Same school, new name. The School of Informatics and Computing is changing its name effective January 11, 2023. Learn more about the name change

Members of Tech to Protect team and advisor Sonny Kirkley.

Students win Tech to Protect Challenge, innovate informatics solutions for first responders

January 27, 2020

The team of Swarnamouli Majumdar, Mayur Srivastava, Aamir Khan, I Ting (Tiffany) Tseng, and Bhavani Prasad Rao Ejanthkar (pictured above left to right with advisor Sonny Kirkley) recently returned from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh where they successfully competed in the Tech to Protect Challenge sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The students, led by Department of Human-Centered Computing adjunct professor Kirkley, won all three contests in which they participated and took  first, second, and third overall awards, winning over $25K.

The Tech to Protect Challenge consists of 10 separate contests for which teams must design and develop a possible solution. Each contest is designed to develop new, creative technologies to address issues faced by fire, law enforcement, and EMS emergency responders. The Challenge was held in multiple cities throughout the year and culminates in a national competition in Boulder, CO.

The multidisciplinary IUPUI team worked on and presented three products in Pittsburgh: ZENEXT, an AI-enabled hands-free technology for law enforcement; ALIKE, a cloud services application for fire departments and homeowner use; and SECURE MATRIX, a UX/UI 360 degree dashboard for network security. They also presented earlier versions of ZENEXT and ALIKE in Chicago at the Motorola Corporate HQ in September where they won two contests and earned first and third place overall, as well as $17K.

Lou Lenzi, professor of practice at the School of Informatics and Computing, has been involved with several student teams over the past couple of years. He says “From my perspective as mentor on the student’s ZENEXT submission, their results in this nationwide NIST-sponsored design challenge clearly demonstrates the high-degree of quality of both our students and our curriculum in the Department of Human-Centered Computing.”

The students heard about Tech to Protect when several of them participated in the AT&T FirstNet Hackathon in Indianapolis earlier in 2019. They recruited Dr. Kirkley, a UX designer and product manager who has worked on numerous startups. Once the team was in place, they began preparing for the competition.

Srivastava, Tseng, and Khan are graduate students studying human-computer interaction at the School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI. Majumdar, a graduate of the master’s program in applied data science is an IT Technical Analyst at Cummins, Inc., and Ejanthkar is a computer science graduate student at Purdue School of Science at IUPUI.

Kirkley says “there is only so far you can go in a class setting” and that solving real problems in-depth reinforces and enriches the classroom experience. The team travels next to UNLV in January and will participate in online qualifiers in hopes of being selected for the national competition in April.

UPDATE (May 1, 2020): The Zenext team this evening garnered two major awards at the NIST TechtoProtect Challenge finals for their project, Transforming Public Safety, Heads Up, Hands Free. They won their category as well as seed funding for a total of $70K to move ahead with a final demo in November 2020.


ZENEXT: Transforming Public Safety through AI-enabled Hands-Free Technology is a voice command virtual assistant. It makes law enforcement officers’ communication and handling of mission-critical emergencies easier, enabling them to perform their best in moments that matter the most. An artificial intelligence enabled chatbot, ZENEXT bridges the gap between police officers and dispatchers and provides help and connectivity to important emergency agencies like fire departments and EMS with voice interactions. The cornerstone of ZENEXT is public safety.


ALIKE Cloud Services: Fire Safety in 3D is a secure approach to homeowners that uses 3D scans and artificial intelligence to assist with fire-safety checks and pre-incident plans for their home. The homeowner uploads their data to the ALIKE secure cloud service, which in turn provides updated and scalable views of the home interiors for their local fire departments to use when responding to a fire. ALIKE integrates 3D scans and augmented reality to help homeowners improve the safety of their homes with the aim of reducing chances of residential fires.​

Media Contact

Joanne Lovrinic