The International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies (interACT)


Since 2004, interACT has supported about 150 students and given them the possibility to work with the best researchers worldwide. interACT continues to keep contact with most of its previous students. Below is an update from selected interACT students


Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA – 2005


Nico Schlaefer was awarded an interACT scholarship for a student research project at Carnegie Mellon University in 2005. In this project he started working on Question Answering (QA), the task of automatically retrieving answers to natural language questions from large information sources such as the Web. Nico developed the Ephyra QA system, which was used for participations in major QA evaluations and was later released into open source. In 2006, Nico was awarded a second interACT scholarship for his Diploma Thesis, which enabled him to continue his work on the Ephyra system and collaborate with researchers at CMU on new Question Answering algorithms. Nico was admitted to CMU’s Ph.D. program in Language and Information Technologies and joined Carnegie Mellon after graduating from KIT in 2007.


While a Ph.D. student at CMU, Nico closely collaborated with a research group at IBM on Watson, a state-of-the-art question answering system that appeared on the Jeopardy! TV show in 2011 and won against the strongest human Jeopardy! contestants. Nico visited IBM Research for summer internships in 2008-2010 and was awarded IBM Ph.D. Fellowships in 2009 and 2010. His contributions to Watson were featured in a 2011 newsmaker interview with Science titled “Schooling the Jeopardy! Champ: Far From Elementary”. After receiving his Ph.D. from CMU, Nico joined the hedge fund Citadel, where he is now working as a Quantitative Researcher.




Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA – 2005/2006


Looking back, I have to admit that the interACT scholarship had a very positive impact on my career. In fact, it started my career. During my 6 month stay at CMU in 2005/06, I got a very positive impression on research in robotics. I very much liked the hands on experience as well as working in small research groups that enforce a very focused and tight collaboration.


Motivated by this experience, I decided to conduct my diploma thesis in a similar research environment at USC in Los Angeles. Prof. Asfour greatly supported my application, and I am still thankful for his effort, nevertheless, I am sure that having spend 6 months at CMU positively influenced my host to agree on my research visit. After defending my thesis in Karlsruhe, I decided to go back to USC to pursue a PhD with the very same advisor that supervised me during my diploma thesis, Prof. Schaal. It turned out to be the best decision I could have made. My time here at USC has been and still is very exciting and very productive. I got the chance to interact with amazing scientists and got my hands on exciting hardware. I also was able to travel to many conferences, including a five month research stay at ATR, Japan, and 2 three month research internships at Willow Garage in the silicon valley. All in all, I am very thankful for the opportunity that I was granted back then.





Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA – 2005/2006


Due to the support of the interACT scholarship I was able to spend 3 months at the CMU Pittsburgh for writing my bachelor thesis. During my stay I was introduced to the area of machine translation, the topic of my thesis. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to work in an international research team. I enjoyed the direct exchange with several people working in this field.

Since then I stayed in touch with the area of machine translation and research at the university. I had the opportunity to go back to CMU Pittsburgh to write part of my diploma thesis in the same area. Afterwards, I started working at the Institute of Prof. Waibel at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology as a research assistant.


Since I was introduced to the field of machine translation during my interACT scholarship, this field is the main focus point of my professional life.





Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA – 2007/2008


Early on I developed an interest in robotics sparked by a presentation given at my school by Prof. Dillmann of the University of Karlsruhe. During my studies I was made aware of the interACT scholarship and its offerings. The scholarship provided me with the opportunity to write my student research paper at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA. My advisor at CMU was Prof. James Kuffner who co-developed the Rapidly exploring Random Tree algorithm which is widely used for motion planning nowadays. Overall, it was a great experience to visit Pittsburgh and the innovative Robotics Lab at CMU, to apply english as a work language, and to be part of a different work culture. Meeting people outside the university as well as traveling the country helped to gain a better understanding of the American culture.


After returning to the University of Karlsruhe, I decided to specialize on the technical knowledge acquired during my stay abroad by visiting robotics and embedded systems lectures. Additionally, I continued to work as a student research assistant working with the humanoid robot ARMAR-III at the Humanoids and Intelligence Systems Lab (HIS) at KIT. Later on, I wrote my diploma thesis at the same lab where I worked with a pair of legs derived from the iCub robot of the Italian Institute of Technology.


Currently, I am working on my PhD at the High Performance Humanoid Technologies Lab (H2T), KIT, with Prof. Tamim Asfour being my advisor. Usage of resource-aware many-core platforms for humanoid robots is the topic I am investigating in a transregional research project. The previous usage of English as a work language during may stay abroad proves to be invaluable both in terms of communicating with English speaking colleagues as well as writing scientific texts in English.





Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA – 2008


After finishing my diploma thesis at CMU and my degree at KIT, I started pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Machine Learning Lab of Berlin Institute of Technology, more precisely the highly interdisciplinary Berlin Brain-Computer Interface group (BCI), working with Prof. Klaus-Robert Müller (machine learning), Prof. Benjamin Blankertz (neurotechnology) and Prof. Gabriel Curio (neurophysiology). In particular, I am developing methods for using brain imaging (electroencephalography, EEG) combined with machine learning techniques for assessing, how the quality of audio and visual signals is perceived by a user on a neural level. For my research, the experience and knowledge gained during my time at CMU proved invaluable, not only by extending my knowledge in cognitive science, neurophysiology and machine learning, but also by teaching me to think and work interdisciplinary.


Inspired by the structured PhD programs at CMU and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition there, I applied and was admitted into the graduate school ‘Sensory Computation in Neural Systems’, which is part of the Bernstein Center for Computation Neuroscience (BCCN) in Berlin. Being part of a graduate school has enabled me to widen my horizon both on a personal and professional level, besides giving me a more structured approach for my PhD research.


On a personal level, the experience I gained while playing for an elite Ultimate Frisbee team in Pittsburgh helped fundamentally in advancing my sports career. After my return to Germany, I started playing for the internationally successful women’s club team in Berlin, competing at world club championships 2010, among others. Eventually, I made it into the German women’s national team in 2013, winning bronze at European Beach championships the same year.




Johannes ERNESTI 

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA – 2011


In 2011, I applied for an interACT internship and went to the University of Southern California (USC) for a student research project. Since the results were promising, we decided to derive a paper (title: “Encoding of Periodic and their Transient Motions by a Single Dynamic Movement Primitive”) that we submitted to the Humanoids conference 2012 in Osaka. The paper got accepted and I travelled to Japan to present the results during an oral session. Furthermore, the work was chosen as a candidate for the best paper award of the conference (there were three candidates out of 133 accepted papers). Summarizing, I got in contact with many interesting people and I was able to get a realistic insight how working as a scientist in robotics feels like. All that was only possible due to the interACT internship.




Marcel REVFI

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA – 2011


With the scholarship from interACT, I got the opportunity to write my student research paper at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It has been an enabler for deeper research on my interests in cognitive systems and robotics while staying abroad and improving my social as well as my language skills at the same time. I am interested in the automotive industry, as well. This is why I wrote my diploma thesis about vehicle diagnosis, one year later. During this time, I applied my enhanced english skills in business discussions.


Now, as a graduate in computer science, I still want to combine the scientific interests with my automotive affinity by aiming the PhD. In order to facilitate highly autonomous driving and intelligent mobility in the future, it is important to enable vehicles as cognitive systems to speak to each other and to get global information over the internet. Due to the topic of my diploma thesis on the other hand, my field of research will now be the remote diagnosis of connected vehicles.




Daniel KAPPLER   

Italian Institute of Technology –  2011/2012


With the help of the interACT scholarship, I did write my Diploma Thesis at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT). IIT is a research institute funded by the Italian government, with it’s central office at Bolzaneto, a small quarter north of Genoa. A really great aspect of the IIT is that it is a very international oriented research institute with a majority of postdoctoral researchers. In addition, there are several groups working not only on robotics, but also cognitive science, neuroscience, nanophysics, and nanochemistry. Thus a lot of established researchers of the respective fields are invited to give lectures about their research.


The connection to Giorgio Metta my supervisor at (IIT), was established by Tamim Asfour, my supervisor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Giorgio Metta’s group is the core developer of the humanoid robotic platform iCup. It was interesting to be part of this lab, attend the iCup demonstrations and learn about the differences of their platform to the humanoid robot ARMAR III from Karlsruhe, as well as the different research approaches, mostly focusing on learning based methods.


Besides the research experience, living in Genoa itself was a personal gain. The old city center is part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage and the city is not touristic at all. It is also a very good starting point to explore the North of Italy, including Milan, Florence, Turin, and the region of Liguria. Furthermore, it is a great place for hiking and especially climbing. I am really grateful that the interACT scholarship made this exchange possible and can only encourage anyone to apply to the program.




Michael HECK

Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Nara, Japan – 2012


During my 6-month stay at Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Nara, Japan, I composed my Diploma Thesis under supervision of Prof. Satoshi Nakamura. This exchange gave me the great opportunity to study abroad, write my thesis in a professional research environment at an internationally acclaimed university, and to get deep insights into Japanese culture and every-day life. After graduation I started my PhD studies at KIT and became a research assistant in the Interactive Systems Labs. The past stay at NAIST enabled me to visit the lab of Nakamura-sensei on a regular basis in my position as a visiting researcher. Thus, the initial stay became the starting point for ongoing and future joint research between KIT in Germany and NAIST in Japan.