10 September, 2019, by Gabriela Michel
From Apr 23 - May 04, 2019 the 13th CapoCaccia Cognitive Neuromorphic Engineering Workshop took place at the Hotel dei Pini located close to Alghero, in the beautiful island of Sardinia, Italy.
This conference has been running every year since 2007, and this is the 6th time I have personally been able to attend. The first time I was in CapoCaccia everything was new and imposing. Now, some years after and 6 CapoCaccias later, I, together with others, had the opportunity to be part of the organizing committee of this meeting.
Every year the CapoCaccia workshop brings together neuroscientists, mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and psychologists from around the world to discuss and work on Computational Neuroscience and Neuromorphic Engineering. This year we were approximately 100 participants.
Each day of the meeting starts in the morning with discussions lead by experts on different topics related not only to Neuromorphic Engineering but also to Neurobiology, Robotics, and Computational Neuroscience. After lunch, there are hands-on workgroups mainly organized by Ph.D. students belonging to different research groups from all over the world. They carry out concrete projects where other participants can join and be a part of, interacting with new software and/or hardware. To promote interactions among all participants we have a “mandatory” (what the program says) social and sports break at 5 p.m. Everybody stops working and joins different activities. This year we had volleyball, football, tennis, and swimming. After the break people gather in the bar to celebrate victories and defeats equally. After a shower (hopefully) and dinner, discussion groups and recreational groups like the one for watching Game of Thrones (I kid you not) are formed bringing people even closer together.
Starting last year, we asked all participants to give a 6-word statement as an introduction, and since this is my 6th CapoCaccia, I would like to list 6 points as to why this workshop still surprises me:
- I have gone to many different conferences and this one is already non-conventional from the beginning. It does not matter how u̶g̶l̶y̶ pretty the handwriting of the discussion leader is, or if they have cool videos to show, powerpoint presentations are completely banned! This forces people to write on flip charts, to slow down, making their talks more understandable.
- Although there is a basic structure for the schedule, discussions are flexible and steered by the interest of the participants. In a similar way, workgroups and discussion groups emerge on a daily basis during the 2 weeks in the different meeting rooms and even at the dinner table.
- The fact that the distance from the hotel to Alghero city center is 10 km means participants are always at the hotel. This allows for natural interaction between every member of the conference.
- People that gather during breakfast, lunch, coffee break, dinner, sports break, happy hour, workgroups and discussion groups are never the same. This set-up immediately fosters collaboration. No wonder that there was a workgroup this year called “Insect People United”.
- The disco at the hotel is not used for dancing (only the last night ;)) but for working with robots, software, and hardware. It is the place where we show the demos of the different workgroups on the last day of the workshop.
- The last and probably my favorite part about this community is that even if participants work in different competing groups on a daily basis, there are always people from different groups and disciplines working for a common workgroup in CapoCaccia. Never have I seen so much sharing and openness in a community!
This workshop has always been very special for me, not only because it reminds me of the time I have been at the Institute of Neuroinformatics (University of Zurich and ETH Zurich), but also why I chose to be an interdisciplinary scientist and work at the interface between neuroscience and computer science: it is challenging and yet incredibly enriching and fulfilling.
CapoCaccia 2019 brought us new knowledge, new discussions, new people and even new jokes. Now it is already time to start planning CapoCaccia 2020!
See you then!
Gabriela Michel, Institute for Neuroinformatics (INI), ETH/Uni Zürich.