A Minute of Glory

A Minute of Glory

Volume 3 Issue 6 News & Resources | June 2010

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad


Editor
School of Electrical & Electronic Eng
Universiti Sains Malaysia
email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Having the opportunity and opening to sell your invention to the world is certainly a chance of a lifetime. The weird name of the product has always bugged me to change them. Never once did I think the name will differentiate our invention and make it stands out. It did make people wonder and seek to understand. Surely, this is an eye-opener. Catchy name does means something.

How do you prepare to not spoil the opportunity? How do you make sure the words you say will be concise and not misled people who are listening? How do you impress the audience and make yourself believable? How do you handle ridicule? How do you not make a fool of yourself and colleagues? The question never ends, especially when it is the first encounter.We spend our resources to solve problems and seek new solutions because we want to bring benefits to the world. We want to help people live a better life. We want mankind to prosper, but not on the expense of others. We want the good to be shared, and we want things get better and better. This is the idealism. This is the goal.

The goal of developing “Drosobot”, or our own home-grown Autonomous Underwater Vessel (ASV) is to enable better underwater contour mapping to be done. The goal is clear, and the enabling technology is certainly ready. But, what were the problems? I leave them to you to discover. There is an urgent need to assist the practitioners, i.e. the marine scientist, ecologists and biologists, including the enforcement agencies which are supposed to protect all our water resources. Water resources are certainly abundant in the country. In Malaysia, we have at least 24 large dams and lakes, 17 commercial ports and at least 7 major rivers. Most of human activities throughout the rise and fall of civilisations have always occurred by the river banks. It is true back then, and it is still rings true today. The situation is no different in our beloved country. In order to understand what happens on land, you need to measure what the rivers or lakes carry. By measuring properly, we can then starts to monitor and manage all the resources that we have, or still have.

The problem of illegal sand mining, which has become very trendy nowadays, is the manifestation of the limit of underwater contour measurement technique available to our enforcement agencies. The inability to measure and to generate an accurate representation of the river/lake/dam bed conditions in real-time and cost-efficient approach is not an unknown constraint. It is an open secret. And, we are here to solve the simple problem of doing the measurement correctly, via the cost-effective road.

Drosobot is not a totally new solution. But, an indirect solution it is, to a chronic problem, that needs to be remedied. But, this solution creates another complication. Having the underwater contour map is only part of the solution. We need to ensure Drosobots play its role in the whole picture of water resources; measuring, monitoring and managing mantras. It is, in the end, only a small solution to a bigger and larger problem.

In the one minute of glory, I finally realised that the tasks ahead is bigger than I’ve anticipated. Yes, one minute of glory brings with it a mountain of responsibilities. One in which no man can solve without the strengths of cooperation, consultation and collaboration. Problems will always exist, but the efforts we put to search for solutions must persist.

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To Where Do We Go From Here?

To where do we go from here?

Volume 3 Issue 5 News & Resources | May 2010

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad


Editor
School of Electrical & Electronic Eng
Universiti Sains Malaysia
email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Research direction is a crucial element for any parties engaging in real problem-solving or life enrichment types of research efforts. A clear direction (or goals) will act as the catalyst in the good times, and reliable enough motivator in the downturn phase. With the goals, we can really “move forward”, i.e. in the research sense. If not, any outcome (no matter how novel it is at the micro or macro-scale) is deemed useless. As the saying goes, “If a skipper doesn’t know where to go, any port is the right port”. So, let us start with a clear research direction. But, can research direction be crystallized? As in “cast in stone” or fixed? As researchers, we seriously hope and assume this is the case. Alas, reality does not normally follow our desire. Research direction can be short and long terms. The point of contention is: how long can the agreed research direction be viable? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? I do not think there is an easy answer to this question. ”It all depends”. This is possibly the best answer one can think of.

Research direction is paramount in ensuring we are working towards a fixed target. It is easier to aim as compared to something that is in a perpetual motion. That is why a forward looking analysis is the pre-requisite. Forward enough in order to anticipate possible breakthrough, and the technology cycle. Future scenario planning is a must. Nevertheless, this is a not an ability for fortune-telling, rather a projection based on intelligent analysis via concrete proof and life experiences. As much as we want our agreed research direction to be vivid and lucid, the element of flexibility to life challenges ensures that the direction is robust. So, on what motivation or basis should the research direction be carved? Is it economic? Is it for societal well-being? Is it for Capacity-building? Certainly, the rational we opt for will determine the kind of research direction we will end-up with. If you think economics per say, element of knowledge may not be of clear importance. Vice-versa, if the rational is grounded on advancement of knowledge, the element of clear economic returns may not be feasible. This is among the trade-offs we have to deal with.

Underwater research efforts are firmly grounded on solid justifications for sustainability of life on earth. The undisputed rational of forming a research direction in relation to underwater/marine resources may be convincing to some. But, there are others who are still oblivious to the arguments (read: explanations). Research direction which goes out to tackle and ensure sustainable exploitation of the marine resources is so novel, that it is difficult to fathom the doubters. Research direction is not the end, but it indicates the beginning. Destinations will never be reached if we do nothing but dreaming. Real efforts must be invested. This is akin to stumble upon a beacon while searching for guidance. We must walk towards the beacon. The beacon will never “walk” to us. No matter how strong and viable are the research directions that we have carved, we still need to put the efforts through. “No pain, No gain” certainly rings true. The anticipation and customary doubts on the chosen the research goals are part of the package. With uncertainty looming, the path will only be taken by the determined. Yes, winners are picked from the braves, neither from the cowards nor the pessimists. Underwater-related research is here to stay. And, we sure look forward for a more active participation from others.

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible

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Too Cold To Handle!

Too cold to handle!

Volume 3 Issue 4 News & Resources | April 2010

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad


Editor
School of Electrical & Electronic Eng
Universiti Sains Malaysia
email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The ability to communicate our real intention is of paramount importance. In whatever mode and purpose of communication, the risk of being misunderstood is ever present. The end result may be insignificant or it may be a major turning point for the worst. In reality, all risks must be managed and tackled. If not, we will be ‘managed’ by the risks. There are no alternatives. Risks are part and parcel of all undertakings. And, risks are normally directly proportional to the gains promised. Well, to a certain extent. In communicating, there will be the compulsory components of transmit agent, communication medium and also the receiver agent. At the end of the day, the data communicated should be robust to possible interference and disturbances from the unwanted elements. Due to this, data protection algorithms and techniques have become slightly more costly. You want more protection, you pay more. Or course, perfect protection is certainly not on offer due to the impossibility of anticipating all kind of risks. History has taught us that to win and be successful, certain measure of risk-taking is pertinent. In fact, being too timid or anxious in the possible outcome may immediately seal the obvious failures. Being brave enough to take the necessary actions in the face of potential disaster and calamities is a sure sign of upcoming success. A pinch of caution will be useful, but too much of it, will only hasten the bleak outcome. So, we need to manage the risks, and communicate more, hence the risks will be tamed (or, the least, better managed).

New and pioneering research directions are always riddled with problems and “death-traps”. A slight misjudgment may lead to fatal consequences. I mean to the projects, not the researchers. (Well, that is if the researchers do not jump off the tall building come failures). High promises by the researchers will lead to high expectations by the grant provider. And, in the real world, most things are not within our control. So, the lessons are to always not to over-promise and not to be too confident in delivering. Doing underwater-related research is certainly a very challenging (and exciting) venture. The vastness of the oceans promises very bountiful returns in terms of research findings. But, in reality, it is not that easy to convince fellow researchers of these potentials. No matter how obvious are the arguments to us, the doubters are aplenty. Well, this is the risks in doing something different, you got to be classified and categorized. On the other hand, the faults might have come from within. We, the researchers, have not done proper communicating. People can only see the risks, not the benefits. The chance of getting drown seems to be greater than the chance of finding the pearls. Well, actually, this is a real risk in our kind of research work. Another aspect of doing research is the constant push for results and tangible output/products. Research should lead to better understanding, which will lead to more sustainable exploitation of the resources. Results from our observations and findings should enable us to better manage the risks. Knowledge will lead to wisdom, and certainly wisdom in managing will be the best output that anyone can give.

Underwater-related system research may be too ‘cold’ to be handled by some, but, this is the future of our survival. New resources and solutions await us. More efforts and focus should be given as to give justice to the importance of the oceans. Lukewarm research activities will certainly give-out lukewarm results. In order to propel further the research efforts, the existing research output will be fundamental. Hence, we will keep communicating. In the hope that someone will listen, and finally, the risks will be embraced by all, no matter how cold they can be.

"Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.

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To strike a balance

To Strike a Balance

Volume 3 Issue 3 News & Resources | March 2010

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad


Editor
School of Electrical & Electronic Eng
Universiti Sains Malaysia
email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Nothing is insignificant in the bigger scheme of things. One may be forgiven in assuming that only the obvious factors are of any importance. Events or incidents are only considered newsworthy when real people are directly affected i.e. getting killed or maimed or made less fortunate. In this scenario, a particular factor became dominant, even though in the final analysis it only turns out to be another glorified outlier. Events and the contributing causes must be analysed in a right, proper and balanced way. Balance is the key term. This means taking into consideration the obvious and not so obvious. The ability to make alternative interpretations of the mundane is certainly a clear demarcation, i.e. in digressing from the obvious explanations. Contributing factors can come from various circumstances and also in various magnitudes.

In order to determine the tipping factor among the many, we need a totally new set of skill. In this we can learn a lot from chaos theory, in which we are taught; a complex system may be governed by simple rules, whereas a simple system may alternatively be governed by very complex rules. This means an apparent chaotic event may possibly be triggered by a seemingly small incident (or small factor). Bearing in mind that the catastrophic scenario we are witnessing is just the final manifestation of a long chain of delayed reactions or responses. In understanding and trying to conceptualise the events unfolding in the realm of life, more often that not, we tend to simplify things. Simple logic, more often than not, rules the day. Balance in the natural world exemplifies the ultimate model for any man-made system. In any human being, a balanced individual is so-called due to the balance outcome of the mind, physique and also the spirit, of course as a whole, not in parts.

The lack of any of them will only translate into unwanted mishap or unfolding disaster. The same logic applies to the system we are developing. The problems arisen are indicative of the existence of some unbalanced element in the processes or system. The severity may vary, but the performance is far from the desired. It is certainly better to be able to anticipate problems, rather than doing “fire-fighting”. Bearing in mind, anticipating skill is easier said than done. Balance relates to stability. Stability leads to harmony. Harmony brings out the benefits to all. But, chaos and instability are, nevertheless, also inherent in the cycle of life. They are the necessary evils. Without which, no progress is attainable. As much as change will open new crevasses of opportunities, the same goes to instability. It will trigger possible advancement and new efforts for improvement. But, absolute balance in life in an utopian goal. The absolute rule is that we must keep striving, in the midst of deficiencies and shortcomings, in order to be on the path of progress and fulfilment. The same reasoning applies to the system that we are developing. We will keep bumping into hindrances and problems the higher our goals are.

Fact of life, no doubt. Life exists in the sustainable intra and inters relationship between multi-balance systems. When we are developing new devices or system, we are adding to the existing plethora of stable and unstable life units. Hence, when we are adding, extra cautions are pertinent. Things do get a bit crowded. Available resources are certainly scarce and robustness to external factors is crucial.

Developing tools for underwater applications imply the introduction of alien components to an existing balanced ecosystem. The possible introduction of interference to the normal cycle of events must be pondered upon. For example, the use of acoustic-based communication and sensing are important, but the collateral impact to the environment must be considered. The ‘artificial and un-balanced’ system must, ideally, fit seamlessly into the environment. For sure, the system that we are developing comes with its inherent weaknesses and unwanted accompanying glitches. And, it is our responsibility to mitigate the problems. How do we strike a balance in fulfilling our needs while not affecting the balance of nature? Yes, this is the question, in which no one seems to have the right answers.

"Allah does not look at your appearance or your possessions; but He looks at your heart and your deeds." (Abu Huraira: Muslim)

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Intelligence is an option?

Intelligence is an option?

Volume 3 Issue 2 News & Resources | February 2010

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad


Editor
School of Electrical & Electronic Eng
Universiti Sains Malaysia
email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The ability to make decisions, among the varied and probable options available, is one of the important parameter that differentiates us, human, to the other living beings. Not just in making decisions, but with some sense of awareness of the possible implications and repercussions. The intelligence, i.e. the ability to judge and take due consideration, inherent in our brain (and of course, our heart) enables us to lead a safe and comfortable life. Albeit, bounded by the physical constraints and the circumstances we are in. Intelligent system is actually quite abundance in the natural world. The qualifiers will depend on the levels of intelligent that we are referring to. The multitudes of problems ultimately lead to numerous solutions, carried out by multi-level intelligences. The term “artificial intelligent” was even coined in order to emphasize the simple ability of making decision by a man-made intelligent system, i.e. in choosing a possible outcome or solution, from the logical and readily available options. Nevertheless, the “decision” is certainly not novel or creative. The ability to imagine and construct novel and original solutions is ultimately limited to us, humans. The simple act of drawing a tree triggers this creative side of us. A robot-painter may draw a tree, but in most cases the tree is a mere representation of an image of a tree in its memory bank. Not original, and certainly not novel. On another note, making decision is not just about looking at the facts and figures, it also entails the need to consider the implications and collateral impact, be it short term or long term, bearing in mind the limitations of anticipating the future. Also, the fact that the world is dynamic, i.e. change is inevitable.

In developing and making our man-made system to be intelligent, we can opt to emulate the natural world. Everything is this world in interlinked. Inter and intra dependencies are the key terms. Any event occurring is not an isolated event in the bigger scheme of things. They have never been so. The mutual interactions among the different agents are in abundance. So, how do we learn from this lessons and experiences? Among others; we must be aware that intelligent system has the ability for self-adaptation, self-recovery, fault diagnosis and also future projections, i.e. anticipating the probable future. Like us, we do all this things quite naturally and sometimes, effortlessly. This is not the case, if we would want to design and develop an ‘artificial intelligent’ system that can do similar feats. The simple reasoning is that human is prone to faults, hence the system that we develop can never be perfect. Nevertheless, the potential for errors goes down with increased cooperation, collaboration and consultation.

Modern civilizations have benefited from the Newtonian model of world. The mechanistic or ‘clockwork’ running of the world have been translated into engineering laws and scientific precepts that govern the man-made tools, machines and systems. This has assisted the progress of the human race for few centuries. Many have benefited, but with tremendous cost to our environment and society well-beings. We have now come to the realizations that we have not really understood the world as it should. The laws are not perfect, and old precepts no longer hold water. This realization is crucial because the intelligent system must now take the necessary steps to correct the missteps that have been taken, and take actions for the survivable of life itself. Intelligent has an important role in today’s world. We can no longer make systems or decision without full understanding of the implications to ourselves and others. We must be aware of the slight push which can throw us into an unstable condition. We have ourselves to blame for the trouble we are in now. And, as an intelligent being, we must and shall find a way out. It is now left to us to make amends. It is now or never.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.” Confucius (551-479 BC)

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