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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Robots and Research + Compsci and Contests

non-technical: suitable for any reader

This summer is packed full of social, and professional events organized by industry leaders, faculty, and research scholars. My typical day starts at 5am, I arrive at the University by 7am, and most often don't get home until 8pm or later due to how many talks and events are going on. There is structure of course; which I'll try to highlight in this post.

Basically as an intern, you pick "tracks" of events you're interested in. For example If you're interested in the embedded systems track, you sign up and attend a series of workshops that follow a course on the subject. If you sign up for the communicating science track, you'll be closely involved with the RISS Journal project, coordinating events, and more. Another great track is "Robotics for Good" which has a series of talks on ethics, research conduct, and environment sustainability. The work that folks do in this track will actually be presented at a city town hall meeting discussing future implications of our present technological decisions.
Being me, I signed up for a LOT of stuff. I'll try to first outline my research progress (what I can talk about it), along with RISS Events, and extra things that come up.

Research Update
The first couple of weeks allowed me to demonstrate my software engineering skills by implementing a minimum working product for our research. Now Gabriel (my colleague) and I are taking a step back and doing literature review in order to hone in on exactly what our research focus will be, and what will be required to complete our project. Since we have only have roughly 7 weeks left, every hour of our time is crucial and well planned out.
We sit together on Friday evening and plan out the next week, while keeping in mind short, mid, and long-term goals set during lab meetings.
In the mornings I self-study theoretical foundations needed for my work. Right now I'm following KhanAcademy's Multivariable Calculus, and Differential Equations courses. Considering I learnt most of my mathematics from this site, I'm happy to be visiting it once again even as a University student!

Event Series
Communicating Science
This is a weekly series that aims to improve research skills. Each talk has a different theme.

Structuring Research and Presenting Data
The first talk started by going over the main types of research and their structure in an academic paper. We went over 3 core types:
Experimental: How does X respond to different parameters or conditions?
Problem/Solution: How can we make X better?
Theory-Building: How can we understands and explain the relationship between X and Y?

My summer research project would fall into the Experimental category. The talk then went over how to write a solid introduction, and the key things required for an important research topic. The second half of the presentation outlined how to present data in an effective manner.

"Let your data craft your visuals" 

I realized from this talk that many academic papers are quite obscure and poorly presented despite having a broader importance. This contributes to the stereotype that an academics work merely adds a tiny leaf to the tree of knowledge  instead of having real immediate impact...
A business is forced to have a clear summary and vision, or it will suffer. Research on the other hand, avoids this in many cases... When each individual researcher takes time to outline the broader significance of their work and presents their results coherently, then others can connect with their research and together the scientific ecosystem gains momentum.
I find it rather fascinating how a societies behaviour can emerge from our individual actions.

Tea Talks

Every week there is a tour of a lab. This gives us a chance to meet graduate students in the field, and explore future opportunities in research.
Human Sensing Lab
This lab aims to understand and model human behaviour through sensory input (video, audio, motion...).

feelingspector at carnegie mellon university
feelingspector is a tool that can determine
emotion by analysing your face through video

Quite recently a company developed from this lab was purchased by FaceBook. You may be seeing more from this lab in the very near future.
Above is a demo video showing their "IntraFace" technology.

Exploring Robotics Workshop
Every week there is a lecture focused on some relevant topic in AI. The first week was a talk by Dr. John Dolan, regarding the growing autonomous car industry.

More recently, this week was a talk about the impact of research on industry with David Bourne. We worked on crafting 11-second elevator pitches for start-up ideas, and discussed how to project future market demand across the technology sector.

David Bourne RISS 2017
David Bourne giving a talk to RISS cohorts
Kyle Morris speaking with David Bourne at RISS 2017
I pitched one of my ideas after the talk, and got some good feedback on future direction.

Extra Events
There is also a LOT of stuff that comes up during the week in terms of social events and talks. I can't possibly outline it all here... I'll pick a couple to mention as they arise.

UBTech Robot Build/AI Contest
Former IEEE president and UBtech CTO Howard Michel held a robotics build and AI competition.
UBTech Robot build even
Overview of the event. 

We were given special unreleased robotics kits to work with, and had roughly 24 hours to create a line follower robot that could score points via communicating with other robots on a 2x2 meter map. Our team got 2nd place (out of around 10 teams), and had a great time. Howard also gave an insightful talk on what makes good teams and researchers.

We get a lot of time to hang around with other RISS cohorts. Last Friday was particularly fun. My colleague (Gabriel) and I were trying to sign up for an AI/robotics conference site, and were baffled at how complex the captcha security was...
The irony is that computer vision is getting so good, that not even humans can get through... We gathered in the evening and worked together to crack the registration captcha, and prove we're humans.
RISS cohorts trying to crack a registration captcha

 Based on the work we're doing at CMU this summer, I don't know if this will be possible in another 3 years.

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