Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What a time to be alive

Today marks the start of the 18th DATE conference and exhibition, which takes place in the French capital of walnuts (I am sure I didn't make the latter up, but somehow can't find any good reference for it). I am here presenting a paper co-authored with Elisabeth and Carolyn (check it out, it's got some eye-catching plots).

Joke and self promotion attempts aside, it's great to be here. In a single word, the conference is overwhelming: as the main design and engineering event in Europe, it attracts a lot of worldwide interest from both academia and industry. This is reflected in the steadily increasing number of submissions (935, out of which 205 accepted). The technical program is divided into six parallel sessions, but all participants can attend 
lunchtime keynote talks. I will write about two such talks that I attended today.

Drones that fly for you
Gerard* of Parrot Paris showed us the Bebop drone in action; impressive but short-lived action, as it quickly fell on the ground (things always go wrong when you least need them to). However, he then held the Bebop up in the air with one hand and started rotating it while the audience could still see the  video streaming on the laptop screen, and I have to say -- it was remarkably stable.
Drones have evolved from toys to pro tools, and it was exciting to hear about putting such devices to good use (e.g., thermal mapping of properties, aiding agriculture). And guess how much a really really pro drone can cost? 30,000.

Robots that live with you
Vincent* of Aldebaran introduced us to Romeo, Pepper and NAO, the company's three humanoid robots. Pepper has been available for sale in Japan, and reportedly 1,000 exemplars (priced at around $2,000 each) have been sold within the hour, with 300 in just the first minute.
The robots are similar in terms of software but designed for different purposes (research, entertainment, assisting disabled persons), and can currently perform simple (for humans!) physical tasks such as grasping objects and maintaining their balance while moving. Emotion recognition is also a big part of making them `human', and we've been shown videos of NAO recognizing joy and discontent. 
It is expected that Pepper becomes available in Europe in a matter of 2-3 years.

[*] It must have been some sort of agreement or theme of the day that registered speakers could not attend, and colleagues ended up giving talks on their behalf; the actual names of some speakers are not updated on the conference website as of the time of publishing this, and I can only remember the first names.

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