Adam Gainford – email@example.com
Brian Lo – firstname.lastname@example.org
Flynn Ames – email@example.com
Hannah Croad – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ieuan Higgs – email@example.com
What is Tiger Teams?
You may have heard the term Tiger Teams mentioned around the department by some PhD students, in a SCENARIO DTP weekly update email or even in the department’s pantomime. But what exactly is a tiger team? It is believed the term was coined in a 1964 Aerospace Reliability and Maintainability Conference paper to describe “a team of undomesticated and uninhibited technical specialists, selected for their experience, energy, and imagination, and assigned to track down relentlessly every possible source of failure in a spacecraft subsystem or simulation”.
This sounds like a perfect team activity for a group of PhD students, although our project had less to do with hunting for flaws in spacecraft subsystems or simulations. Translating the original definition of a tiger team into the SCENARIO DTP activity, “Tiger Teams” is an opportunity for teams of PhD students to apply our skills to real-world challenges supplied by industrial partners.
Why did we sign up to Tiger Teams?
In addition to a convincing pitch by our SCENARIO director, we thought that collaborating on a project in an unfamiliar area would be a great way to learn new skills from each other. The cross pollination of ideas and methods would not just be beneficial for our project, it may even help us with our individual PhD work.
More generally, Tiger Teams was an opportunity to do something slightly different connected to research. Brainstorming ideas together for a specific real-life problem, maintaining a code repository as a group and giving team presentations were not the average experiences one could have as a PhD student. Even when, by chance, we get to collaborate with others, is it ever that different to our PhD? The sight of the same problems …. in the same area of work …everyday …. for months on end, can certainly get tiring. Dedicating one day per week on an unrelated, short-term project which will be completed within a few months helps to break the monotony of the mid-stage PhD blues. This is also much more indicative of how research is conducted in industry, where problems are solved collaboratively, and researchers with different talents are involved in multiple projects at once.
What did we do in this round’s Tiger Teams?
One project was offered for this round of Tiger Teams: “Crowdsourced Data for Machine Learning Prediction of Urban Heat Wave Temperatures”. The bones of this project started during a machine learning hackathon at the Met Office and was later turned into a Tiger Teams proposal. Essentially, this project aimed to develop a machine learning model which would use amateur observations from the Met Offices Weather Observation Website (WOW), combined with landcover data, to fine-tune model outputs onto higher resolution grids.
Having various backgrounds from environmental science, meteorology, physics and computer science, we were well equipped to carry out tasks formulated to predict urban heat wave temperatures. Some of the main components included:
- Quality control of data – as well as being more spatially dense, amateur observation stations are also more unreliable
- Feature selection – which inputs should we select to develop our ML models
- Error estimation and visualisation – How do we best assess and visualise the model performance
- Spatial predictions – Developing the tools to turn numerical weather prediction model outputs and high resolution landcover data into spatial temperature maps.
Our supervisor for the project, Lewis Blunn, also provided many of the core ingredients to get this project to work, from retrieving and processing NWP data for our models, to developing a novel method for quantifying upstream land cover to be included in our machine learning models.
What were the deliverables?
For most projects in industry, the team agrees with the customer (the industrial partner) on end-products to be produced before the conclusion of the project. Our two main deliverables were to (i) develop machine learning models that would predict urban heatwave temperatures across London and (ii) a presentation on our findings at the Met Office headquarters.
By the end of the project, we had achieved both deliverables. Not only was our seminar at the Met Office attended by more than 120 staff, we also exchanged ideas with scientists from the Informatics Lab and briefly toured around the Met Office HQ and its operational centre. The models we developed as a team are in a shared Git repository, although we admit that we could still add a little more documentation for future development.
As a bonus deliverable, our supervisor (and us) are consolidating our findings into a publishable paper. This is certainly a good deal considering our team effort in the past few months. Stay tuned for results from our paper perhaps in a future blog post!