Where are the engineering hipsters?

enghipsterIts late and I’m on my way back from the final demo evening of the Advanced Skills Initiative (ASI). The ASI programme takes disgruntled academics and puts them through an intensive 8 week data science course so they can move into the bustling data science job market. I was a mentor on the machine learning front and it was great to see the fellows evolve and battle through their projects.

One thing struck me though. Something that has been bugging me for a while. Projects pitched at events and meetups like this invariably cover product recommendation, preference learning, financial NLP, churn prediction, adclick prediction, social media trending analysis, etc.

As somebody who likes tangible things, I can’t help but wonder. Where are the projects & startups from aerospace, automotive, marine and other engineering disciplines? Why aren’t we seeing projects from Airbus on smart IVHM, from Jaguar on crumple zones, from Reaction Engines on engine performance, from ASV on marine autopilots, from Princess on vibration control, from McLaren on race strategy, from Dyson on path planning, etc. I personally find these things hugely interesting and fascinating topics. The possibilities for data science / machine learning are endless, prognostics being the obvious example.

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Underwater Robots for STEM Outreach

seafox1I have always enjoyed STEM outreach, be it talking about the UAV research I have been involved with at the Ladies Luncheon Club (average age of ~65) or showing how you can use node.js to control a Parrot AR drone to a group of hormonal teenagers.

Besides an interest in flying things I have always had a weak spot for maritime vehicles, particularly submarines. (For some reason land vehicles never really interested me). Triggered by the OpenROV kickstarter and, more recently, by listening to The Engineering Commons episode on Underwater Robots with Bill Porter, I have been looking for opportunities to learn more about them or even build them. As my own spare time has pretty much disappeared for various reasons, doing this as part of my STEM Ambassador work seemed a great idea.

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Drones for Humanity and Drone User Group Network UK

rhinoOne liner summary: If you are interested in applying drone/UAV technology (or are already doing so) to humanitarian/social/conservation related problems, and you live in the UK. then get in touch.

I have worked with drones quite extensively in the past, including some work with the BBC, and still do in various ways now. I have to say, though, that I dislike the term drone and much prefer to use the term UAV or UAS. But that’s a different story.

I have also always had an interest in international development, social issues, and education. This has led to me running numerous Random Hacks of Kindness events, giving talks on ICT4D, and volunteering as a STEM Ambassador. I recently organized a NodeCopter event with the local Makerspace and have talked about UAV technology to groups as diverse as 11-13 year olds to The Ladies Luncheon Club where the average age is 65.

Inspired by the recent DroneConference in the US, a coffee with the founder of ShadowView, and the enthusiasm of the UAV guy at Doctors Without Borders, I am now looking to reach out to similar minded people and see if maybe we can set up a Drone User Group chapter here in the UK? Founded in the US by Timothy Reuter, their tagline is: Promoting the Use of Civilian Drone Technology for the Benefit of Humanity. They also recently announced a drone social impact award. I contacted Timothy and he was very supportive of the idea.

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RHoKing at Google Zeitgeist

dirk-zeitA few weeks ago I was contacted by somebody from Google who asked if I was interested in running a demo booth at their upcoming Zeitgeist Europe conference in London. This was triggered by my involvement in Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) and the plan was to showcase some of the work that came out of RHoK events.

It being an internal event there is little information about it online. But its invite-only, high profile nature made it a unique opportunity to show the tech elite what can be achieved when applying technology to social, humanitarian, and environmental problems.

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Friendly Drones

convdronesThere is so much polemic surrounding the use of drones these days that it can get frustrating for somebody who also sees the positive contributions the technology can make. Never mind the great potential unmanned technology has for driving innovation and getting youngsters interested in STEM (something that is severely needed).

Of course there are lots of questions to be raised about the use of unmanned systems (and remotely piloted aircraft in particular) in military conflict. These topics have been, and still are, debated at length in the media, wikipedia, and blogs such as DroneWarsUK. Instead, like Drones For Good, I will focus on some of the positive projects the technology has enabled in the humanitarian, environmental, and social space. I am not the only one who would welcome more balanced coverage here.

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Raspberry Pi GPIO Workshop

Update: a writeup of the event by Lorraine is here.

A shot post to say that I am co-organizing a Raspberry Pi workshop with The IET Solent Branch at the University of Southampton on 25 April. For personal reasons I cannot make it myself that day but do go along if you want to learn about how to use the GPIO pins on your Pi board!

Raspberry Pi - 25 April Poster

Btw, if you can’t make it but live in the area, do checkout somakeit.org.uk. Recently launched and we now have a space!

–Dirk