Last week I attended the American Controls Conference, an academic conference focused on classical controls and optimization. While this was the first time I had attended, this is one of biggest conferences for the eCAL lab’s research, and my advisor had attended for nine years running!
Attending gave me a fantastic glimpse into my advisor’s academic background and intellectual community. While our research group has grown to focus more on optimization techniques and machine learning, the ACC is a control conference, and most presentations included block, stability analysis, and a dynamic representation of the system and its state.
I found myself most commonly in the decentralized control, game theory, multi-agent system, and smart grid / power system sessions. Because I was new to the conference, I mostly spent the time learning about new approaches and techniques that I wasn’t familiar with. However, the novelty was often overwhelming: most presenters desperately try to cram 3-6 months of research into a twenty-minute slot, and end up leaving the audience confused, bewildered, and unenlightened. The most ambitious presenter I saw managed to cram 52 slides and two 2-minute videos into an 18-minute talk; I don’t think anyone other than his funder got anything from that experience.
The presentations that were most effective:
- Used videos to illustrate complex behavior, particularly for multi-agent systems,
- Avoided detailed math unless necessary,
- Provided a high-level overview of the results before explaining the problem: this was very effective at providing context.
Presentations that made a difference for me:
- Javad Lavaei speaking in a semi-plenary session about his work on convex relaxations of rank-constrained problems.
- Evening special session on the future of automated vehicles, highlighting the need for more developments in safety, security and robustness of autonomous control systems.
- Presentation by Vincent Laurense on the role of friction modeling in autonomous vehicle control- this reignited my old passion for vehicle engineering
Attending helped me humanize academia by breaking down the teacher/student barrier and showing me the networks of peers who had grown and learned together over the years. This conference is the first time I could imagine myself in an academic career, as I enjoyed relaxing and chatting with faculty of different ages and joking about research.
Seattle was also an incredible city to visit in late May, and I enjoyed going on runs through the city to piece together sections that I’d previously only glimpsed in previous visits.