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 new series, People behind the Science, we talk to our researchers to discover more about them and their stories.
This time round, we have invited Dr David Eckhoff, Principal Investigator of the team Area-Interlinking Design Analysis (AIDA).
From research fellow to principal investigator in TUMCREATE, David’s dedication to his work is indisputable. A computer scientist from Bavaria, Germany, it is a common sight to see him working in front of his computer while drinking caffeinated drinks and listening to repetitive electronic music with headphones on. However, during the weekends, you can usually find him on the football pitch, playing for the German All Stars Singapore team.
Q: Tell us about yourself and what you do…
My name is David Eckhoff and I lead the Computer Science team, AIDA, in TUMCREATE. Our focus lies in developing novel modelling and simulation solutions to better understand intelligent transportation systems. What we try to achieve is a digital representation of a large-scale transport system with a high level of detail. I’m also a part of several other research projects, together with NTU (Nanyang Technological University), NUS (National University of Singapore), MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and ADSC (Advanced Digital Sciences Center), dealing with privacy protection which I believe is an important topic in this day and age.
Q: What made you come to Singapore, and how has it been like living here?
I fell in love with the country during my first visit in 2013. The organization, the transport system and the cleanliness really impressed me. Ever since I’ve moved to Singapore, I seem to have become a little bit spoiled because every time I travel overseas now, I get easily annoyed if something isn’t working as smoothly as I’m used to here. I also didn’t really have any problems adapting to the Singapore lifestyle. Although to be honest, the food ‘Laksa’ was a big shock to me, my stomach just couldn’t seem to take it. I also started learning Mandarin here which, I have to say, is way too difficult!
Q: Who or what inspired you to be in your field of research?
For me, there weren’t many alternatives. I had spent the majority of my teenage years in front of a computer so naturally my occupation would need to be somehow related to that. I was always curious of how things work so I kind of just steered towards being a computer scientist. I didn’t really give it much thought when I enrolled into a Computer Science study programme. In fact, after my Master’s, when I had the choice of going into industry or academia to do my PhD, I took the route that was more compatible with my sleep cycle. I guess being able to work during the night and have longer sleep in the morning was my main motivation!
Q: What are some of the challenges for you in your field of research?
I think the biggest challenge in my field, as well as many other fields of research, is to give your research real-life relevance. Even though in academia it is important to publish papers and optimize your academic numbers, I don’t find it very fulfilling if it is just for that purpose. Fortunately, the work I am doing at TUMCREATE now finds application not only in the Singapore context but also internationally. It is gratifying to see that what you and your team have worked on for so long finally contributes to solving problems in the real world.
Q: Tell us about your work and journey in TUMCREATE…
I joined TUMCREATE in 2016 as a research fellow. Shortly after, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to lead a bigger team and shape its research and development strategy. One of our biggest projects and achievements is our mobility simulator, CityMoS. It is exciting being able to contribute to the shaping of such a state-of-the-art software tool and be part of a collaboration with so many talented people. In general, I would say that being able to work closely with both experienced and younger researchers, as well as actively engaging with governmental agencies and industry stakeholders, has definitely been an important experience for me.
Altogether, I believe the CREATE program is a great environment for younger researchers to build their network and participate in interesting research projects. I mean, where else in the world will you have world-leading universities just across the hallway?
Q: What are some of your plans in the future?
I definitely see my mid-term and possibly long-term future in Singapore. Together with my team, I would like to continue the work on CityMoS beyond the scope of TUMCREATE Phase 2. I would also be keen to continue teaching at one of the local universities. I’m usually not one to make long-term plans in advance, which is possibly also one of the reasons why I took a somewhat risky adventure of moving to a foreign country in the first place. I like to always have some level of uncertainty in my life and not have everything set in stone.
(Curious, we asked David the following question before we end the interview.)
Q: If you are not a scientist, what do you think you will be doing instead?
That’s a tough one... I love playing football but given that I’m not a good enough footballer, this career option would probably not be a viable one. I think what I would really enjoy doing professionally is photography, preferably in the area of landscape, travel or architecture. In fact, given the current situation with COVID-19, my camera has been idle for way too long and I can’t wait to travel and start taking pictures again.
It was a pleasure to have David share his story with us for this interview. We are glad that he chose to be a computer scientist, though we would love to see some of his photography work!