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Why I'm sceptical about self-drive cars

A lot of attention has recently been given to self-drive (aka "robot" cars) recently, including this very impressive video released last week of a Google Self-Drive car navigating busy city streets.

Don't get me wrong: There are clearly some enormously smart people working on self-drive cars and the technical issues may well all be solved very soon (if they haven't already been solved).

But there are two reasons I'm sceptical that we'll see a mass-adoption of self-drive cars any time soon:

Post-doc funding

I'm probably still a year or so away from finishing my PhD but I've started to explore funding opportunities for UK computer science post doctoral researchers. (I think I'd really quite like to continue working on energy disaggregation after my PhD; there are still lots of research problems; and we're a very long way from having a robust, open source disaggregation tool for end-users).

Introducing NILMTK: an open source toolkit for non-intrusive load monitoring

Today, Nipun Batra, Jack Kelly and Oliver Parson are really pleased to announce the release of NILMTK: an open source toolkit for non-intrusive load monitoring. The toolkit will allow researchers to easily develop algorithms which disaggregate a household’s total electricity consumption into individual appliances.

Specifically, the toolkit includes:

Non-Intrusive Load Monitoring ToolKit (nilmtk)

Nipun, Oli and I have just started work on an open source toolkit for non-intrusive load monitoring called nilmtk. We're pretty excited about it! It's only in the very, very earliest stages (the code repository currently has precisely zero lines of code in it!) although we've started to flesh out the design on the project's wiki.

Why don't academics discuss research before starting the work?!

Warning: this is a hopelessly idealistic proposal...

As far as I can tell, scientists of all types tend to be secretive about their work prior to publication. I guess the fear is that, without secrecy, another lab might steal the idea and publish it first. But this secrecy comes with several significant costs, one of which is the huge length of time between first having an idea and then getting feedback from peers. First you have your bright idea, then you do the necessary research (which might take years), then you write up a paper, then you submit the paper to a journal or conference and a while later you get your first bit of peer feedback.

This feels extraordinarily inefficient. If an idea is bad then it needs to fail fast (before resources have been expended). And if an idea needs improving then it's far better to improve the proposal before doing all the work rather than trying to retrofit a fix after the bulk of the work has been done.

How about this as an alternative:

Wiki and online community for electricity disaggregation researchers

If you're a researcher working on electricity disaggregation (aka NALM / NILM / NIALM) then would you find a wiki and/or online community useful?

Resources and organisations for teaching kids to engineer / code stuff

This is not yet an exhaustive list. Please comment if you know of any other resources to mention!

The wonderful MSc students I worked with last year and their award-winning projects ;)

This spring and summer I had the opportunity to work with some exceptional MSc students at Imperial and I just wanted to write a summary of their achievements.

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