Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Gautam Vasan, currently an Artificial Intelligence Engineer at Kindred Systems Inc., shares his fascination for creating intelligent artificial limbs at the University of Alberta
Robotics started as a hobby for me when a couple of friends and I decided to explore in our first year of engineering. It later blossomed into a passion which led me to a fully funded M.Sc in Computing Science at the University of Alberta. I graduated from NIT Trichy with a B.Tech. in Instrumentation Control Engineering, where I was lucky to be involved in multidisciplinary research. The decision to defer employment and join a master’s programme abroad was easier for me since I had had a taste of excitement and the sense of fulfilment obtained from research. Considering the huge financial investment required, I applied exclusively to top-tier universities in the USA, Canada and Sweden which offered funding/scholarships to their graduate students.
The University of Alberta is consistently ranked among the top four universities in Canada. It has a stellar reputation in research and development and has world-class research laboratories. Initially, I struggled with the coursework as its structure demanded delving deeper into concepts and encourages one undertaking projects. This was drastically different for me since we were trained in the “art of taking exams” rather than building our own project ideas in India.
How was the experience?
The great thing about the university is that all graduate students involved in thesis-based programmes get paid to study. The stipend covers both tuition and living expenses. Earlier, I was a Teaching Assistant for an undergraduate course on programming which helped me learn about their teaching methods, student perspectives and so on. I’m currently a Research Assistant in my lab at the department of rehabilitation medicine. My research focus is on reinforcement learning and robotics — creating intelligent artificial limbs to restore and extend abilities for people with amputations.
Weekly seminars by graduate students, invited professors and key people from the industry give us a glimpse of the exciting research going on around us. In addition, there is excellent funding for research and many opportunities to attend conferences and present results. Professors are extremely supportive and always willing to listen to your ideas.
Life in Edmonton?
The friendliness of Canadians, and especially the people from Edmonton, has left a lasting impression on me. Edmonton is a beautiful, ethnically diverse city with low crime rates and taxes. The winter is a bit harsh as the temperature sometimes drops below minus 20 degrees. But I started to love the snow as soon as I bought the right winter gear. Summer and spring time is so breathtakingly beautiful along the river valley that people try to spend most of the day outside. It’s easy to obtain Indian spices and food thanks to the huge Indian diaspora living here. Hiking, camping, canoeing, skiing, snowboarding, etc., are some of the enthralling activities that are common here.
My life in Edmonton has given me a sense of direction, confidence and freedom. It’s helped me prepare for an exhilarating journey ahead!
What do you do now?
We’re working towards building machines with human-level intelligence. My main area of expertise is applying Reinforcement Learning and Deep Learning techniques to real-world robotics domains..