Systems researcher makes life easier
Professor Yu Xiao, what do you research and why?
My field is systems research. Simply put, it means recognising everyday problems, trying to find the pieces needed for solving them and then using the pieces in a smart way to put together an entity that is as user-friendly as possible.
At the moment, my research is focused on crowdsensing, which involves utilising data collected from separate sources in solving common problems. In my most recent study, I focus on how images and other sensor data obtainable from mobile phones could be used to create maps automatically depicting indoor spaces and navigation applications suitable for indoor spaces. Using such applications outdoors is already commonplace, but what happens when we arrive to an unfamiliar airport or try to find a restaurant in a huge shopping centre? Through my work, I want to enable better services for people.
How did you become a researcher?
I did not dream about becoming a researcher but happened to end up in the profession by chance. I completed my bachelor's and master's studies in computer science in China and got a good job offer at Microsoft after my graduation. Then the supervisor of my final thesis called me and asked if I would be interested in going abroad. I hesitated for a little while but then realised that selecting a certain company would mean following a previously determined career path. That is why I chose to pursue doctoral studies at Aalto University. I quickly found myself enjoying research; finding new things and never knowing where you eventually end up when starting a project. I believe that a lot of young people are like me, and should therefore give a career in research a chance!
What are the highlights of your career?
Instead of highlights, I would like to talk about turning points. The first one came after my doctoral thesis when I was a visiting researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. My doctoral studies had been concerned with the energy efficiency of wireless mobile communication, which in practice meant trying to increase the longevity of mobile phone batteries. I felt that I wanted to take things further; to see how cloud computing and mobile computing could be combined. During the year, I not only built a strong foundation for systems research but also gained competence in thinking about issues that go beyond individual problems – to visualise something that does not even exist yet.
Another major change is the fact that the journey of my research into a part of people's lives has become clearly shorter, which is extremely motivating. Together with Professor Antti Ylä-Jääski, we were recently granted TUTL funding by Tekes for the development of indoor mapping and tracking systems.
What is the most important quality for a researcher?
In my research, the ability to interpret data and transform it into functional services is vital. It is also important to have diverse competence; for instance, I am not an expert in artificial intelligence, but I have to be able to quickly adopt its core ideas. Researchers must also be always prepared to lay themselves on the line and get their hands dirty.
What would you like to convey to your students?
When I was doing my practical training at Intel, my mentor told be that learning is not enough on its own; instead, you must also understand why things are done in a certain way and at a given moment. That was a great lesson which I would also like my students to internalise.
What do you expect from the future?
I started as an assistant professor at Aalto in June, so my first task is to set up my own research group. In the future, I hope that my work will bring benefits to the community and make people's lives easier.
Assistant Professor Yu Xiao
Aalto University School of Electrical Engineering, Department of Communications and Networking