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Sunday, June 11, 2017

First Week of RISS 2017

non-technical: suitable for any reader

Arriving in Pittsburgh
I'd like to think I'm pretty well experienced in travelling, and thus immune to culture shock, especially when travelling from Canada to the USA.
Yet Pittsburgh caught me off-guard...
An autonomous Uber vehicle transporting pedestrians through the streets. A driver is present in case of an emergency, but rarely has involvement. 

The gates center for computer science Carnegie mellon University
Heading towards the Gates Center for Computer Science

The economy is the main difference here. Since many existing companies (Google, Uber) along with startups have set foot in the autonomous driving industry, Pittsburgh has become a rapidly growing hub for entrepreneurship. The key thing I appreciated however, is the governments strive towards clean technology. There has been a shift from coal and steel work, in light of new green technologies. I feel quite welcome here for this reason.

I'm staying on Squirrel hill just off of Forbes Ave. My living accommodation features 2 other RISS interns, so the party never ends even after hours!

Upon arrival, Rebecca (one of my roomates) briefed me with a rather enticing overview of how to analyse stability of feedback control systems. She is clearly passionate about control systems, and despite me having minimal idea what was going on, I can relate to that passion. We'll get along great. 

Welcome to Carnegie Mellon University

I did an early morning at CMU's track as the sun came up.

The next morning I went to the Advanced Agents Laboratory (where I'll be working) for a briefing on this summer and my projects. I was blown away at how intricate the Robotics Institute is at Carnegie Mellon.

Had a quick thought but nowhere to write it down? A large portion of the walls in the Gates Building are white-board material. Here are some notes done by what I'd imagine to be first year Computer Science students at CMU.
A lounge-spot for Robotics Institute members to relax.
Their school of Computer Science alone has 7 departments, where one of them is the Robotics Institute. The Robotics Institute has over 30 individual robotics-based labs spanning across multiple buildings and floors, each with groups of graduate students, postdocs and mentors. Walking through the halls to my lab I could see the other RISS cohorts settling in, and I really liked this sense of community that was quickly forming.  Upon arrival in the lab, I met with my undergraduate partner Gabriel -- another RISS cohort -- along with 2 graduate students (Jaeho, and Shen). This team is noticeably dynamic and fast paced with great communication skills, all ingredients for good productivity.
Pretty much every wall in the RI has robot pictures. It's kind of like a museum.
Within an hour I had a decent understanding of the project goal, which I'm not allowed to discuss on this blog until we publish official results. All I can say, is that my previous work has lead beautifully up to this project. I feel I have the skills required to approach it with momentum.

Throughout the week Gabriel and I worked long days to complete a demo due 1 week after arrival. It was presented in the general lab meeting which takes place on Fridays and lasts a couple of hours. I asked a few rather lengthy questions I'd been struggling with throughout the week, and was met with elegant responses. It's hard to describe with words... the feeling that you get, when you know your most intricate, well thought out questions are text-book trivial to the professor and graduate students you're working with.
I'm a big fan of the free coffee available to RI members. There's often food provided following events as well.

Upcoming Stuff
It's been a heavy week with lots of working and socializing with cohorts. I'll try to do regular blog posts outlining weekly activities (that I'm permitted to talk about). There will be lab tours, research events, workshops, contests, and more. I figure pictures explain better than words (and thus are quicker to summarize in a blogpost), so I'll make use of that!

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