The Engineering Life - Around the Web
Government funded research labs are enticing Taiwan's brightest expats to return in hopes of revitalizing the country as an innovator.
The "brain drain" that has plagued Taiwan for years is reversing, with many Taiwanese educated in the U.S. or elsewhere now returning to their native country to help it further transition beyond manufacturing to innovation.
For years, many Taiwanese engineers who got their undergraduate degrees in Taiwan went on to get their Ph.D at a U.S. university. Many of them ended up staying and working in the U.S.
But this trend—long a source of frustration to Taiwan's microelectronics industry—is changing. A compelling example of this story can be seen in the return of three men who share the surname Chen—Homer Chen, Liang-Gee Chen, and "David" Yen-Yang Chen—all of whom have recently returned to Taiwan from U.S. labs to found their own government-industry co-sponsored labs at National Taiwan University (NTU).
Multimedia Processing and Communications Lab
IEEE Fellow Homer Chen is a typical example. He started his engineering career with AT&T's Bell Labs back in the day when it was a cutting edge basic-research facility. His family still lives in the U.S., but he has moved back to Taiwan to found his Multimedia Processing and Communications (MPAC) Lab, which he runs the same way he learned at Bell Labs.
"At Bell Labs, the first thing they told us was that we were there to use our brains, not for just for our engineering skills," said Chen. "Now that's what I tell my students."
The MPAC Lab is also developing a variety of innovations to solve common human-interface problems, such as autofocus mechanisms that eliminate the annoying back-and-forth focusing overshoots in video cameras today, using instead a complex algorithm that smoothly focuses-in with no overshoot. U.S. professional video camera maker Red is interested.
Music listeners make playlists by drawing a line on the smartphone screen (left) that describes the emotions the playlist should portray on axes are labeled "arousal"-- from "calm to excited"-- and "valence"-- from "harsh to pleasant." Individual songs are represented by dots (right) on the "arousal" to "valence" control surface.
MPAC Lab is also advising display makers like Hewlett-Packard Co. on how to adjust images to compensate for the human eye's insensitivity to color in low light, thus making color images vivid even when the screen is dimmed. MPAC Lab algorithm can also compensates for the color of the background—pixel by pixel—so that pico-projector images appear normal even if viewed atop surfaces—like wallpaper—that already have an image printed on them.
The most novel project in the MPAC Lab, however, is humanizing access to a user's smartphone music library. Here MPAC Lab is developing a two-dimensional matrix that allows users to make a playlist by drawing a line on the smartphone screen that describes the emotions the playlist should portray. The control-surface axes are labeled "arousal" and "valence" where the former refers to the spectrum from "calm to excited" and the latter to the spectrum from "harsh to pleasant." As the user draws a line, a playlist pops up below it to verify that it matches the expectations of the user. And for those who do not know what they want—or are unable to describe it—emotional sensors on the smartphone case sense whether the user likes or dislikes the currently playing song by measuring skin conductance.