Dr. Arno Solin, Assistant Professor, stores a plastic bag full of electronic gadgets in his office wardrobe, since a student of his needed equipment for building a robot. Part of them have come a long way. "My father bought this soldering iron. I was too little to be in school at the time, or just barely in elementary school," Solin says and laughs.
Already as a child, Solin was interested in technology, physics and mathematics. At home, he would build robots and spaceships. The son of academicians, he saw first hand the life of researchers -- and wanted to become one himself. "After high school, I almost chose Political History as my major. But then I figured it would be easier to have history as a hobby than statistics and mathematics."
It is Solin's job to study machine learning, which is an application of artificial intelligence: the machine learns based on experience without being further programmed by humans. Machine learning makes use of e.g. statistics. In June, the Academy of Finland granted the research project led by Solin funding allocated to the new generation of researchers. Researchers make use of statistical machine learning and the development of machine vision in their project entity.
Solin finds machine learning fascinating, as you get to combine theory with solutions to tangible problems. He concentrates on probability modeling: How do you model uncertainties? How does machine learning deduce results from new data? How can you help machines reach sensible deductions in the here and now? "I think I was interested in machine learning already before I knew it was a thing."
In the Academy-funded project, researchers concentrate on sensing, comprehending and describing the environment via machine vision methods. These functions are a challenge in the development of any autonomous or augmented reality system, especially when the surrounding conditions are uncertain.
According to Solin, the project has the potential to develop methods that could solve many a practical problem. It is this potential that fascinates him. New research results could help develop e.g. the functionalities of smartphones. Computation, especially, can be used to make them work better, to use the current data more efficiently. Smartphone cameras could become better for shooting at night, or provide better depth of field without bigger, better and more expensive sensors.
"Existing sensors, existing smartphones can improve and have more to offer simply by being able to arrive at conclusions more effectively from information detected by the device," Solin sums it up.
New knowledge can be applied to many other things. For example depth estimation can help create video games, or devices for the visually impaired to better grasp their surroundings. The research is mostly pure research in nature, but provides reliable and efficient methods for the needs of other disciplines. Through collaboration, they have been adapted in medicine and the evaluation of urban air quality.
The researcher must know how to communicate
Dr. Solin, Assistant Professor since 2018, is the co-author of a textbook in stochastic differential calculus together with Simo Särkkä, Professor of Electrical Engineering. Solin has taught several courses at Aalto University as well as AI 101 at the open university.
Solin laughs when he claims his motives for sharing knowledge are partly self-interested. "Explaining to others, I learn myself. When you have to explain things from different angles, in different ways and afresh, you get a different take familiar things."