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The PPI Center’s Profound Impact on Industry, Faculty & Students

Updated: Jun 5

PPI leadership team, faculty and industry members at May 2024 IAB meeting.

In 2020, the Pervasive Personalized Intelligence (PPI) Center was founded with a mission of bringing industry and university talent together to solve the intelligence challenges faced by software and computer engineers in IoT systems. The Center operates under the supervision of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) using the Industry–University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC) model, which accelerates the impact of basic research through close relationships between industry innovators, world-class academic teams, and government leaders.

In 2024, the PPI leadership team made the difficult decision not to continue funding new research projects, but will continue to complete the projects it currently has underway.

This does not diminish the impact PPI has had on industry members, faculty leadership and student researchers. Not only was instrumental and career-shaping research conducted, the lives of experienced and future talent was profoundly impacted by PPI.

This became abundantly clear at its April Industry Advisory Board Meeting, where researchers came together to share their thoughts on what the Center has meant to them. Common themes included:

• Real-world guidance

• The value of collaboration

• Shaping the next generation of talent

• Learning how to communicate effectively with industry

• Expanding knowledge to new areas and gaining new perspectives

• Connecting with others

Following are some of the insights that were shared by the people involved with the Center.

Industry Members Reflect

Over the years, PPI members from NEC Labs, Intel Laboratories, NS Trimble have collaborated with faculty and students from the University of Colorado Boulder (UC Boulder) and Oregon State University (OSU).

Dr. Haifeng Chen, Head of Data Science Department at NEC Laboratories, and a longtime member of PPI, along with his colleague Kai Ishikawa, Principal Researcher, shared their thoughts, “It’s been such a good experience. We’ve learned a lot. Ellen Do and her team have helped to expand our thinking and encouraged us to explore new areas.” They also commended student researchers for their interest in a broad range of research topics.

Giuseppe "Beppe" Raffa, a Principal AI Engineer at Intel Labs stressed the value of collaboration and the ability to “shape the next generation of talent. It’s been a proud and humbling experience.”

Faculty Leadership Insights

Founder and executive director, Danny Dig of UC Boulder, and OSU site director, Weng-Keen Wong, also praised the gift of being able to work with industry and students on projects.

Danny shared “For me, starting the Center gave me an opportunity to take a vision and build it from the ground up. I’ve learned so much from the experience. The research has been top-notch and I’m so proud that the PPI Center's research on Generative AI Programming Assistant was accepted for presentation at the 2024 Foundations of Software Engineering, the flagship ACM conference in the field of Software Engineering. Moreover, I am very excited about the practical impact of our research, as our team was able to modernize code bases for industry members. Even though the Center is winding down, our work and impact will continue for years to come. The biggest impact is on the lives of the PhD students – seeing how much they grew professionally and personally was the greatest source of joy of working together.”

Weng-Keen listed three areas of importance to him:

  1. It was great finding out about industry-relevant problems and seeing how Machine Learning was used and deployed in industry.

  2. I enjoyed getting to know this nice network of industry contacts that were wonderful to work with.

  3. I enjoyed getting to know the graduate students from all the universities. It was especially fun to see the graduate students who were part of the center for 2-3 years mature as researchers.

University Faculty Highlights

Faculty members like Prasad Tadepalli, professor of computer science at OSU and Bor-Yuh Evan Chang, associate professor at UC Boulder, also shared their feedback.

Prasad wrote, “I can say that without PPI, I would not be doing what I am doing right now - working with multiple students on computer vision projects. It wasn't my area of expertise. Before PPI, I was working with static images. Beppe encouraged us to work on video. We have been meeting weekly, and recently my student Bhavan Vasu (OSU) submitted code to Intel for testing on their data. I also acquired another student, Anant Thunuguntla, who was working at Intel at that time with Beppe. I learned a lot by advising both of these students and collaborating with Beppe.

I also did a project in natural language processing with NEC. Kai's input was invaluable. I believe the Center changed many peoples' lives.”

Evan appreciated “the dream of doing something hard together. Crossing the difficult chasm of fundamental research and industry products. Bringing industry members to interact with students, and guiding those students towards future development.”

Student Researchers’ Thoughts

Students talking about the impact the PPI Center had on their lives.

Perhaps the greatest benefiters of the Center are the students. Many spoke up at the April meeting to highlight what PPI has meant to them.

Julia Romero, a PhD student at UC Boulder, said, “I was lost before PPI took a chance on me. I worked on my first proposal with my advisor Morteza Karimzadeh and had success getting funded. I’ve been collaborating with Intel weekly on relevant applications. Coming to the industry meetings, talking with industry and faculty has helped my confidence.”

“The real world analysis and getting members engaged to speak during the poster sessions has been very helpful to me,” said Kunal Rathore, a PhD student at OSU.

Malinda Dilhara, a PhD candidate at UC Boulder, expressed that meeting various people from Ford, Boeing, Trimble and NEC, as well as start-ups helped him “see new perspectives and helped me to expand my research topics to other subjects.”

“I’m grateful for the lighting talks,” said David Hunter, a PhD student at UC Boulder. “They were challenging, interesting and pushed me to do more, like getting into the lab, doing demos and trying things out. I also enjoyed working with NEC.”

A Concluding Word from PPI’s Executive Director Danny Dig

“We are grateful to NSF and our industry members for giving us this unique opportunity to accomplish something together as a Center that none of our faculty and students could have done independently. We set out to build intelligence platforms for the aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, precision agriculture, national labs and high-tech sectors that push intelligence to the edge of the network. And that is what we did. I am extremely grateful to the co-directors of the Center and Steve Brummer (our industry liaison person) and Victoria Birk Hill (our communications expert) for being the best thinking partners. A big shoutout goes to the faculty and students that were involved in the PPI Center over the years – your ideas and hard work is what made us accomplish our mission for practical impact. Teamwork makes the dream work. Thank you to all for your incredible work.”

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