Why So Sensitive?
Sensitive people gather to learn about the latest sensing technology & innovations in the semi-post pandemic era
This shouldn’t be news to anyone, like-minded folks who work towards the same goals come together once in a while to discuss the latest and greatest in the field, to get themselves caught up with the latest research and development, and stay relevant in the mainstream of information highway. I am not talking about the Comic-Con, Star Trek conventions, or the Burning Man menace (what?), rather something more scholastic in the technology sector, an academic conference that was appealing to me in several ways as a Sensors researcher.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, many conferences have turned virtual, again. This surely makes dynamic face-to-face engagement difficult, who doesn’t miss sitting in the front row of a meeting room and being bombarded by vibrant intellectual spittals from the speaker right? Well, no, however, going full virtual does have its perks, such as the reduction in travel costs, time saved, and the unique ability to interact with each conference participant in pajamas. Trust me, I’ve seen worse dressed participants in their “natural” states, including well-regarded scholars. So we oughtn’t to judge someone’s scholastic fervor and depth of intellect based on the laden disguise of our spoiled coverings.
The academic conference I “went to” was all about Sensors, devices that detect things of interest to different folks in different applications.
From environmental sensing to chemical sensing, to physical sensing, and sensing informatics, and beyond. This conference was hosted by the IEEE organization — The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which is a professional association for electronic engineering and electrical engineering. This organization hosts a plethora of conferences, over a really wide range of topics, from civil engineering to biological and medicinal sciences. It’s a haven for all who are working on some kind of sensing technology or applications, to detect and “sense” a state or a condition of change autonomously or robustly, or ingeniously. You can imagine this general description can be applied to detecting who enters a room and when, or what chemicals were inhaled by the human body, or if a drone has flown by ahead of your head, etc. Anything goes at this conference, as it seemed. That is the reason why it was so interesting to browse and interact with such a diverse group of inventors and engineers who brought forth such fascinating ideas and work that intrigued me greatly.
One of the really nice things about attending this conference virtually is the adaptation of gather. town interface. I first saw this retro-classic gaming avatar-based on-screen interaction back in early 2020 when the pandemic first wreaked havoc around the world. The concept is about creating a digital twin of yourself, the digital or virtual you reflects the physical you (how many sci-fi movies does this remind you of? — Gamer, Ready Player One, anyone?), through a 2D avatar on the screen, you moved around a virtual environment on a practical conference layout with dedicated meeting rooms for different talks and presentations. Controlling the avatar is as easy as moving your mouse and hitting a few keys on the keyboard. Video prompts appear when you are near another participant in the virtual conference, and your headphone would start picking up voices when you are close to a group of people talking. The whole interactive space aimed to mimic that of real-world interactions, which really makes you want to see a VR version of it taking place soon.
So there were a lot of topics to go through, there were live sessions where speakers presented at their virtual podiums and rooms. You enter a room with sensing topic of your choice, grab some real popcorns, and just sit back and let the good times roll. It sort of reminded me of the experience of watching those old commercials on TV where people wanted to sell you their novel inventions (i.e. “The magic mop” or “Key finder”). It was just fun to watch. And inspiring of course, as a scientist, many of the presented inventions and ideas were highly conducive to my own research at work. Given it is virtual, I couldn’t help to browse through every topic available. In the physical world, this wouldn’t be possible, given that there are concurrent sessions that prevent you from being in multiple places at the same time. But virtually, or I should say digitally, anything is possible. It is even possible to watch the recorded session instead of live, and meet up with the speakers later for Q&As. I posted an image grab above, just check out all of the topics that are available.
Opportunities come and go, next year, depending on how the mutation of the COVID-19 virus turns out, and our progress in beating this dreaded disease, virtual conferencing may no longer be an option. So, I treasured this experience while I still can.