IEEE Signal Processing Society Bets on a New Kind of Conference

Demos of prototypes, free tutorials, and chance to attend Consumer Electronics Show are features

4 November 2011
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The IEEE International Conference on Emerging Signal Processing Applications is the first of its kind: a new conference, structured in a new way. Focused on engineers practicing in industry, it is scheduled to be held from 12 to 14 January in Las Vegas, overlapping the International Consumer Electronics Show, sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association. The combination will enable conference attendees to learn about cutting-edge signal processing techniques and applications and then walk over to see thousands of products embodying them at the consumer electronics show.

Instead of the usual long list of narrowly focused, detail-filled papers and session tracks, ESPA will feature fewer, broader, and more informal application-oriented presentations, organizers say. Research by the IEEE Signal Processing Society, the conference sponsor, showed that is what its industrial members—about half its membership—prefer.

“They want to learn how signal processing technology can help them solve problems,” says John Apostolopoulos, cochair of ESPA’s technical program. “They want things aimed at them as practitioners. They also prefer broad overviews, while presentations and posters focused on small technical details are of little interest.”

For instance, according to IEEE Fellow Alex Acero, ESPA’s other technical program co-chair, “Trade shows, which are quite popular with practicing engineers, put greater emphasis on panels, keynotes, and demonstrations of new products than typical academic conferences do.”

The ESPA conference will cover signal processing applications such as 3-D technology for gaming and telepresence, gesture recognition for games and natural user interfaces, digital photography, 4G wireless, robotics, and signal processing in automobiles, including speech interfaces and cameras.

“I perceive ESPA will be a venue where emerging applications can be identified,” says IEEE Fellow Panos Papamichalis, the general chair of the conference.

Papers will be presented at ESPA, but not at every session. Oral presentations are meant to attract people from industry as speakers, people who might already have slides and presentations but lack the time and inclination to write formal papers.

“Industry doesn’t reward publication at the same level as academia does,” says Papamichalis, formerly of Texas Instruments and now a professor of electrical engineering at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas. “Many companies won’t give engineers time off from their regular tasks to write a paper.”

Another new feature will be Show and Tell presentations—demonstrations of prototypes or actual products, says Apostolopoulos, an IEEE Fellow who heads Hewlett-Packard’s Mobile and Immersive Experience Lab “People in industry like to see working prototypes, even if it’s just simulations on a laptop,” he says. “That demonstrates that the ideas and technologies actually work!” ESPA hopes to get some CES exhibitors to bring over their new products.

Even tutorials, a common conference feature, will be handled in an uncommon way, says Apostolopoulos. “We plan to list eight tutorial subjects, let attendees choose among them when registering, then present only the six most popular. We’ll also schedule them so as to minimize conflicts for people who pick more than one.”

The tutorials will be free to registrants, Papamichalis says—another innovation. “They’ll be aimed at the practicing engineer,” he says, “not terribly theoretical with lots of math but giving a quick background on new areas.”


Scheduling ESPA to run alongside the CES was another change. “Many of the Signal Processing Society’s conferences are held at various locations throughout the world,” Apostolopoulos notes. “But people in industry often have trouble getting approval for trips to exotic places. From our research, we heard repeatedly that our members in industry would like to have a conference at a major city, requiring as few flights to get there as possible, and preferably in the same city every year. I suggested timing it with CES, because that conference showcases a huge number of signal processing applications in things like 3-D, digicams, mobile phones, and electronic games.”

“About 130 000 people attend CES,” says Acero, research manager for Microsoft’s speech technology group. “Co-locating with that show makes it easy for many of them to attend ESPA. And by attending ESPA, CES attendees can learn about not just the features and prices but how the products shown there work.”

“We expect ESPA to offer engineers the background and ideas they need to advance the technologies they see at CES,” Papamichalis says. “Just as we cover theoretical development in other conferences, ESPA covers emerging applications to help product makers get into the technology. It is not a show or a conference in the traditional academic sense. We are trying to cover new ground for the Signal Processing Society and for IEEE.”

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