If you came in to our Bretten offices on a Friday afternoon, you might wonder why one or two of the people working here look so young. Is it the great working atmosphere at SEEBURGER? Have people here discovered the secret to eternal youth? The answer is simpler, yet no less exciting. For the past two years, SEEBURGER has partnered with the Hector Seminar, a STEM enrichment programme for gifted and talented schoolchildren in the German state of Baden-Württemberg.
The Hector Seminar identifies able schoolchildren at age 11 and offers them a range of extra-curricular projects, activities and competitions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The philosophy behind it is that while there are often several schemes for children with an academic weakness, high ability also needs guiding, supporting and channelling. For older students, one option is to spend time in industry in a STEM-based company.
And that is exactly what 16-year old Lena Meergraf, a pupil from the nearby grammar school Salzach Gymnasium in Maulbronn is doing. But how is she spending her time at SEEBURGER?
Anyone who remembers making coffee and doing filing on their internships may be surprised.
On Lena’s desk you will find a small Raspberry Pi. This has nothing to do with a sweet tooth. It’s a small black box, barely larger than a palm and it is essentially a mini computer. In its USB slot is a Coral USB Accelerator, a tiny co-processor on a USB dongle which enables high speed machine learning. There’s also a Nvidia Jetson Nano Developer Kit, another small computer that lets you simultaneously run multiple neural networks for AI tasks like image classification, object detection, segmentation, and speech processing. This set-up is an example of edge computing, a concept which is becoming more widespread in the Internet of Things (IoT).
What is edge computing?
In data analytics, it usually makes sense to send data to a cloud or elsewhere for deep processing, particularly if you’ve got data streams from several sources. It may even go into a data lake first. However, sometimes you may wish to have the processor right next to the sensors. This is particularly relevant for scenarios which require real-time processing, such as self-driving or semi-autonomous cars. If a sensor on the car detects an obstacle in its way, the driver needs that information immediately.
Equally, sometimes connecting to a network or cloud is impractical or even undesirable, such as for particularly sensitive information. Edge computing reduces the distance between capturing and processing the data and offers a certain independence.
What is Lena doing with this equipment?
She’s using these mini computers and the application Jupyter Lab for an artificial intelligence project.
The aim of the project is to experiment with various machine learning models for image recognition. Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence where with enough input, a machine practises performing a clearly-defined task and improves over time. With the help of SEEBURGER’s Head of Research, Dr. Johannes Strassner, she puts the machine learning models to work on live streams from YouTube, or from the stereo camera Lena also has in her equipment. What can the models identify? How can she tweak the models to find out specific information? Can she automate the process?
What exactly is she looking for? Well, that depends on Lena and how she wants to progress with her project. What can the machine learning models learn to spot?
How can you use AI on moving images?
With the right programming, a machine can learn to identify people, animals, objects, and movement in images, videos, and live streams.
They can learn to recognise and count the number of vehicles passing by. They can tally the number of people in a place at a given time. They can be trained to recognise body movements and hand gestures. They can identify basic symbols and numbers and draw conclusions from these. At the time of writing, the number of people in a group and the distance between them could be useful information, as is the ability to recognise whether someone is wearing a face mask correctly. Lena is particularly interested in the heat map feature, which can show when a place is particularly busy.
How did Lena get involved in an AI project at SEEBURGER?
The keen flautist has always been interested in programming, and has had some experience programming in Java and C++ through the Hector Seminar. She’s even built and raced a robot in one of the Hector seminar enrichment projects. However, her gateway to this project was through politics. In 2020, she took part in a politics competition where she needed to debate whether artificial intelligence was an opportunity or a threat. As soon as she saw the SEEBURGER project, she grasped the opportunity to gain some practical, technical experience in artificial intelligence.
How is AI used in business?
Artificial intelligence already has many applications in the business world. It’s used to analyse floods of sensor data in predictive maintenance to reduce downtime for manufacturing facilities. Natural language processing, a machine-learning subset, is used in several ways, including to categorise incoming e-mails and send them to the right person within a company. International companies use machine translation to translate product details on their local web shops. Companies use data analytics to build customer profiles for more effective marketing campaigns. And so much more. As an all-in-one integration platform, a number of SEEBURGER’s customers use our Business Integration Suite to get the data they need for their AI flowing quickly and smoothly.
The possibilities offered by artificial intelligence are growing, and SEEBURGER’s Dr. Johannes Strassner has been fascinated by these for some time. Three years ago, he was involved in a project exploring what could be done with the mass of data collected on Germany’s motorways. As well as calling up sensor data via API and using the SEEBURGER BIS to feed this into a machine-learning model, he also looked at image recognition on motorway cameras. Once he heard about a potential cooperation with the Hector seminar, he began to wonder where bright, young teenagers may take this technology.
When did SEEBURGER start offering enrichment projects?
The first project was held in 2020-2021, at the height of the Covid pandemic. It was an inauspicious start, with the two participants taking part by video conference from their bedrooms. It was also a baptism of fire for the brand new technology, leading to creative solutions when the wifi on one of the self-built devices failed. The young students rose to the challenge with an application that has Covid written all over it. In their project, they used artificial intelligence on live streams to recognise whether people were standing 6 feet apart and wearing masks correctly.
Dr. Johannes Strassner is now also working on further image-recognition research projects. His experience in using edge AI with the Hector seminar students meant that he has had no hesitation in employing this in a current smart farming research project. Tractors are of course highly mobile and active over wide areas, which makes connecting to a network or cloud impractical. In many instances, they need data processed in real time. His experience mentoring the Hector students as they analyse live streams has also informed his response to a recent traffic-planning question. It is hoped that this will lead to a further research project using the SEEBURGER BIS, which could in turn influence the AI solutions offered by SEEBURGER.
Where will Lena take her project? Will this awaken an interest in a career in artificial intelligence – or even business integration? And, who will join us in our next Hector project starting September 2022?
The project blurb
The aim of the project is to experiment with a variety of machine learning models and use them to describe selected video streams as automatically as possible.
You will start by playing with various trained machine learning models in JupyterLab and applying these to YouTube livestreams and the webcam and stereo camera on the mini computers.
You will then use machine learning models to describe selected livestreams or images as automatically as possible. This may include recognising and counting cars, trucks, people, animals and objects. What are the similarities and differences? What can the model recognise well? What can’t be seen so clearly? Can individual faces and body positions be recognised? Can you spot any patterns? Can you calculate sizes, distances, speeds and directions of movement?
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Written by: Alexandra Pörner, Melissa KuhnertMelissa and Alexandra make up one third of the content creation team at SEEBURGER. British-born Melissa and German-literature graduate Alexandra share a passion for clear communication and making complex yet fascinating technology topics accessible to both fellow techies and a wider audience in their respective languages. As well as translating each other's work, sometimes they join forces for multilingual projects like this one. Both are bookworms who enjoy travelling. Alexandra can often be found with a camera in her hand, while Melissa loves the nuances of a British comedy programme.