Presenting LINK at PerCom… from home

TMaaS team member Casper Van Gheluwe was due to present our project this year at the prestigious PerCom conference in the US. The original intention was for him to travel to Austin with an interactive demo model, but the coronavirus crisis threw a spanner in the works. A big disappointment, but Casper made the most of the situation by creating an explainer video that he presented during an online call. We asked him how he feels when he looks back on this rather unusual experience.

What exactly is PerCom?

Casper Van Gheluwe: “PerCom stands for Pervasive Computing also called ubiquitous computing. It is the growing trend of embedding computational capability into everyday objects to make them effectively communicate and perform useful tasks in a way that minimizes the end user’s need to interact with computers as computers. Pervasive computing devices are network-connected and constantly available. This conference brings together scientific researchers from that specific field.”

How were the participants selected?

Casper Van Gheluwe: “Candidates had to submit a 3-page paper (download this paper), with an indication of how the research proposed contributes to the field of pervasive computing. In our case we also had to provide a little technical background as well as a list of the experiments we have already carried out, etc. On top of this we had to provide an explanation and description of what we intended to present at the conference. A selection was then made based on relevance, impact, quality, etc. And the good news for us is that we were among the lucky organisations selected.”

Why did you think it was important to participate in this conference with TMaaS?

Casper Van Gheluwe: “For various reasons. First and foremost, PerCom offers us a great opportunity to present our product to computer scientists and to look at it from their perspective. Speaking as a scientist, I would say that it also offered us a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on the development work of our research group at the university and to establish contacts with other researchers. Personally speaking, this was going to be the second year in a row that I would be attending the conference. The first year turned out very well. I had observed that there was a lot of interest in the type of research we carry out and the type of data we work with. At the time traffic research and the use of data had not been popular subjects at the conference. My main job within TMaaS is to optimise the front end, the map and the dashboard itself. The focus here is mainly on programming and does not involve so much research. At this conference, where the focus is more on the latter, the actual research that I carried out for my PhD plays a more prominent role. And what can I say… Austin is quite a nice city, of course. That’s also a bonus.” (laughs).

What was the original idea for the TMaaS contribution?

Casper Van Gheluwe: “We were to provide an interactive demo stand where visitors could test the current version of TMaaS and the LINK.Gent dashboard. There were to be a number of computers in our booth that people could use live and possibly a large screen on which we would demonstrate the dashboard. I myself was to provide explanations and answer questions.”

But that turned out to be redundant given the coronavirus crisis?

Casper Van Gheluwe: “Unfortunately, yes. Initially, the intention was to continue with part of the conference, but only for people who do not come from risk areas. However, with the development and advance of the pandemic, that idea was eventually dropped and the decision was taken to cancel completely. So, the organisers opted to work with online presentations, for which the participants could dial in. Our initial concept of a demo stand naturally fell by the wayside.”

What form did your presentation take?

Casper Van Gheluwe: “I gave a short presentation of the concept, followed by a brief demo. In order to take account of the different time zones, my presentation took place at midnight. Those who could not attend live were given the opportunity to view the recording afterwards. Because for some countries it meant that the presentation was taking place at around 4 a.m. The dynamics were completely different of course than if we had been presenting on an actual information stand, but there was still some good interaction. Instead of having to press the buttons themselves to see what happens, they had to ask me to do it for them.”

What did you talk about during your presentation?

Casper Van Gheluwe: “Most people were completely unfamiliar with TMaaS. So I used those five minutes to provide a brief outline of what we do and the challenges we face within TMaaS. In addition – in line with the topic and target group of the conference – I focused on data processing and the different processes we use. During the actual demo I shared my screen and the participants were able to ask me to explain certain functions and so on. That way it still offered some interaction.”

So, do you think it was all worthwhile in the end?

Casper Van Gheluwe: “Most definitely. It was fascinating to see the dashboard from the point of view of computer scientists instead of traffic experts. What happened focused less around the purpose of the dashboard and more on the technical background and the underlying computer architecture. The questions and feedback revolved around these aspects. And that was an added bonus, because we have already collected a lot of traffic-related feedback. It was a great opportunity to receive comments from a different perspective.”

More information about PerCom 2020


Urban Innovative Actions

This project is co-financed by the European Regional and Development Fund through the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative.

Urban Innovative Actions is an Initiative of the European Union that provides urban areas throughout Europe with resources to test new and unproven solutions to address urban challenges.

Based on article 8 of ERDF, the Initiative has a total ERDF budget of EUR 372 million for 2014-2020.