18 June

I have been looking at the competitive Esports world recently, that is the world of video game spectatorship where people watch top players display their prowess at various computer-based games. This follows the model of professional non-video sports like tennis, soccer and football, but based on modern games that arguably have a broader appeal in today's world. This has been an ongoing commercial activity for years, but it is only gradually coming to the attention of the general public (i.e. people over the age of 30). Many people are surprised to find that top video game tournaments draw thousands of spectators, both in person as we as on-line and have prize pools that can reach up to into the tens of millions of dollars (for example the Dota 2 International 2016 had a prize pool of over $20,000,000 USD). My first exposure to this world was when I heard one of my graduate students and his girlfriend were traveling to Toronto to watch a World of Warcraft live stadium event with tens of thousands of spectators. Today's hottest games include Dota 2, Counterstrike and Overwatch.

Some big investors and companies are seeking to get into the Esports craze either to promote their games, build their audience, or use it as an advertising medium for other products. The scene includes huge corporate players in the gaming scene like Blizzard Entertainment, traditional media organizations like ESPN or Turner Broadcasting that are dabbling with this new market and numerous smaller companies looking to establish themselves. Some pro Esports teams have also partnered with traditional sports teams like the Detroit Renegades.

Image by Sam Churchill

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14 June

ICRA 2017 Singapore

ICRA2017 recently took place in Singapore. As usual, it was accompanied by a constellation of workshops and special meetings including an organizing meeting our our ICRA2019 group, a very nice workshop on self-driving cars, and a satellite meeting at NUS on marine robotics. ICRA is the flagship conference of the robotics and automation society and the premiere venue for robotics researchers to exchange ideas, results, news, technologies and generally do networking. The meeting had over 2,400 attendees which reflects the growing shift from pure long-term academic research to immediate socio-economic impact. Even though this is a research meeting, not an industrial development meeting (like RoboBusiness), it includes a growing trade show, a lot of industrial engagement, and an increasingly hot recruiting component.

While the main research themes apparent at the conference were largely predictable outgrowths of ongoing trends, there are continuing shifts in emphasis that I noticed.

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06 April

Event for startup company founders and possible investors

I attended LaunchFestival in San Francisco. It was a startup event with pitches from, services to small companies and talks on topics from fund raising to hiring. It was another interesting example of the hyper-energetic startup scene here and attracted a large range of founders and service companies. Apparently as many as 12,000 founders and funders purchased a ticket to got a free pass.

On the other hand the noise level in the startup scene is very high with a plethora of silly ideas, wannabes and short-attention-syndrome. That's the nature of the startup scene and by-and-large the organizers did a great job of selecting interesting participants, especially since it's almost impossible to accurately predict which zany ideas will eventually get traction.

I got to meet a couple of different representatives from Chinese investment houses who seemed pretty interested in some of the robotics ventures that I also liked. Overall Launch Festival was great and provided an interesting aspect of the scene here at an exceptionally large scale. I also made a couple of useful contacts and saw a couple of cool demos.

San Francisco Launch Festival presentation on scaling up
Sponsored by SeedInvest (Click to expand)

San Francisco Launch Festival demo pit
(Click to expand)

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21 February

My sabbatical continues. It has been a difficult and complicated one, however, since there were some health issues within my family, not the least of which was my mother breaking her hip while visiting in the USA. This was, among other things, a great lesson for me regarding the differences between the Canadian and US health systems and the astounding rate at which medical bills could build up in the USA.

Despite that, and in other news, we had great marine field trials in Barbados, my students launched gozazz ride sharing, and we are developing plans to build the second phase of the Canadian Robotics Network.

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27 October

Quoting the McGIll reporter: "Itís now an even dozen. For the 12th year in a row, Macleanís magazine has ranked McGill as the top university in Canada among institutions with medical schools and a broad range of PhD programs." McGill was also the highest ranked Canadian university in the QS World University Rankings coming in around 30th world-wide.

As always, it is important to point out ... really ... that these ranking are rather subjective and take many different factors into account with relative weightings that could easily be debated. For example, who is to say how important is the size of the library is, versus the number of professors who have won Nobel prizes, versus the number of research papers published per professor?

McGill retained this ranking despite per-student operating budget in the bottom 25 per cent of the 49 universities in the Macleanís rankings. While this suggests great efficiency, I believe it also has something to do with spending accrued momentum and human capital. In short, I do not think McGIll excellence is sustainable unless the budget problems are addressed. For the moment, however, yay!

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07 October

ISER, Talk at Kyoto U, off to Seoul

The Symposium on Experimental Robotics was very interesting. It's s small single track meeting where you really get to talk to the individuals who are working on projects with a strong experimental flavor. I have attended the meeting many times and would have to say the quality is probably increasing, perhaps consonant with the increasing impact and importance of robotics world wide. Perhaps the most surprising talk I heard was from Carrick Detweiler's lab where they have a flying vehicle that is used to create controlled burns to manage natural resources. To put that more bluntly, it's a quadrotor that spits out flaming/explosive balls to cause the ground below to catch on fire.

Our own work on using teams of different kinds of robots to monitor/measure coral reefs went well and was delivered by Alberto Li. In that work as use a temp of three different kinds if marine vehicle to collect ocean data at different spatial and temporal scales.

On a personal note I loved walking around Tokyo, which is a city with amazing energy.

Afterwards, I went to visit Kyoto University where I gave a colloquium on research projects in our lab, then I got to visit David Avis.

Now I'm off to Seoul Korea en route to the IROS 2016 Conference (International Conference on Robots and Systems) , a multi-thousand-person robotics meeting. The anti-reflective coating on my eyeglasses has started to peel off, perhaps from the humidity here. I'm going to check out Namdaemun Market, in the center of Seoul, where I can apparently pick up a good pair of glasses fast and on the cheap. That should be an adventure! Namdaemun is the biggest traditional market in Korea and seems to sell everything, with some shops have their own factories.

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