Wissam BEJJANI

Extending robots' learning capabilities

Who am I?
I am a final year PhD student in machine learning and robotics at the University of Leeds, UK. My research interest covers machine learning and planning for autonomous agents. I also teach graduate courses in robotics and AI. My work focuses on designing learning algorithms for robots to acquire transferable and generalizable manipulation skills without jeopardizing the safety of the environment.

What keeps me awake at night?
Imagine trying to reach for the salt shaker from the back of a cluttered and occluded shelf. A task that may seem intuitive for us, humans, and even animals, remains a frontier research question that is yet to be solved. The robot must have a commonsense understanding of the physics (how objects interact, the temporal correlation between observation history and actions, etc.), and a real-time reactive behaviour to address real-world conditions while pertaining to the semantic goal of the task.

What can I do about it?
I am leading multiple research projects pioneering solutions for robots to learn new skills through active interaction with the environment. These projects span the fields of computer vision, deep Imitation and Reinforcement Learning, Dynamical Systems, and motion planning to create the robots of tomorrow. With this, I pursue the vision of progressively augmenting the capabilities of robots to operate autonomously and safely in human environments.

Skills

Most relevant skills in my everyday work

TensorFlow

ROS

Linux

Containerization

High-Performance Computing

Git

Python

MatLab

OpenCV

LaTeX

OpenRAVE

OpenAI Gym

Professional Experience

  • Jun `17- Mar `21: R&D Management and Innovation - University of Leeds, UK

Set up and led research projects for developing self-improving robotic solutions for object retrieval in warehouses. Attracted interest from two of the UK’s largest online retailers for improving productivity while reducing cost
Innovated Deep Reinforcement Learning algorithms for decision-making under uncertainty using convolutional and recurrent neural networks (CNN, LSTM)
Restructured the Machine Learning course to align the goals and expectations of the students, administration, department, and field, earning me the qualification "Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK"
Managed the proper allocation of the robotics lab resources (servers, robots, tracking systems, etc.) doubling their availability and the access time to lab members
References: Dr. Mehmet Dogar and Dr. Matteo Leonetti
  • May `16 - Nov `16: Visiting Researcher - EPFL, Switzerland

Developed probabilistic tools using Hidden Markov Model (HMM) for learning the parameters of sequential Dynamical Systems (DSs)
References: Prof. Aude Billard and Dr. Nadia Barbara
  • Jan `16 - Apr `16: Freelance Technology Consulting - Anglet, France

Increased greenhouses yield by 15% for a plant nursery client: collected data and analyzed existing business practices, identified production bottlenecks, presented potential solutions aligned with the client’s budget and growth target, deployed a modular wireless system for remote sensing and actuation of the greenhouses’ temperature and humidity
  • Jan `15 - Jan `16: Visiting Researcher - DLR, Germany

Envisioned and prototyped an approach for planning surface wiping commands by a humanoid robot. My contribution was successfully used by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to operate a ground robot (see The METERON SUPVIS experiments)
Reference: Dr. Daniel Leidner
  • Feb `13 - Sep `13: Research Assistant - AUB, Lebanon

Automated the communication routines of an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle operated via the Iridium satellite network
Developed an augmented reality Android app for archaeological sites
Reference: Dr. Daniel Asmar

Education

  • Jun `17- Mar `21: PhD in Machine Learning and Robotics - University of Leeds, UK

Thesis: "Learning Deep Policies for Physics-Based Robotics Manipulation"
Supervisors: Dr. Mehmet Dogar and Dr. Matteo Leonetti
  • Oct `13 - Dec `15: MSc in Robotics - TU Dortmund, Germany

GPA 3.7/4.0, German Grade: 1.4
Thesis at DLR: "Automated Planning of Whole-Body Motions for Everyday Household Chores with a Humanoid Service Robot"
Supervisors: Dr. Daniel Leidner and Dr. Oliver Urbann
  • Oct `08 - Feb `13: BE in Mechanical Engineering - NDU, Lebanon

GPA 3.5/4.0
Thesis: "Thermo-acoustic refrigeration: prototype design and optimization"
Supervisor: Dr. Marwan Azzi

Teaching and Mentoring Experience

  • Oct `17- Mar `21: Teaching - University of Leeds, UK

Qualification: Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy - UK
Courses:

Mentored multiple teams of grad students and interns to develop holistic robotic applications

Honors and Awards

  • Voted 1st place winner of the Flash Presentation Competition at the PostGrad-Research Showcase Event 2018 - Leeds, UK

  • "Deutschlandstipendium 2014-2015" scholarship for academic excellence and social commitment - Germany

  • Team leader of the 1st place winning teams of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) 2011 Student Professional Design Competition (SPDC) and 2012 Mechatronics Competition (MC) - Middle East region

Invited Talks

  • Nov `19: International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems - Macau, China

  • Jul `19: Summer School on Smart Environments - Uni. of Balamand, Lebanon

  • Oct `18: International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems - Madrid, Spain

  • Apr `17: ASME NDU - Notre Dame University, Lebanon

  • May `16: Robotics Talk - EPFL, Switzerland

Memberships and Alumni

  • Enactus Hochschule Team (consulting on entrepreneurial projects for developing nations) - Bochum, Germany

  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers

  • Scouts of Lebanon (serving 3 years as Chief Scout)

  • Offrejoie NGO (volonteer)

Event Organisation

Languages

  • Proficient: English, French, Arabic

  • In progress: German