Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Spatial Computing Workshop has come and gone

Yesterday was the 2012 edition of the Spatial Computing Workshop, which I helped get started 5 years ago.  Next year, I will probably not be an organizer, and that will be a damned good thing.

The spatial computing community is small, if you count by the number of people who self-identify as researchers working in spatial computing, but it's becoming nicely coherent and starting to produce some nice results.  At yesterday's meeting, we had people coming from radically different fields all speaking the same language, and I think a growing sense of the shared set of problems that we all face.  At the heart of the work that everybody is doing is this problem of how to get good, robust, collective behavior out of the systems we deal with, all embedded in the messy, geometrical world.  And by God, there's actually a sense of progress!

Amongst the many highlights, from my own highly biased point of view:
  • Stefan Dulman's group has Proto at the heart of a design toolchain for architecture, where they've managed to build a "chart programming" GUI that the artistic types they work with may actually find usable, as well as a nice real-time OS layer underneath.  Experiments on architects begin next week...
  • Ulrik Schultz gave one of the wonderfully humble robotics talks that I've come to expect from him or Kasper Stoy.  It's so much more interesting from a research point of view to see the struggles in robotics as well as the parts that work well---and it makes me appreciate the programming language work they're doing much more to understand just how many hardware and communication problems it has to cope with.
  • Matt Duckham gave a talk on the view from the Spatial Information Systems community, where nearly every slide also contained critical commentary copied from the acid comments that the reviewers gave his paper.

About that last... one of the interesting things that I've noticed about the spatial computing community is that there's a very particular style to the reviewing.  Reviewers often seem come into a review with guns blazing, smashing away at a paper with every possible critique and concern, leaving nothing but rubble and scorched earth behind, oceans rising as earthquakes devour the land.  And the final judgement after all this fire and storm? "A good contribution deserving of publication.  Accept."  You know what?  I like that and think it's a good thing.  Strong scientific critique helps all of us produce better research---I never want to be submitting to an echo chamber of all likeminded individuals.  Yet that critique should be constructive, and judgement of a work made simply based on whether it is a contribution to the field.  I like how the community tends to review, and I really liked how Matt made the critique an integral part of his own presentation.

For my own part, we contributed one reviewed paper and one informal overview talk:
I will leave it to others to judge the worthiness of our own contributions.

All told, however, between the formal program and all the informal discussion surrounding it, I'm feeling seriously psyched about spatial computing, and happy there's enough other enthusiastic people that I can pass the torch and let go on organizing for next year.
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