"Robots could fundamentally help society"
Flying around the world to find your destiny. That is how Elisabeth Stockinger, a graduating student from the EIT Digital Master School, is feeling now, she says. Her placement is in Geneva, in an international setting with robots and machines. "Robots could fundamentally help society," she found when joining the EIT Digital Master School Programme Autonomous Systems.
Elisabeth started her studies at the University in Trento and is doing her specialisation Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at Aalto University in Finland. Before, she did a bachelor in Media Technology and Design in her home country Austria.
Why did you choose the EIT Digital Master School?
"The EIT Digital Master School appealed to me because I liked the international aspect. You get to know two countries with their own academic culture and research methods. After travelling through Latin America for a year I wanted to get back to the European community. I value the idea behind the European Union so the masters appealed to me politically and culturally as well."
Why did you choose to study Autonomous Systems?
"Actually, it was not my first choice. That was Embedded Systems. But I am happy that I got accepted for the Autonomous Systems programme. There is a strong focus on robotics and mechanics in Trento, where I did my entry year. Coming from a media background, I learned things I had not been in touch with before, and that gave me new perspectives on the role that electronics, robotics and computer sciences could have in the future, and on what human-computer interaction could look like. The results of applied robotics are tangible in the physical world. For me, it's rewarding seeing a robot I programmed achieve a task, in a very different and more personal way than with software engineering."
How do you see robots in the future?
"Robots have an important role in the future. They have obvious value in some areas - as front-line workers in jobs that are dangerous to human operators for example, such as in special waste management or in space probing. There are already robots designed especially for the disabled, to provide more autonomy. Robots could radically change the way we interact with the world: With research in miniaturisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots in their different forms could blur the line between the physical world and the informational world of the internet. I think, even today they could help make online services more accessible: the interaction with a physical robot could be more natural and intuitive than with a screen using a mouse and keyboard."
What is best so far about the EIT Digital Master School?
"My internship at CERN (European organisation for nuclear research) in Geneva. I enjoy it very much. I am working on extending an existing open source project. It's a platform for data acquisition used in the monitoring and control of CERN's industrial infrastructure. I am working on integrating support for a new data standard for machine-to-machine communication. Due to the Corona outbreak, I am temporarily back in Austria teleworking and writing my thesis."
What part of the education do you like the most?
"One course, in Aalto, stays with me. I have the feeling that I value it more as time goes by. It was about software modelling and requirements engineering. It taught me a lot on communication with domain experts and users, and on the importance of domain knowledge in engineering. It was a good addition to the skills of problem analysis and product design taught throughout the Innovation and Entrepreneurship courses."
What specifically stands out for you in the EIT Digital Master School experience?
"It is very good to get international experiences. The context of the EIT Digital Master School is all about that. There is a very strong and active EIT Digital community. I noticed that in both Trento and Helsinki. That already provides a sense of security and it makes it easy to build a support system. After all it is always challenging to move somewhere new and to start over. Also, the Alumni association is very strong. It is full of proactive people bubbling with ideas. You can meet people who are doing amazing things."
What are the three main lessons/insights you have learned so far - and why?
"That robots make the world go round. I realised during the programme how much good you can do with technology. It helps to understand what people need instead of trusting in what we think they need. Secondly, the international context made me more open. It has taught me to understand different approaches to tackle and solve problems. Third, the world is big. There is much to explore, and wherever you end up, you can meet wonderful people. In Germany where I did my summer school, I had a good by-chance discussion over coffee with a professor about ethics and artificial intelligence, for example."
What are your expectations after you graduate?
"I would like to stay in Geneva and see what opportunities arise. Where I work now at CERN I'm quite happy. I feel like I am in the right place. To me that feeling is quite special already. I like to be part of cutting-edge research in an international context such as Geneva with all its big European organisations. I also do not exclude the possibility of starting my own business one day."