Doctoral Studies at CITEC

Doctoral students tell about their projects

Ranging from everyday devices to robots, Bielefeld University’s Cluster of Excellence CITEC innovates intelligent technical systems. At CITEC, doctoral students from 28 research groups work alongside staff researchers. This article presents three of them – who they are and what they are conducting research on.

Timo Korthals explains how autonomous systems can perceive their environment

Timo Korthals Name: Timo Korthals
Age: 31
Research Group: Cognitronics and Sensor Systems (Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ulrich Rückert)

"I am working on how an autonomous system can perceive its environment. An example of this is an autonomous vehicle on the street. With different sensors, the car can recognize different aspects of the environment, such as objects or obstacles standing in the way. The big challenge is bringing all of the different sources of information together to allow for a better overall picture to be created. An obstacle that talks is probably a person, not a tree, and must therefore be given special attention. In order for the autonomous systems of the future to reliably recognize this, the most varied of sources of information must be able to be taken into account on an ad-hoc basis. I am developing a general sensory language for this using our research and learning platform AMiRo, an autonomous mini robot. In the future, this approach is meant to enable autonomous systems to better understand their surroundings and to be able to communicate with one another.

In one or two generations, we will find largely autonomous systems on the road and at home. I think that it is only a matter of time until vehicles and heavy-duty machinery are only produced as autonomous vehicles. Accidents will be reduced and the burden will be taken off of people, allowing them to read the newspaper or drink a coffee during operation."

Lorena Aldana Blanco talks about why rendering medical data into sound is useful

 Lorena Aldana Blanco Name: Lorena Aldana Blanco
Age: 30
Research Group: Ambient Intelligence (Dr. Thomas Hermann)

"I am from Bogotá, Colombia, where I studied Sound Engineering. Three years ago, I decided to do my PhD in the field of sonification. Sonification means representing data through sound. I came to Bielefeld because I had read the name of my current supervisor, Thomas Hermann, in many papers about this topic. In my project, I create tools that sonify the electrical activity of the heart. Doctors in clinics are often confronted with many signals at the same time – mostly visual signals. There are often situations in which they need to monitor a signal while focusing their visual attention on a main task. For example, to detect heart malfunctions when performing a medical procedure. The system I developed acquires the heart signals and transforms them into sounds. When you design the sonifications, it is important that they are not tiring but meaningful and useful. This is challenging, because everyone perceives sounds in a different way. Furthermore, a sound in an emergency room might be different from the sounds designed to be used in a doctor’s office.

Sounds have been present my whole life. I am very interested in music and recording and creating sounds. The medical part of my project is new for me. I learned a lot about the complexities of the heart system. Now I am creating tools which may help many people in the future – not only in hospitals. In my vision the system will be used in private surroundings as well, like in Colombia, where people with heart problems sometimes live far away from a main hospital and do not have quick access to proper medical equipment. The system should be affordable so that people can monitor their heart function themselves.“

José Monteagudo tells how blow flies find their way through their environment and how the strategy behind this could be applied to robots

José Monteagudo Name: José Monteagudo
Age: 27
Research Group: Neurobiology (Prof. Dr. Martin Egelhaaf)

"In Spain, I studied biology, and ever since then I have been fascinated by physiology. What does an animal do in order to live? How does this work? In my dissertation project, I am researching what an animal has to do, visually speaking, to orient itself in its surroundings. In this case, I am working with crawling blow flies. Flies have a very small brain and when they crawl forward on their six legs, their vision gets shaky. Despite these limitations, they can focus on targets, find food, and follow each other around. This is very impressive. I let the flies walk around in this cage and discovered that they always head towards an object that is in front of them – regardless of how close or far away it is. Distances and other objects are ignored. A very simple yet efficient strategy.

The small, efficient nervous system of the fly can serve as inspiration for the creation of energy-efficient, autonomous robots. Hector, the robot walking stick has already been developed at CITEC – modelled on an example from nature. On the basis of this research on flies, I envision a robot that can find its way while crawling through dark ruins or collapsed buildings, and could be used, for instance, to explore such ruins to aide in human rescue."

Original posts on Facebook:
Timo Korthals:
Lorena Aldana Blanco:
José Monteagudo:

More information:
CITEC doctoral students and their research:

Claudia Weymann, Universität Bielefeld
Cluster of Excellence CITEC, Graduate School
Telephone: +49 521 106-6566