Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley Launches Research Center and Initiative in Advanced Communications and Disaster Management
Dr. Joy Zhang and Dr. Matthias Eck Joy Zhang and Matthias Eck with the Jibbigo app.
Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley

Jibbigo app A close-up of the Jibbigo app.
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Late in 2009, the International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies (interACT) launched its latest site at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley. With sites in Pittsburgh, Germany, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Silicon Valley marks the fifth center that interACT has launched.

InterACT’s mission is to carry out scientific research on Advanced Communication Technologies as well as to promote and facilitate education in an international, cross-cultural setting. The research emphasis is in speech recognition, language processing, speech translation, multimodal and perceptual user interfaces. The research team at Silicon Valley campus includes Director Dr. Alex Weibel, professor of computer science; Dr. Ian Lane, systems scientist; Dr. Joy Zhang, assistant research professor; and Dr. Matthias Eck, research technician. The Silicon Valley team was the first to successfully deploy a full-scale statistical machine translation application on a mobile device.

"In the past, people used grammar-based translation techniques, which requires human efforts in writing grammar rules to build up a translation lexicon. However, this is expensive to build and difficult to deploy for any new set of languages and domains. By using data-driven machine translation, we are able to learn the translation model automatically from a set of translation examples. This allows us to create a new set of systems for new languages or new domains in a much shorter time frame," said Dr. Zhang, machine translation expert.

The first project to come out of interACT’s research at the Silicon Valley site is Jibbigo. Jibbigo is an iPhone app that translates language back and forth. The Jibbigo app has been tremendously successful, becoming one of the top travel apps, even rising to the number one selling app in Japan. It was also submitted to CrisisCampHaiti to aid in relief efforts after the devastating earthquake in January. A translation app is critical for relief efforts in Haiti when volunteers, including medical professionals, who do not speak the local language are on the ground aiding Haitians.

Also aiding in disaster recovery is the newly established Disaster Management Initiative (DMI). Launched by Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley and the CyLab Mobility Research Center, DMI is a new technology partnership and incubator that brings together key partners and individuals to collaborate on next-generation solutions for more effective management of disaster and emergency response among the public, emergency responders and command centers in California and beyond.

The DMI held its first workshop, “Disaster Management and Emergency Services: Next Generation Device, Communication, and Collaboration Technologies” on March 26, 2010. The workshop focused on defining the framework for new devices, communication and collaboration technologies and identifying projects to be explored further during CrisisCampSiliconValley. Agenda items at the DMI workshop included panels with many DMI partners covering sensors, mobile devices, WiFi, 3G and 4G networking, systems integration, common operating picture and next-generation emergency operation centers.

Following the DMI workshop, Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley hosted CrisisCamp-SiliconValley on March 26-28. Notable attendees included Matthew Bettenhausen, Secretary of CalEMA (California Emergency Management Agency) who gave the keynote , and Mike Dayton, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for California Homeland Security.

CrisisCamps brings together domain experts, developers and first responders around improving technology and practice for humanitarian crisis. In the first quarter of 2010, we’ve already seen natural disasters in California, Haiti, Chile, New Guinea, Cuba and Japan.

"Natural disasters occur worldwide killing tens of thousands of people, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of people, at a time," said Dr. Martin L. Griss, director of Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley. "Advances in technology can predict threats sooner, accelerate response times and provide new communication channels, ultimately saving lives, and many of those innovations were born in Silicon Valley. The goal of our Disaster Management Initiative and CrisisCampSiliconValley is to be a driving force behind the further development of new technologies that will encourage innovation and a renewed focus on the area of disaster management.”

While interACT will advance communications technology and DMI will bring together collaborators in management and response, both will develop research to further disaster relief. Their work will push technology from useful to necessary for disaster recovery and humanitarian efforts.

To learn more about interACT, visit:


To learn more about the Disaster Management Initiative, visit:

Nichole Dwyer, Manager of Web Communications
Carnegie Mellon CyLab, Silicon Valley Campus