Sara Spanddhana who was part of the winning team at an environmental sensing hackathon interned at the University of Helsinki and is back with her experiences.
Air pollution has been hogging all the news lately and the AQI in each Indian city is under close scrutiny. But numbers may sometimes be lost on the common man. A simpler categorisation of air quality in terms of good, satisfactory, moderate, poor and severe is not only more user-friendly but also provides actionable data in an easy format. And even better if the said pollution data is picked up not by bulky devices but an everyday object like a smartphone. At an environmental sensing contest conducted by the University of Helsinki, a team from IIITH did just that walking away with the first place. Their sleek IoT-based solution relied on smartphone images to come up with an air quality index estimator. The prize entailed a 3-month all-expenses borne internship at the University of Helsinki.
ML Models On Microcontrollers
Master of Science by Research in Electronics and Communication Engineering, Sara Spanddhana who is part of the winning team was selected for the internship where she had the unique opportunity of working on an offshoot of the prestigious Digital Twin project. For those not in the know, the city of Helsinki is creating a virtual 3D model of itself, known as a digital twin, to test and analyse urban planning scenarios. Sara’s specific tasks as an intern entailed research work on TinyML for resource-constrained devices. “Implementing methods to ensure the seamless deployment of machine learning algorithms on devices with constrained resources was my main responsibility,” she elaborates. As part of this process, Sara worked hands-on with various hardware platforms such as Raspberry Pi, Google Coral, and Arduino. “These platforms are widely used for developing IoT and embedded systems, making them ideal for resource-constrained objectives,” she says.
Paper Presentation And Journal Publication Interestingly enough, Sara had been collaborating with the University of Helsinki well before her participation in the hackathon and her research efforts culminated in a paper that was accepted at a conference held there. “Since her internship and the conference dates overlapped, it was fortuitous that she could accomplish both in a single trip,” says Prof. Sachin Chaudhari, Signal Processing and Communications Research Centre at IIITH, who has been mentoring Sara. He adds that besides the conference paper, she also contributed to a journal publication as part of her association with the University of Helsinki. “From the perspective of an MS student, such validation of research at the international level is a very good sign,” he states.
Early Spark Noticed
Sara Spanddhana’s involvement with emerging technologies such as automation and sensors began way back when she was studying for her Bachelors. In her 4th year of her BTech degree, she happened to arrive at IIITH for an internship project under Prof. Chaudhari’s mentorship. “I worked on a smart transportation module for my college where we used RFID and GPS in our buses. This was to determine where the bus was in terms of location and also to see how many were on board the bus to avoid overcrowding,” she explains. “Even at that time, I could see that she was really dedicated about the project and put in a lot of effort unlike her peers,” remarks the professor. When she was given an opportunity to convert the internship into a seat in the Master’s program, Sara jumped at it, qualifying all the exams and interviews with aplomb.
Internship: Enriching Break
Calling it a “transformative experience”, Sara reveals that the environment at the University of Helsinki which let her work closely with brilliant researchers and engineers helped in gaining insights into their research methodologies and problem-solving techniques. “Their mentorship was instrumental in my professional growth as they encouraged me to think beyond the confines of academic research and consider real-world applications of TinyML.” But besides academia, Sara got a chance to traverse the great outdoors in Helsinki. “It was summer when I visited and with the day lasting well into the night, it was quite an experience. Public transport is so convenient and hence I explored the city quite a bit, went on treks, and immersed myself in nature,” she smiles.