At TUMCREATE, as we prepare to conclude our research in Phase Two – Towards the Ultimate Public Transport System, we would like to highlight our researchers who continue to make significant contributions to the programme. Through our interview series, People behind the Science, we talk to our researchers to discover more about them and their stories.
We talk to Dr Daniel Zehe of the team Area-Interlinking Design Analysis (AIDA).
Besides holding the role of a computer scientist, Daniel can be considered quite a chef as well. Outside of work, Daniel loves to dabble in culinary and come up with innovative creations. He proudly shared that he once made and designed chocolate in the shape of a penguin and even concocted a dish, shaped like the German flag, with mashed potatoes, red cabbage and meatballs!
Q: Tell us about yourself and what you do…
I am Daniel and I am currently a research fellow in the AIDA group. I have a master and bachelor degree from the Otto-von-Gericke University Magdeburg, Germany in Computer Systems in Engineering and received my PhD from Technical University of Munich (TUM) in 2019. Before joining TUMCREATE in Singapore, I was finishing my master thesis with an industry visit to draw my thesis at BMW Research and Technology in Munich.
My main field of research is the optimization and tool-chain development of agent-based simulation software as well as the related aspects of cloud computing. On a day-to-day basis, I am working on the design and coherence of the CityMoS mobility simulation platform. This includes meeting with full-time developers and modelling experts to discuss implementation strategies and performing implementations on CityMoS. It involves larger design decisions that require an overview of the entire simulation toolchain.
Q: What made you come to Singapore, and how has it been like living here?
During my master studies, I developed two plans for myself. One was to stay in research and the second was to spend some time abroad. My research interests back then consisted of simulation and electrical engineering and the promise of TUMCREATE Phase One, research on the electrification of transport and use of simulation, was a perfect fit. The fact that I could also pursue a PhD at the same time was a bonus, at that point of time I wasn’t even planning to do a PhD!
Since living here in 2012, I have never regretted my decision. Not having winter and snow is a really nice benefit. Living here has also changed my view of my home country’s beauty. I became more appreciative whenever I go back and the small things that seemed normal before mean much more to me now.
Q: Who or what inspired you to be in your field of research?
Being from a generation that was first to have access and use of the internet regularly at a young age, the workings behind such an integral part of my social upbringing intrigued me a lot. The fact that I could experiment with the inner workings without the fear of actually breaking anything or causing real damages since it is just a software, allowed me to be curious and explore more in this area. Having an interest in areas like physics or chemistry when growing up would probably be much harder and more dangerous than writing codes!
Q: What are some of the challenges for you in your field of research?
As in all areas of research, disseminating information and solutions to everyone who will directly or indirectly benefit from them is challenging. Showing that problems exist and that we, as computer scientists, can improve and make things better with our research is a tough thing to do as the problems are quite complex and abstract. Especially in computer science research, the research questions and solutions are very much hidden in plain sight. For example, on a normal day, an average smartphone user can come across so many fascinating computer science problems that have not been optimized or improved and they don’t even realise that the problems are there. This makes people less receptive to want improvements.
In my main field of research, software development and cloud computing, the optimal usage of resources can prove to be a challenge too. It is never easy to know what is the right approach to use the resources efficiently since it depends on many factors. This is when creativity and experience are necessary to assemble different algorithms in the right order to make them behave in the way required for the given use case.
Q: Tell us about your work and journey in TUMCREATE…
I have been with TUMCREATE since 2012. First as a research associate during my PhD, and now as a research fellow. Since joining TUMCREATE during its Phase One, I have been involved in various projects namely EVA, the electric taxi prototype, and CityMoS, our City Mobility Simulator. Being a part of the EVA project team and presenting the prototype at the Tokyo Motor Show will always be a great memory for me. It was a great culmination of the team’s hard work and sweat.
Today, my work includes the architecture and vision of CityMoS such as coordinating the implementation work for CityMoS and other software tools. This includes turning the abstract research work, bachelor thesis or final year project of our students, finishing their master or bachelor studies with a stay at TUMCREATE, into features that enhance and add value to the CityMoS platform.
Q: What are some of your plans in the future?
My intermediate plans are to keep working on the simulation tools that we have been developing in AIDA. It would give me great pleasure to see CityMoS being used to facilitate decision making that can bring actual differences in people’s lives.
(A computer scientist and an avid cook, lets see what other skills Daniel would like to have.)
Q: If you could easily pick up a new personal or professional skill, what would it be and why?
In my opinion, the skills and technology required in the field of computer science leap and advance at a very fast pace. Currently, it seems to be Artificial Intelligence, but in five to ten years’ time the hype might be different. Therefore, it is hard to predict what skill is required to pick and keep up. Away from computer science, I could imagine picking up a skill in brewery. I already have an interest in cooking and baking, this probably just requires more time, patience and planning. The knowledge of chemical processes, on how ingredients behave when put together, as well as how to create something tasteful and innovative, would be interesting to have.
A personal skill I would like to pick up is the ability to play a musical instrument, maybe a guitar or bass guitar. I think it is a fun skill that I can be creative with, when away from the computer, and still get my hands and mind active. Also, this can make me popular with kids and it’s useful when you want to put them to sleep or entertain them for hours.
Well, there’s no doubt that Daniel is quite a creative person at heart and is always striving to be creative in the things he does. Indeed, real advances in science require a creative mind. A big thank you to Daniel for sharing his story!