College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Computer Science “Famous Five” Take Success in their Stride

Computer Science “Famous Five” Take Success in their Stride

Five BSc Computer Science Honours students have particular reason to smile – the “famous five” all graduated summa cum laude.

They are: Ms Rupal Kara, Ms Leyya Kasavan, Ms Verosha Pillay, Ms Yuvika Singh and Mr Kershen Sivanarain who emerged at the top of their class of 2018.

Kasavan said she chose to study at UKZN because of its reputation for excellent research in Computer Science. ‘I wanted to take advantage of this strong foundation and learn from great minds,’ she said. Singh agreed: ‘Although I had to move to Durban, my choice of UKZN was overwhelmingly driven by the University’s academic integrity, reputation for high standards and its promise of success in my personal development.’

For Pillay, the approach and structure UKZN takes towards its postgraduate courses was the clinching factor. ‘These courses provide holistic education, simulating a capacity for independent critical thinking,’ she said. Added Sivanarain: ‘The lecturers are experts in their areas, equipped with the skills and qualifications that have been key to producing students of high calibre.’ Kara agreed that being constantly surrounded by intelligent people pushed them to achieve their best and to thrive.

Kasavan’s honours project involved research into self-driving cars that use machine learning techniques and image processing to allow them to follow a lane and perform traffic light recognition. ‘If you look at the world today,’ she said, ‘many of the powerhouse companies like Google are doing research into self-driving cars and this research can revolutionise the transportation industry.

Singh’s research topic also focused on autonomous vehicles involving the design of a self-driving car within a simulated environment. ‘The realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not as treacherous as sometimes portrayed by the media,’ said Singh. ‘Rather, AI can be positively utilised to improve the lives of both humans and animals alike.’

Kara’s research was in the field of Computer Optimization and involved process scheduling by applying a music inspired algorithm as a solution. She managed to prove that emerging nature-inspired logic can be adapted and used to improve speed and performance when solving optimization problems.

Pillay’s research work fell within the area of Computer Vision and she investigated techniques that can be used for the precise detection of skin cancer at its early stages. A proposed detection and software model were completed with the use of various machine learning techniques.

‘Melanoma skin cancer is one of the most threatening types of cancer in the world,’ explained Pillay. ‘Visual screening by medical professionals for skin cancer detection may not assure patients of 100% detection. Moreover, this results in unnecessary tests and procedures such as skin biopsy or excision for lesions, resulting in potential harm to the patient. Thus, there is an urgent need for automatic detection systems which can aid dermatologists in their task of detecting skin cancer.’

Also in the field of Computer Vision and Machine Learning, Sivanarain explored a very new and interesting Biometric, Ear Biometrics for Human Identification. ‘I was required to create an image recognition system based on the human ear,’ he explained. ‘Recent studies have shown that the structure of the human ear is both unique and permanent, as the appearance of the ear remains unchanged over the course of a human life. This is a big advantage over facial recognition.’

One use of Sivanarain’s system would be to assist in access control and security. ‘It could be used to identify individuals from surveillance where only the side view of the individual is available,’ he explained. ‘On a larger scale, it could be effectively used together with other forms of biometrics as a complementary feature in a multi-biometric system.’

With such outstanding results, the future looks bright for the recent graduates. Kasavan is currently working at FNB bank dealing with big data analytics and machine learning and plans on continuing research into AI. Kara has relocated to Cape Town in order to pursue a career in software development at Allan Gray but plans on furthering her studies in the field of Optimization. Sivanarain has secured a Software Developer position at Derivco, an online gaming company in Durban; whilst Pillay is pursuing an MSc in Computer Science, extending her research into skin cancer detection using Deep Learning.

Singh is also registered for an MSc at UKZN with long-term plans to pursue post-doctoral research with an international leader in the field of AI. ‘My ultimate aim is to seek shareholders to venture into commercial development of AI facilities that would benefit the African continent,’ she said.

The five star students expressed thanks to their lecturers for guiding and inspiring them during their studies. They were also grateful to their parents for the constant motivation and support provided, and to their friends at UKZN for making their experiences such enjoyable ones.

Pillay offered the following advice to aspirant students: ‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer. You have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.’

‘Success is no accident,’ said Kara. ‘It is hard work, perseverance, learning, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing that makes the difference.’

‘Choose a career that you’re passionate about, and you won’t have to work a single day of your life,’ added Sivanarain.

Words: Sally Frost

Photographs: Abhi Indrarajan