anger, positive, neutral, emphatic, rest), the team developed, trained and tested a classification engine to determine emotions from an input signal. By applying new techniques to emotional speech processing, the team achieved 60 percent accuracy in identifying emotions, well above other researchers' results for the same tests. Emotion recognition has applications in security, lie detection and autism research.

"Recognizing the emotion in a voice is a challenging problem, even for humans. This team took a very creative approach to the problem and made a big leap in performance over previous research," said competition judge Dr. Piotr Dollar, a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech. "They embodied the spirit of what this competition is all about, showing great initiative, independence and teamwork."

Krishnan and Fernandez have been working together as a team since the seventh grade. Dr. Bevin Daglen served as their mentor on the project. While continuing to improve on methods used in their study, the team has filed for a provisional patent and hopes to develop a device that may help autistic children identify and interpret emotions they are hearing. The students indicate they have also had interest in their project from the U.S. government.

The Siemens Competition was launched in 1998 to recognize America's best and brightest math and science students.

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