Albrecht Schmidt with telepresence robot
At the beginning of July I had a chance to visit my colleague Albrecht Schmidt and his HCI Lab at the University of Stuttgart. This summer Albrecht is hosting eight US student participants in our International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation, Office of International and Integrative Activities. You can read about the team on the UNH HCI Lab website. My visit to Stuttgart was a chance to talk to the students and find out first-hand about their research activities. I also participated in the 2016 Quantifying User Experiences (QUE) summer school, where I lectured on topics in digital signal processing.
Our NSF IRES students are making quick progress with their HCI Lab colleagues, and I’m looking forward to their final presentations this week. On the cultural side, I really enjoyed the trip organized for QUE 2016 participants to Tübingen, a town with pretty architecture and a scenic riverfront.
This is the second year of the UNH IRES program. This year we will again be selecting up to 6 students to conduct research with Albrecht Schmidt’s group at the University of Stuttgart. Get all the details on the UNH IRES website and apply soon.
HCI Lab, Stuttgart
UNH ECE professor Tom Miller and I were recently awarded an NSF International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) grant. Our IRES grant will fund students conducting research at the University of Stuttgart in Germany.
Under our NSF IRES grant, each summer between 2014 and 2017, three undergraduate and three graduate students will conduct research for just under 9 weeks at the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab of Professor Albrecht Schmidt at the University of Stuttgart. Professor Schmidt and his lab are among the world leaders in the field of HCI.
Student research will focus on two areas: in-vehicle speech interaction and speech interaction with public displays. For in-vehicle speech, students will relate the benefits and limitations of speech interaction with in-vehicle devices with real-world parameters, such as how well speech recognition works at any given moment. They will also work to identify why it is that talking to a passenger appears to reduce the probability of a crash, and how we might be able to use this new information to create safer in-vehicle speech interactions. Similarly, students will explore how speech interaction can allow smooth interaction with electronic public displays.
Stuttgart Palace Square (Stefan Fussan: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derfussi/)
Successful applicants will receive full financial support for participation, covering items such as airfare, room and board, health insurance, as well as a $500/week stipend. The total value of the financial package is approximately $8,500 for 9 weeks.
Details about the program, including applications instructions, are available here. Please note that this program is only available to US citizens and permanent residents. If you have questions please contact Andrew Kun (andrew dot kun at unh dot edu) or Tom Miller (tom dot miller at unh dot edu).
The NSF’s FY 2015 Budget Summary Brochure is out, and it shows that the agency’s request for the next fiscal year is $7.3 billion. I’m disappointed that the number is this small. Consider the following:
|NSF FY 2015 budget request
|2013 NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL player salaries
|2013 Fedex sales: US overnight mail
|2014 Facebook purchase of WhatsApp
In other words, we as a nation spend the same on NSF’s crucial research , as on professional player salaries [2, 3, 4, 5, 6], as well as on overnight mail (actually this is Fedex only, not all overnight mail) . At the same time, a corporate giant spends more than twice as much on a single product, than the entire annual budget of the NSF. I have no problem with player salaries (who else can entertain us like they can?), on overnight package costs (I’m looking forward to delivery by drones too), or with corporate decision-making (no expertise on that one). I’m only mentioning these numbers to put into perspective how little we as a nation, with a $16 trillion economy , spend on NSF’s research programs.
References (accessed 3/6/14)
 FY 2015 Budget Summary Brochure (pdf)
 2013 NBA salaries: http://hoopshype.com/salaries.htm
 2013 NHL salaries: http://www.capgeek.com/payrolls/
 2013 NFL salaries: http://www.besttickets.com/blog/unofficial-2013-nfl-census/
 2013 MLB salaries: http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/salaries
 2013 NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL salaries: http://sportslistoftheday.com/2013/04/02/mlb-nfl-nba-and-nhl-2013-team-payrolls/
 Fedex Annual Report 2013 (pdf)
 US GDP estimate from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States
On Thursday I participated in a Phase II National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (NSF SBIR) panel. While I’ve been to Phase I panels before, this was my first Phase II panel. In Phase I companies can request up to $150,000 for 6 months to a year. A company that receives a Phase I award, and successfully delivers on its grant, is eligible to compete in Phase II with a proposal for up to $500,000 for two years.
The one thing that always strikes me at the SBIR panels is that proposals have to make a good business case. Panels include both technical experts and business experts and a proposal has to clear the bar with both sets in order to be recommended for funding. I’ve always taken it for granted that an NSF proposal (SBIR or scientific) should make a good argument for why the technology or scientific innovation is worth funding. However, before my involvement in the SBIR review process, I didn’t really think much about the business case to be made when requesting funding for a business venture. In this respect I’m hardly alone: engineers usually don’t spend much time exploring the business side of running a business. At the UNH ECE department we’re looking into alleviating this problem through the involvement of Brad Gillespie in our senior project courses. Brad is a UNH ECE alumnus, Microsoft veteran and business strategy consultant. Read about Brad’s last visit to UNH ECE and check back for more on this in a future post.
So, if you’re a technical person planning to submit an SBIR proposal (note that many federal agencies run SBIR programs, not just the NSF), my advice is this: bring in people who can help you think through (and coherently present in the proposal) a business plan for your venture. Without a compelling business plan your proposal will not be funded.