HKUST ENGINEERING SPRING 2022 ISSUE 34 Asia’s FirstTransnational R&D Consortium on AI Chip Design
CONTENTS SPRING 2022 I NO.34 HKUST Engineering In Focus Magazine email@example.com (852) 2358 5917 https://seng.hkust.edu.hk/node/2914 Published by: Communications and External Affairs School of Engineering The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Editors: Diana Liu, Dorothy Yip Contributing Editor: Sally Course Designer: Kingsley Lau hkustengineering HKUST-SENG seng.hkust.edu.hk HKUST (Guangzhou) takes shape Buildings completed for September opening of new campus 4 7 App for locating dementia wanderers Assisting relatives and caregivers to trace missing patients 9 Talking to the taikonauts Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering graduate co-hosts out-of-this-world event 12 AI chips… with everything HKUST-led research center seeks to fast forward AI applications in society 22 Doctoral dynamos Two postgraduates discuss opportunities beyond their studies 16 An electrifying career Wireless communication specialist and the global 6G future 26 Breathing easier How student days at the School of Engineering inspired a career as an atmospheric scientist
An innovation powerhouse his will be my nal In Focus column as Dean before taking up the post of Vice-President for Research and Development in April (see also P ). Looking back, it has been an extraordinary six years. Situations locally and globally have tested me, the School, and the University. The social incidents and COVID- have all had to be managed to the best of our abilities and I am very proud to have been part of HKUST’s collegiate team during such times. It has also made my tenure one of great personal reflection, self-learning, and a few more gray hairs! Despite these unanticipated challenges, goals set on joining the School of Engineering (SENG) have kept moving ahead, in particular extending our multidisciplinary capabilities. Given that solutions to complex major global challenges such as climate change and aging populations lie beyond a single discipline, and emerging elds o en cross traditional boundaries, it has been essential to do so. Thus, in recent years, SENG faculty have led the establishment of signi cant multidisciplinary institutes at the University, such as the Cheng Kar-Shun Robotics Institute, Big Data Institute, Energy Institute, and GREAT Smart Cities Institute, and joint labs with industry, including the HKUST-Bright Dream Robotics Joint Research Institute and HKUST-WeBank Joint Laboratory. The School has also engaged in major collaborations with other top local and global universities, including the recent AI Chip Center for Emerging Smart Systems (see also P ). These endeavors have widened and deepened our R&D capabilities and social impact, producing successful entrepreneurial graduates and seeing SENG faculty and students involved in more than 8 % of the University’s knowledge transfer activities. Meanwhile, for our undergraduates, we have worked hard to evolve multidisciplinary programs that are opening up minds and community recognition regarding the immense career potential of engineering and innovation today and tomorrow. We have launched degrees in key emerging areas, such as sustainable energy engineering and data science & technology, and introduced an extended major embracing AI or digital media and arts, among other initiatives. In addition, we have adopted innovative engineering pedagogies and creative online learning to equip our graduates with the flexibility, curiosity, and enquiring minds to embrace the rapidly evolving future as well as the core engineering skills they require. The future is set to be equally bright. The School has already played a major role in the cutting-edge cross-disciplinary approach of the new HKUST(GZ), with these close ties set to deepen when the campus in Nansha opens this September. Burgeoning opportunities in the Greater Bay Area will provide further scope for development as a dynamic engine of innovation. SENG will also continue to seek top faculty, researchers, and students from around the world, adding further vision and perspectives to our community and that of the wider University. This is why I am con dent that in the next six years, the School will keep soaring to fresh heights, not only as a reputable, highly ranked engineering hub, but also as an innovation powerhouse of technology. Prof. Tim CHENG Kwang-Ting Dean of Engineering 03 IN FOCUS Dean’s View T
Moving on to VP role Dean of Engineering Prof. Tim CHENG Kwang-Ting has been appointed Vice-President for Research and Development (VPRD), e ective April , . Prof. Cheng, also a Chair Professor of Electronic & Computer Engineering and Computer Science & Engineering, is a renowned scholar in electronic design, design automation, and computer vision. He has also taken up numerous academic leadership roles as well as providing professional advice and service to the eminent global Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). A er graduating with a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, Prof. Cheng worked at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey for ve years, followed by more than years at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He joined HKUST as Dean in . In his new role as VPRD, Prof. Cheng said he would endeavor to add to HKUST’s research and development (R&D) activities through enhanced collaboration between the University’s four Schools of Engineering, Science, Business and Management, and Humanities and Social Science, as well as the Interdisciplinary Programs O ce; seize Greater Bay Area opportunities; further strengthen international collaborations; and deepen industrial cooperation and knowledge transfer. In particular, he hopes to help the University extend from a research trailblazer into a dynamo for impact through closer integration of research and development. “These two segments cover the full spectrum from basic research to impact. The University has made good progress at both ends and the next phase is to really integrate these two into a robust pipeline,” he said. “I am looking forward to contributing to this change at HKUST.” HKUST(GZ) takes shape Construction of all buildings in the rst phase of HKUST’s Guangzhou campus is due to be completed by March , with façades and interiors next to get underway. HKUST(GZ) and its world-leading interdisciplinary approach and infrastructure will work in synergy with the Clear Water Bay campus to create a complete innovation and technology ecosystem, from education and research to applications and social impact. The -hectare HKUST(GZ), located in Qingsheng, Nansha, is nearly double the size of the 6 -hectare Clear Water Bay campus. The additional space and resources will create a signi cant opportunity for HKUST to advance emerging research directions and foster greater University-industry collaboration in the Greater Bay Area. Rather than schools or departments, HKUST(GZ) will operate under four interconnected multidisciplinary hubs (function, information, systems, society). As with the Hong Kong campus, HKUST(GZ) is aiming to become “net-zero” in carbon emissions. It is scheduled to open in September . The new campus is seeking to grow to , postgraduates and faculty within the rst ve years, and undergraduates starting from . 04 IN FOCUS Prof. Tim Cheng Kwang-Ting: HKUST’s new Vice-President for Research and Development. HKUST’s new campus in Guangzhou is set to open this September. In the News
05 IN FOCUS SENG has shown its on-going attainment in a demanding local research assessment exercise and global rankings. Driving engineering higher he School of Engineering (SENG)’s on-going high performance has attained signi cant recognition in two diverse quality indicators. The School achieved outstanding results in multiple disciplines in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) , the most recent of these demanding exercises carried out periodically by Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee. The RAE assesses the performance of the city’s eight publicly funded universities to encourage world-class research and drive excellence, using international benchmarks to delineate universities’ areas of relative strength. Results for RAE , released in , showed HKUST ranked rst for * (world leading) research activities in three out of ve Units of Assessment involving engineering disciplines: chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, other technologies & marine engineering; civil engineering & building technology; and electrical & electronic engineering. In the four broader-based Panels related to engineering, the School led the way in research work assessed to be * in built environment and electrical & electronic engineering. In addition, % of SENG’s research impact cases received either * (outstanding) or * (considerable) impact in reach and signi cance, an indication of the School’s endeavors to transfer its research into innovation in society. Examples included a smart antimicrobial coating for surface disinfection and air ltration, a technology that has since gone on to play a major part in the community’s battle against COVID- , as well as green technologies for mitigating landslide risks. Around SENG academic sta were involved in submissions for RAE . In the University overall, eligible sta took part in Units of Assessment involving nine Panels. A total of impact cases were submitted. Later the same year, in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject, HKUST was globally ranked No. in computer science, a jump of ve places from the previous year, and No. 8 in engineering. In Hong Kong, the University remained at the forefront in these subject rankings, achieving the No. spot in computer science for the sixth year in a row and in engineering for the eleventh consecutive year. Global campus recognized got o to a flying start in January, with HKUST named the third most international university in a ranking published by Times Higher Education. The World’s Most International Universities list looked at the proportion of international sta and students, co-authored publications, and reputation. At HKUST, more than one-third of the student body is considered international, with around 6 nationalities represented. Some % of faculty come from outside Hong Kong, while the University’s network of over institutional academic and research partners provide numerous exchange, research, and internship opportunities. More than % of students undertake an exchange and around % take part in regional and global internships. T
Assisting Hong Kong go green Three School of Engineering academics have secured over HK$ million in total in the rst round of funding from the HK$ million Green Tech Fund. The fund, set up by the Hong Kong government in , assists R&D projects that can help Hong Kong decarbonize and enhance environmental protection as the city seeks to achieve carbon neutrality before . Nearly HK$ million was awarded to Prof. SHAO Minhua, Director of the HKUST Energy Institute, to develop high-performance and long-life hydrogen fuel cell stacks, the largest amount of funding among the projects supported so far. The fund received over applications in the rst round. Prof. Shao, Chemical and Biological Engineering, and his team are setting out to develop low platinum catalysts and membrane electrode assemblies that can be integrated into fuel cell stacks, suitable for wide applications related to stationary power plants and electric vehicles. The team is collaborating with Towngas and other industry partners locally and in Mainland China. Prof. Francesco CIUCCI, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, received around HK$ . million to devise an innovative active flow membraneless electrolyzer to boost green hydrogen production cost-e ectiveness. Prof. Ciucci’s project aims to scale up the current prototype stack and demonstrate it is cost-competitive compared to CO2-emitting gray hydrogen. Water pollution control expert Chair Professor CHEN Guanghao, Civil and Environmental Engineering, was awarded around HK$6. million to explore low-carbon waste management technologies that can make hard-to-treat black water from a land ll site co-treatable with a downstream wastewater treatment plant, minimizing costs and space. Heading for a net-zero carbon campus HKUST has established a Sustainability/Net-Zero O ce to drive the University’s goal to become a sustainability leader across the region and beyond. The o ce also aims to be a resource for government and businesses in addressing climate change, water scarcity, and building of a circular economy, among other major challenges. The initial assignment for the o ce is to create a roadmap for the University to become a net-zero carbon campus before . Mr. Davis BOOKHART, formerly Head of the Sustainability Unit in HKUST’s Health, Safety and Environment O ce, is now serving as the o ce’s Director. In the News From left: Prof. Shao Minhua, Prof. Chen Guanghao, and Prof. Francesco Ciucci, who are working respectively toward high-performance hydrogen fuel cells, low-carbon waste management technologies, and cost-effective green hydrogen production. 06 IN FOCUS
07 IN FOCUS Prof. Gary Chan with his Dementia’s Secret Angel app and Bluetooth tag in its portable card format. App helps to nd dementia wanderers In a socially impactful development, Prof. Gary CHAN, Computer Science and Engineering, and his research team have devised a novel mobile app that is helping to nd missing dementia patients in Hong Kong through crowdsourcing and Bluetooth positioning technology. Prof. Chan, who was responsible for developing the original StayHomeSafe geo-fencing technology for COVID- home quarantine enforcement in the city in , created and launched the Dementia’s Secret Angel app, together with a low-cost iBeacon tag carried by people with dementia, through the Jockey Club Caring Communities for Dementia Campaign (JC CCDC) later the same year. The School of Engineering technology assists family members and caregivers to e ciently search for dementia patients when they are lost. In a survey conducted for JC CCDC, co-organized by the Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing and St. James’ Settlement, around % of 6 caregivers/relatives said that their patients had got lost at some point and almost 8 % of these respondents were worried it would happen again. The app is currently serving more than , people with dementia and has been downloaded over , times so far. The Bluetooth tag is similar in size to a HK$ coin and can last for more than one year without charging. For ease of use, it has also been designed as a card that can be tted into a wallet and a handle that can be attached to a walking stick. Members of the public and companies can also lend a hand to help to search for dementia wanderers. The public can download the power-conserving, privacy-preserving app to become secret “Angels”, and anonymously share location data through their smartphones when the Bluetooth signal of a wanderer is detected in their neighborhood. Corporations can install Bluetooth signal detectors called “Angel boxes”. The technology’s cloud-based program is then able to use the GPS signals from the Angels or Angel boxes to search for wanderers. In January , KMB installed Angel boxes at ve main bus terminals to extend the technology’s reach. Study suggests T cells remain e ective against Omicron A joint study conducted by School of Engineering researchers and the University of Melbourne has found that T cells, one of the body’s key defenses against COVID- , are expected to be e ective in mounting an immune response against the Omicron variant. This is despite Omicron’s higher number of mutations than other variants. T cells generated by vaccinations and COVID- infections have been shown to be critical in limiting progression to severe disease by eliminating virus-infected cells and helping with other immune system functions. In the study, the team, which specializes in computational biology/immunology, analyzed over , fragments of SARS-CoV- ’s viral proteins – called epitopes – that T cells have been shown to recognize in recovered COVID- patients or a er vaccination. The researchers found only % of the epitopes showed mutations associated with the Omicron variant. Furthermore, these mutations did not necessarily mean the virus would evade the body’s T cells. The research was published in Viruses in January by then postdoctoral fellow Dr. Syed Faraz AHMED, Prof. Ahmed Abdul QUADEER, both Electronic and Computer Engineering and HKUST PhD graduates, and Prof. Matthew MCKAY, University of Melbourne and previously at HKUST. The work was also featured in multiple local and international news outlets. Despite being a preliminary study, the team believes the data suggests that T cell responses induced upon COVID- infection and vaccination will continue to o er protection against Omicron. Consistent conclusions were reported later by numerous experimental and clinical studies.
Robotic goals The Academy for Bright Future Young Engineers, under the School of Engineering (SENG), held two well-received soccer robot workshops for secondary school students in January as part of its new Bright Future Cup – Soccer Robot Competition. At the workshops, students from Tseung Kwan O Government Secondary School set science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) knowledge and skills to work to devise game-playing robots in HKUST’s Undergraduate Student-initiated Experiential Learning Lab (USEL Lab). Last summer, pilot workshops involving junior and senior secondary school students from a total of seven schools were successfully held. A grand nal bringing together teams from various schools is targeted to take place in July . In , Prof. Roy CHUNG, Founder of the Bright Future Charitable Foundation, donated a further HK$ million for the Academy’s daily operations and soccer robot contest. Among its goals, the Academy seeks to inspire young people’s interest in engineering and build connections with SENG students. Above: Tseung Kwan O Government Secondary School students construct a soccer robot. Below: Other participants go into action at a pilot workshop. In the inaugural “Unicorns HK ” shortlist, announced recently by the Hong Kong X Foundation, six out of 8 companies were founded or co-founded by faculty or alumni from the School of Engineering . As unicorns, the 8 unlisted start-ups each have a market value of more than US$ billion. All the companies were also founded, or incubated/headquartered in Hong Kong, or the founders were Hong Kong residents. Those related to HKUST (see table) focus on AI, robotics, high-end manufacturing, sensors, and autonomous driving. The unicorns’ shortlist was released at the Inno Bay program, organized by the Foundation and China Global Television Network in November . The event gathered policymakers, entrepreneurs, and technology experts to discuss the further development of innovation and technology in the Greater Bay Area. Prominent speakers included Mrs. Carrie LAM, Chief Executive of the HKSAR Government, and Mr. LEUNG Chun-Ying, Vice-Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The Hong Kong X Foundation was established by Sequoia Capital China, a venture capital fund, in 6 to foster entrepreneurial culture and support young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong. In the News Unicorns spotlight entrepreneurship 08 IN FOCUS Start-up* Paradigm Platform-centric solutions for enterprise-class AI products CiDi Smart automotive driving for commercial vehicles and logistics modeling DJI Global consumer drones and aerial imaging technology Googol Technology Innovative motion controls for manufacturing automation SmartMore Computer vision technology for intelligent manufacturing and video- enhancement services SmartSens Technology High-performance CMOS image sensor chip design HKUST Member(s) DAI Wenyuan Alumnus Computer Science and Engineering (PhD) Prof. YANG Qiang Faculty Computer Science and Engineering Prof. LI Zexiang Faculty Electronic and Computer Engineering Frank WANG Tao Alumnus Electronic and Computer Engineering (MPhil & BEng) Prof. LI Zexiang Faculty Electronic and Computer Engineering JIA Jiaya Alumnus Computer Science and Engineering (PhD) XU Chen Alumnus Electronic and Computer Engineering (PhD & MPhil) Position in Unicorn Founder and CEO Co-founder Co-founder Founder, CEO, and CTO Co-founder and Chairman Founder and Chairman Founder and CEO * The other companies on the Unicorns HK shortlist were: A erShip, Airwallex, EcoFlow, Geek+, GeneHarbor, GOGOX, Hai Robotics, Insilico Medicine, KLOOK, Lalamove, SenseTime, and WeLab Bank.
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering fresh graduate had a truly space-age experience last September when he served as an emcee for the real-time video dialogue between three taikonauts orbiting the Earth in China’s Tiangong space station and Hong Kong young people. Passionate about space innovation and engineering from an early age, Marco CLARK ( BEng in Aerospace Engineering) was thrilled to have the opportunity to take part in the call and seminar alongside a professional media anchor at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. During the otherworldly exchange, NIE Haisheng, LIU Boming, and TANG Hongbo answered students’ questions on experiments being carried out and daily life at the space station. In addition, students could converse with space engineers and experts in Beijing, including China’s rst taikonaut YANG Liwei. Top o cials at the special event, arranged by the central government, included Mrs. Carrie LAM, Chief Executive of the HKSAR Government, and Dr. TAN Tieniu, Deputy Director of the Liaison O ce of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR. Close to students, teachers, scientists, and academics also attended. While Marco is fluent in Putonghua (his alumna mother is Chinese and his father from the US) and engaged in hours of practising, he still had to battle initial nerves during his inaugural stint as an emcee. That was until excitement at being up close with the taikonauts took over. Indeed, the whole event was an “incredible” moment for all students studying the eld and working to become future aerospace scientists or taikonauts, he told reporters. The young engineer is now continuing to enhance his communication skills at BAH Partners, a niche head-hunting rm specializing in technology recruitment, and by serving as a Head Engineering Student Ambassador for . He sees such capabilities as a key factor to attaining top- flight positions and responsibilities. In the longer term, rather than heading into space himself, Marco wants to use his strengths in engineering, technology, and presentation to advance the aerospace industry and space exploration through innovation, with the nanosatellite sector of particular interest. “In this way, I really hope I can bring about many out-of-this-world experiences and achievements for others,” he said. Talking to the taikonauts School of Engineering fresh graduate Marco Clark and media anchor Zhu Dan hosting the extraterrestrial encounter. A 09 IN FOCUS
rof. MOWWai-Ho, appointed Associate Dean of Engineering (Undergraduate Studies) in the summer of , is a rm believer in the bene ts of wide- ranging exposure to di erent settings and perspectives to deepen all-round understanding and capabilities – and is keen to motivate School of Engineering (SENG) students to do the same in his new role. In particular, he is seeking to motivate students to take advantage of experiential learning, exchange opportunities outside Hong Kong once COVID- diminishes, and internships to broaden their horizons and challenge themselves. “The opportunities are there, but some students may not fully leverage them due to lack of con dence or proactivity,” he said. “The more eye-opening experiences you seek, the more capable you will become in managing the ever-changing scenarios in life.” The electronic and computer engineering expert recalled how he was initially more of a mental traveler than geographical explorer, being amazed as science teachers at his high school cracked complex text-based problems with equations and formulae, nally coming up with concise yet profound solutions. Excelling in mathematics, physics, and interested in electronics, he decided to make electronic engineering his major focus. He undertook undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he completed his PhD in just two years, winning the Best PhD Thesis in Engineering Award, Young Scholar Dissertation Award, and publishing a book on sequence design. He then began to go global when a Croucher Research Fellowship and Humboldt Research Fellowship enabled him to carry out research at Canada’s University of Waterloo and Germany’s Technische Universität München (TUM) respectively in his late twenties and early thirties. He went on to teach at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, before returning to Hong Kong to join the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering at HKUST in . The combination of academic excellence together with local and international insights he acquired are what he is now seeking to encourage in SENG students through his involvement in steering the School’s undergraduate curriculum and policies. Noting that many Hong Kong students and parents are highly pragmatic in their approach to education, he views it as important to avoid being overly focused on “hot” job trends. “In view of the fast-changing world, they should instead build robust fundamental so and hard skills that are always needed,” he said. This would then allow graduates to take advantage of newer opportunities that emerge during their years at university, he added. The School is also moving toward greater breadth and depth within a discipline to bring greater exposure, and know-how within a eld through more flexible program structures and project learning to facilitate students in taking courses that are of the highest interest to them, he said. As such, he advises that students “seek opportunities one step at a time” to deepen their insights and understanding. “This will take them much further.” P 10 IN FOCUS Faculty Insight Gaining the con dence to take opportunities Prof. MowWai-Ho would like undergraduates to seek out eye-opening experiences to build their capabilities. As an Associate Dean, Prof. Mow Wai-Ho is setting out to motivate students to take a broader view of learning and life
11 IN FOCUS Prof. Wang Yu-Hsing sees students can work according to their aspirations given the School’s many innovative programs and activities. rof. WANG Yu-Hsing sees two important missions ahead as Associate Dean of Engineering (Undergraduate Studies) since January : to recruit high-quality students from around the world and facilitate innovative additions to the curriculum. He is now vigorously pursuing both tasks in synergy with the work of Prof. MOWWai-Ho, his fellow Associate Dean. Assisting Prof. Wang in his recruitment endeavors are the School’s and HKUST’s strong performances as leading learning destinations in international rankings and the diverse student enrichment opportunities available. These activities range from student exchanges and early research programs to experiential learning, mentorship, and counseling services. A curriculum that is continuously being enhanced is another major advantage, Prof. Wang believes. He is currently assisting full accreditation of undergraduate programs in Sustainable Energy Engineering, Bioengineering, and Decision Analytics. He also notes the launch of the Engineering with an Extended Major in Arti cial Intelligence, where students can undertake studies in AI-related subjects on top of their majors; and the earlier Individualized Interdisciplinary Major, o ered by the Interdisciplinary Programs O ce, which enables exceptional students to pursue a cross-school, non-traditional program shaped to their speci c interests. The latter is the only program of its kind in Greater China. “The academic freedom here ensures that students can choose to work according to their aspirations,” Prof. Wang said. His own aspirations have centered around studying the natural world, a passion since childhood. To do so, he chose geotechnical engineering, a branch of civil engineering, which both ful lled his parents’ expectations and his own interest. Dealing with soil, rocks, earthquakes, landslides, and the natural environment, geotechnical engineering “is not only about the man-made, concrete environment, it is about Mother Nature,” he explained. A er receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from National Taiwan University, Prof. Wang undertook PhD studies at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US. He joined HKUST soon a er gaining his doctoral degree in . A two-time awardee of the School’s Teaching Excellence Appreciation Award and Residence Master of student halls, Prof. Wang is fully committed to all-round learning and guidance. Such dedication includes actively recruiting undergraduates to the HKUST Data-Enabled Scalable Research Lab he directs to provide early research know-how as well as incubate creative learners. The Lab is a makerspace that specializes in the geotechnical internet of things, deep learning, and big data analytics, delivering sensors and applications that can advance sustainable city development and assisting numerous government departments. It covers areas such as slope health monitoring and critical infrastructure monitoring. Prof. Wang and his students have also used advanced sensors and AI to monitor the health and stability of trees. Meanwhile, in his own time, Prof. Wang has documented 6 kinds of birds, numerous plants, and even spotted a barking deer at HKUST’s nature-friendly campus, with most discoveries shared on social media. Such wide-ranging enthusiasms are likewise echoed in his advice to aspiring engineers. “Do not limit your potential,” he said. “Be brave and try out all possibilities.” P Drawing top talent, opening up potential Helping students to explore interests is a key quest for Associate Dean Prof.Wang Yu-Hsing
Cover Story 12 IN FOCUS e it clothes, jewelry, buildings, or hospital beds, the realization of ubiquitous AI applications in society is now moving closer through the groundbreaking work of Asia’s first transnational research and development center on AI chip design, led by Dean of Engineering Prof. Tim CHENG Kwang-Ting. B The multidisciplinary AI Chip Center for Emerging Smart Systems (ACCESS) is striving to revolutionize the global AI chip design and talent pipelines. To achieve this, it is bringing together a leading end-to-end R&D consortium of expertise that is driving forward innovation through novel AI chips that improve performance and energy efficiency AI chips… with everything A new world of mass customization in which everyday devices are enhanced by greater intelligence is set to be fast forwarded through a unique multinational research center, helmed by the head of the School of Engineering Prof. Tim Cheng together with PhD student Wang Xiaomeng at work at the AI chip design center.
by up to , times. At the same time, so ware-hardware co-designed solutions will enable companies of all sizes, including start-ups and smaller firms, to rapidly deploy their own customized AI-driven applications. The pioneering center is being supported under the Hong Kong government’s collaborative InnoHK Clusters initiative, receiving HK$ . million in initial funding. Participating universities comprise HKUST, Stanford University, the University of Hong Kong, and Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Just think of all the sectors wanting AI acceleration, from transportation to fintech, medicine to education. It represents a massive opportunity for research, business, and social impact” In recent years, advances in AI and machine learning accuracy have given rise to a greater number of AI-driven applications in areas such as face and object recognition, natural language processing, and autonomous vehicles. However, such developments have come at a price, with increased accuracy involving large computing and memory resources, long training periods for AI models, and major expense, limiting widespread use of such applications. ACCESS, established in , is setting out to change this. Customized computing chips for AI applications, also known as AI accelerators, are processors designed to speed up artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, including internet of things, computer vision, and other data-intensive or sensor-driven tasks. “Companies want to cram more and more intelligence into today’s sensors and devices to enhance their functions,” said Prof. Cheng, an internationally recognized leader in 13 IN FOCUS electronic design automation, integrated circuit design, and computer vision. “They need powerful but small, energy-efficient AI chips to carry out specific and ubiquitous tasks. But such embedded intelligence is not yet widely available.” The center’s research areas address four key technical areas: enabling technology for emerging computer systems, architecture and heterogeneous system integration, AI-assisted electronic design automation for AI hardware, and hardware-accelerated AI applications. Among its projects to date, teams are developing a new generation of computing in memory (CIM) chips that serve as independent data processors, eliminating the need for the chip to send data to the cloud or a central server for analysis and processing and then return the data. Getting rid of these steps can make the CIM chips hundreds of times faster, with current literature and results indicating that ACCESS chips are three times more efficient than the best-performing CIM chips currently available. The center has also successfully designed a new generation of optimized neural network prototypes on computer architecture and hardware models and completed verification on a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) platform. It is expected that final design and manufacturing of ultra-low-power chips will be completed in the second half of . A major goal of the center is to produce customized chips with a small design team to accelerate time to market.
“Just think of all the sectors wanting such AI acceleration, from transportation to ntech, medicine to education,” Prof. Cheng said. “It represents a massive opportunity for research, business, and social impact, penetrating di erent market segments and product applications, and involving hundreds of millions of units.” The global market for AI was estimated at US$ . billion in and forecast to increase to over US$ billion by 6.1 Another of ACCESS’s innovative aspects is its bid to o er an alternative to the current business model for AI chip design, enabling a greater number of companies to obtain chips tailored more precisely to their speci c needs. “I think the center will put Hong Kong on the global map in this area. You have great customers, great technology, and the next stage is to tie this together with the AI hardware” While giants such as Apple, Tesla, and drone-maker DJI can a ord to employ large teams to design customized chips for their own devices (and sole use), such resources are beyond most companies. Firms requiring chips for AI products instead pass their algorithms and speci cations to chip-design companies. However, the functions provided by the latter are o en designed for a wide range of applications rather than optimized for a certain AI application and algorithm. This means client companies may only use a part of the purchased chip’s functionality Cover Story 14 IN FOCUS and potential performance, resulting in mismatch, wasted resources, and ine ciency. It also makes it harder for companies to di erentiate themselves from their competitors’ AI products. ACCESS, on the other hand, has set out to devise open- source methodologies and tools for design automation, which enables AI customization to be rapidly carried out by relatively few designers, speeding up design productivity and time to market. “Our goal is to produce customized chips with a small team within a short period of time. Instead of years, it can be done in one to two quarters. Instead of hundreds of people being required to design these chips, it will involve a team of tens of people,” Prof. Cheng said. A media conference introducing ACCESS and its work in November 2021 attracted substantial interest. 1 https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/1056044/ arti cial_intelligence_ai_global_market
To deliver both increased AI chip performance and greater automation of design, the center’s integrated R&D platform comprises an unusually broad array of research expertise spanning so ware, hardware, chip structure and design, and AI algorithms and applications, linking upstream to downstream. The center has taken on around + researchers and engineers and is aiming to recruit a total of 8 full-time sta with extensive industrial experience. In addition, 6 top faculty members and over doctoral researchers from the four universities are on board. Its cooperative relationship with industry is another important factor, according to Prof. Cheng. Companies can gain advice from ACCESS researchers on AI algorithms and AI chip architecture o ering the most e cient solutions for their businesses while ACCESS teams can learn more about the latest developments and requirements of the AI application market. Incubation of new start-ups would also result. “The need is mutual. We need to reach out for new applications and impact, and companies seeking applications already have customers that will be the bene ciaries. The next step is how to build a customized chip so their product becomes more competitive and energy e cient,” he said. Furthermore, such cooperation should see more university integrated circuit research being commercialized. “We always say the ‘valley of death’ is the gap between university research and industrial deployment. Universities can turn their concepts into demos but face many problems before they can reach production. Industry nds 15 IN FOCUS interesting demos from universities but needs several years to work out how they can apply them. ACCESS has been conceived to integrate the R&D pipeline and remove the valley of death, which I think is a unique opportunity.” Despite the center’s work in AI and chip design being at the intersection of two of the hottest areas of electronics research, Prof. Cheng is optimistic about ACCESS’s ability to attract top talents to Hong Kong given its distinctive integrated R&D pipeline, signi cant investment in resources by government, and HKUST’s commitment to drive the hub forward. “Other research centers are not connecting all the di erent dots together as a uni ed center and can only do part of what ACCESS can do,” he pointed out. It can thus appeal to both experienced researchers seeking to grow their experience in a cutting-edge transnational research center and young talents keen to gain wider knowledge and skills through the comprehensive range of expertise that the platform brings together. Meanwhile, the location of ACCESS in Hong Kong and the openings provided by the Greater Bay Area, which already possesses world-leading domains in AI applications and infrastructure such as machine learning and computer vision technology, among others, o er tremendous potential for research and business development. “I think the center will put Hong Kong on the global map in this area. You have great customers, great technology, and the next stage is to tie this together with the AI hardware,” Prof. Cheng explained. “We are in the right place at the right time.” The consortium of leading universities behind ACCESS has created a novel integrated basic research and development pipeline, offering a distinctive opportunity for top researchers and PhD students globally. Ubiquitous AI that sticks to its task As AI extends its reach into di erent areas of people’s lives, concerns are frequently raised around areas such as privacy, responsibility, and ethics. In this regard, Prof. Cheng noted that ACCESS’s work focuses only on core application- speci c AI, not general purpose. “We want a device to be more intelligent but intelligent only for the particular task you want for that device. Thus, we contain intelligence to a very speci c application, a very speci c task. Nothing more, nothing less.”
An electrifying career in wireless communications Faculty Insight 16 IN FOCUS Leading-edge exploration at HKUST has brought Prof. Khaled B. Letaief a lifetime of rewarding achievement as a researcher and educator, along with the exhilarating prospect of a global 6G future
t was like a dream coming true… one of the greatest honors of my life.” So Prof. Khaled B. LETAIEF, former Dean of Engineering, recalled his reaction to the unexpected am email in announcing he had been elected to the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE). The New Bright Professor of Engineering and Chair Professor in the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering (ECE) was especially pleased for HKUST, given the majority of his career has been spent at the University, and as NAE membership is regarded globally as one of the highest accolades accorded to an engineer in academia or industry. The Tunisian-born academic joined the School of Engineering (SENG) in as an assistant professor, moving from the University of Melbourne in Australia to HKUST just two years a er its establishment. Today he is the world’s sixth most cited scholar in wireless publications with over , citations and an h-index of , as in February , as well as granted patents. “As a ‘home-grown’ faculty member at HKUST, I was deeply honored and humbled to receive this NAE distinction,” he said. He was equally delighted for his home country, which supported his education through scholarships and has recognized his subsequent achievements with the top honor of Best Tunisian Researcher or Inventor Abroad in , an award presented by the President of Tunisia to a single recipient annually. Prof. Letaief’s leadership in wireless communications and networks extends over years, from the field’s emergent days – “wireless communications did not exist when I went to university” – to current research interests ranging from machine learning to tactile internet and G/6G systems. Among his many outstanding research achievements at SENG are contributions to advance the analysis, design, and performance evaluation of orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM). Specifically, he has studied the use of OFDM for high-speed wireless data access and developed enabling techniques for OFDM that include robust channel estimation, synchronization, and space-time processing. In addition, he has created groundbreaking adaptive and resource allocation schemes, as cited by the NAE, which became a key technology in many wireless systems and has been vital in accelerating the explosive growth of broadband wireless communications, with impact on sustainable smart cities, internet of things (IoT), and many other areas. Prof. Letaief accounts for this success in typically modest fashion. “I am lucky to work in a field that makes impact and that is appreciated… We chose to solve difficult problems that were considered impossible by some. When you find the solution, it becomes impactful, it opens a new field, and people start citing your papers.” Brought up in Tunisia’s French-inspired education system in the s and early s, the young Letaief was among the top high school graduates given full scholarships by the Tunisian government for undergraduate studies in the US in . These elite teenagers only started to learn English the summer before flying over to North America in the fall for one semester of English studies ahead of their undergraduate programs. In spring , he started the prestigious bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, completing the four-year program within three years and gaining distinction. He continued on to a master’s and PhD in electrical engineering at the same university, with full scholarships from his home country. “I was inspired by Purdue’s professors to become a scholar doing impactful research for humanity and providing solutions to the world,” he said. The highly positive experience with the Purdue faculty also made Prof. Letaief a firm believer that excellence as an educator had just as important a role to play in an academic career as research. In 8, just five years a er joining HKUST, he received the Michael G. Gale Medal for Distinguished Teaching, HKUST’s highest University-wide teaching award. As Dean of the School of Engineering from to , he further advocated this teacher-scholar philosophy and launched the School’s Center for Engineering Education Innovation. “I 17 IN FOCUS
He finds teaching and interacting with his postgraduate students a special joy, fully acknowledging that conducting research, and writing papers and books are carried out as a team and not by him alone. “I love training the next generation and helping them to excel. When publishing papers, I put students’ names first and give them credit. I hope they will become more famous than myself. I treat them like colleagues – they work with me, not for me,” he said. An optimist in outlook, Prof. Letaief’s motivation in all his endeavors is powered by the view that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. “You need to have a vision, but the most important thing is the execution,” he said. “A vision without execution is only a dream. I love challenges and try to set ambitious goals.” Thus, along with research and teaching, Prof. Letaief has taken up management roles including Head of the ECE Department, Director of the Wireless IC System Design Center, Founding Director of Huawei Innovation Laboratory, and Director of the Hong Kong Telecom Institute of Information Technology as well as the deanship. He has also embraced professional activities, which he sees as an essential part of a scholar’s career, helping an academic to excel through interaction with diverse leading minds. A member of the eminent Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the main professional organization in his field, for over years and an IEEE Fellow since , he was elected founding editor-in-chief of IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications in and tasked with creating the journal from scratch with a team of editors. The journal is now regarded as one of the most prestigious, with an impact factor of . 6 in . In addition, he served as President of the IEEE Communications Society from 8 to , nurturing the younger generation, extending ethnic and gender diversity, global reach, and promoting technological innovation. Now, despite achieving top global standing in his field, he is determined to keep advancing our wireless future. Indeed, he and his co-authors have already looked ahead to envisage that future in “The Roadmap to 6G: AI Empowered Wireless Networks”, published by IEEE Communications Magazine in and one of the world’s first papers on the vision for 6G, including potential technologies and key trends. “You need to have a vision, but the most important thing is the execution. A vision without execution is only a dream” He sees that 6G will represent a revolutionary paradigm shi as it will not only center on increasing transmission speed but also be AI empowered. This will result in a wireless evolution from “connected things” to “connected intelligence” to enable interconnectivity among humans, things, and intelligence within a deeply intertwined cyber-physical world, he explained. For example, 6G’s increased scalability, higher bandwidth and frequencies will enable practices such as remote surgery whereby a doctor cuts a vein on a computer in Hong Kong and a robot in New York will do the same to an actual patient. Such a future will also support ubiquitous AI services and internet of everything (IoE) applications, including those for sustainable cities, augmented, mixed and virtual reality, brain-computer interfaces, autonomous transportation, e-health, and more. The 6G standard is expected to be completed as early as 8, while mass commercialization could occur around . For young people starting to think about careers and how to contribute to this transformational world to come, it may seem that little from the past is likely to apply. Yet for Prof. Letaief, the pathway to such a contribution is as clear as when he himself was making this decision as a teenager – one that he is always thankful he made. “If you wish to help solve grand challenges such as sustainability, health, security, and energy, you should pursue science and research,” he said. “It will not only bring you lots of fun and personal satisfaction, but also allow you to make a di erence by advancing technology for humanity.” Prof. Letaief sees 6G will bring a paradigm shift, centered on the integration of communications, computing, control, and sensing plus AI. Faculty Insight 18 IN FOCUS
19 IN FOCUS Aerospace engineering educator flying high Prof. Rhea Liem knows from challenging events as a teenager what a life-changing experience a top- ight education can be. Now she is seeking to inspire both learners and lecturers to head for the heights through her award-winning teaching hile may not have been the best of years for many people connected with aviation, last Fall there was a silver lining for Prof. Rhea LIEM, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, when she was named the recipient of Hong Kong’s prestigious University Grants Committee (UGC) Teaching Award for early career faculty members. The honor recognizes academics from the city’s UGC- funded institutions for their outstanding teaching performance and achievements, as well as leadership and scholarly contributions on and o the campus. Prof. Liem said the award was not just for her. “I’m happier for the attention that goes to the aerospace program at HKUST, which is relatively new.” W Young Faculty Making a complex subject fun to learn is part of Prof. Rhea Liem’s approach to teaching.
20 IN FOCUS Young Faculty Prof. Liem was one of the first hires in the University’s aerospace engineering program, joining the University in , and still teaches two courses that she created: Introduction to Aerospace Engineering and Aircra Design. While the aviation industry is facing its biggest challenge in decades due to the COVID- pandemic, Prof. Liem remains a firm advocate of careers in the sector with many options beyond the traditional jobs of pilots, maintenance and aircra engineers, including artificial intelligence and internet of things for aviation applications, financing, and aviation law. “I myself am working with industry and government to develop new methods and algorithms to improve overall air traffic efficiency by optimizing route coordination of arriving aircra , so the prospects are not that gloomy,” she said. “My personal experience has taught me that education means hope and a better future, and it can truly change one’s life” Noting in her acceptance speech at the UGC award ceremony that learning about aerospace engineering can never be easy, she stressed that it can be made enjoyable, even when difficult, through lively discussion related to real-world examples, such as air crash investigations, and case studies on amazing aircra designs. Another key element in the learning process, according to Prof. Liem, is the involvement of the students. One significant way she encourages this is to allow members of her courses to choose their own topics for term papers as part of the self-learning experience and to take ownership of their own learning journey, which she regards as “the best motivation a student can have”. “I have treated my students as partners since the very beginning,” she said. “It’s important that students feel they are acknowledged.” She also believes it is important to be a role model to girls interested in engineering. This was brought home to her following a talk she gave at the University of Indonesia in . A er the session, many students approached her saying they were hesitant about pursuing engineering because they kept being told it was not for women. “To them, seeing a female engineer talking about aircra design was an eye-opener. Well, their candid sharing was an eye-opener for me too,” she said. “I hope that other fellow female engineering faculty members and I can continue reaching out to girls whenever such opportunities arise.” Prof. Liem considers herself fortunate that neither her family nor her all-girls high school in her home country of Indonesia questioned her choice to study mechanical engineering, noting her father taught science to his daughters as well as his son when they were growing up. However, in her first job as an R&D engineer, she was the only female engineer working on a project in a team of more than . She recalled that one day, the manager had pulled her aside to ask: “ ‘Are you sure you can cope with this engineering work since you are a female? We’ve never had any female engineers before.’ My response was: ‘I have a mechanical engineering degree too, so how does being a Prof. Liem on the ight simulator at Cathay City. Receiving the UGC Teaching Award for early career faculty.