Date Posted: 10/16/2023

To find an internship this past summer, Sahil Hosalli ’26 followed the money.

“I knew a lot of bigger companies didn't typically offer internships to first-year students like me,” said Hosalli, a computer science major and data science minor. “But I was kind of interested in seeing if smaller companies – startups, companies with government grants – would be willing to do that.”

That hunch made all the difference. He combed the Small Business Innovation Research database for awardees of U.S. government-funded grants and learned of a small Montana-based company in need of computer-vision tools he could build.

“He found us,” said Connie Woodman, partner of Field Data Services. “I was blown away by his initiative.”

Hosalli’s “moxie,” as Woodman calls it, would result in the kind of meaningful internship that shines on a résumé. Working remotely for Field Data Services, which specializes in developing smart field cameras, Hosalli developed machine learning models to process images and lidar (light detection and ranging) data taken from low-power, machine learning-powered field cameras used to document bees and other insects. Then, he developed plug-and-play machine learning toolkits that allow field biologists to train the models on their own data, instead of costly enterprise machine learning toolkits.

He even secured additional summer funding for himself through a Cornell Summer Experience Grant, which allowed Field Data Services to hire additional interns.

All in three months’ time.

“It’s very unusual to get this level of skill from an undergraduate student, let alone in his first year,” said Woodman, who also serves as a program manager at Texas A&M University, where she manages university projects funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Innovation Grants. “Sahil went above and beyond to make something special.”

A native of New York City, Hosalli attended the Bronx High School of Science, where as a sophomore, he worked as a computational research assistant in a neuroscience lab at a nearby university. Cornell was his first choice.

“We’re kind of a Cornell family,” he said, noting his older brother attended the Big Red.

A color graphic featuring a quote from Sahil Hosalli and his photograph

“As someone who’s interested in engineering, I thought it would be a really good fit for me,” he said. “As I’ve gotten more into my major, taking high-level classes has also exposed me to a lot of really important and valuable engineering skills within the field of computer science.”

Some of those skills include computer vision and machine learning, which proved essential in Hosalli’s internship. Field Data Services seeks to develop small, AI-equipped cameras that do what most field cameras can’t: collect real-time data on small critters in tricky places – from bugs and reptiles to fish and birds – using minimal power. 

“The hardware that these cameras are running on is tiny compared to anything you'd see on a smartphone,” he said. “We're talking about hardware utilizing memory in the kilobyte range and requiring low power, low latency, and other factors unique to machine learning at this scale.”

“Traditionally, if you wanted a good survey of lizards,” Woodman said, “you were kicking over logs, and even then, you only got this tiny snapshot. AI cameras are replacing people with clipboards out in the field.”

In January, field tests for the smart cameras will begin at a California land conservancy, where they’ll be used to document two endangered fish species, she said.

“We hope this will be a successful precursor to a product launch so we can get these tools into the hands of scientists as quickly as possible,” Woodman said.

At Cornell, Hosalli is exploring areas beyond computer vision and machine learning, like distributed and database systems, and anticipates wrapping up his undergraduate studies a year early.

As for how he attained an internship, Hosalli doesn’t see it as all that unconventional. What is, he said, is a company that values student contributions.

“Field Data Services really does value student contributions and directly integrates what interns do into their products,” he said. “My surprise is that I was able to find a company like them in the first place. That such a company exists.”

By Louis DiPietro, a writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science