Maximilian Stark received the Sick award for his phd thesis „ Machine Learning for Reliable Communication Under Coarse Quantization.” The award ceremony with participation of the donator Renate Sick-Glaser as well as the SICK foundation board member Wolfgang Bay took place on June 29, 2022.

Machine learning has become an important part of virtually all fields of science including communications engineering. In communications engineering, the majority of machine learning based approaches addresses networking aspects. Machine learning for the physical layer, i.e. for particular transmission methods, is less prominent. However, promising approaches are discussed e.g. in order to reduce signal processing complexity compared to conventional methods or in order to enable a practical implementation at all. Insights can particularly be expected for modern applications such as joint communications, sensing and control, where ultra low latency and high energy efficiency are required. Furthermore, the target can be solutions without explicit models or for scenarios where only very complex models exist.  This may be the case e.g. for molecular communications or in highly non-linear transmission scenarios.  

The thesis by Maximilian Stark covers two different approaches and applications of machine learning in physical layer communications.

In the first part, he applies the information bottleneck method, a classification and clustering tool, in order to enable very coarsely quantized  baseband signal processing in the receiver of a digital transmission system. The primary target here is the reduction of complexity, particularly of chip area and energy consumption while preserving excellent performance. The core idea is to preserve an adequately defined relevant information as good as possible in each stage of the signal processing chain despite coarse quantization. While coarse quantization causes significant performance degradation in conventional methods, an only marginal degradation compared to double precision implementations is obtained with a resolution of only three to four bits per sample.

The second part addresses the relatively new idea of end-to-end learning with a specific form of neural networks, so-called autoencoders. The concept of autoencoders is applied to digital transmission systems, where components of transmitter and receiver are learned jointly. The results deliver fundamental insights as well as innovative approaches for optimization of transmission schemes with non-linear or unknown channels.

The annual SICK awards (SICK Wissenschaftspreise) are donated by the Gisela und Erwin Sick Foundation. There is one award each for the best bachelor thesis, the best master thesis and the best dissertation at TUHH. The Gisela und Erwin Sick Foundation was established in 2008 by Gisela Sick. She was the wife of Erwin Sick who founded the SICK AG in 1946. As a sensor manufacturer, the company is a technology and market leader providing sensors and application solutions for factory automation, logistics automation and process automation.

Link to PhD thesis by Maximilian Stark.