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The development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in video games could form the basis for new applications in the real world. This is the starting point of the Serpentine student association. They want to bring people from various study programs and levels together in order to develop AI for video games. “This will provide our members with more practical knowledge. In addition, we are contributing to the AI research community as a whole. We make all of the algorithms that we write publicly available,” explains Mickey Beurskens, team leader at Serpentine.

Along with chairperson Wouter van den Bemd and treasurer Richard van Wouw, he presides over the association that was founded over half a year ago. Members are able to work on AI and register for e-sport competitions. Fourteen students from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and Fontys University of Applied Sciences have now done so. Together they are trying to find new applications for artificial intelligence. AI is being used more and more in various fields. Van den Bemd: ” We are developing fundamental techniques in a fun way because of the e-sport competitions.”

Beurskens adds to this: “A video game is nothing more than a simulated environment. This allows us to take major strides in the field of research into AI relatively easily and cheaply. A test environment in real life is much more expensive.” The example is an algorithm built by Open AI. It was built for a video game yet was also later used to operate a robot arm, for example for use in hospitals.

AI enthusiasts badly needed

Members with a passion for video games and AI can gain important experience at the association. “Artificial intelligence is able to be used in a wide range of techniques,” says the team leader. “That’s why people are needed who have a lot of expertise in this field. There are very few of them at the moment.” By facilitating an environment that appeals to people, for instance video games, the board wants to appeal to people’s passion for this technique. “We are dependent on volunteers, so passion is very important”, says Van Wouw. “People must enjoy working on this, and then groundbreaking applications will follow automatically.”

That’s precisely what Serpentine is aiming for: a place to learn about AI. “People from various educational backgrounds often look at problems very differently,” says Van den Bemd. “This can be very useful in the development of AI. He is a mechanical engineer himself and has learned to program by just doing it. “We can build prototypes quickly in this way, for one thing,” he says. “On the other hand, it is also important to have an understanding of the official rules in programming. That means you’ll end up with software scientists more often. On top of that it, of course, all needs to be well documented.” Cooperation between various people with diverse skills is therefore crucial to the association.

Time, effort and passion

That is why the association is building a community. Van Wouw: “A community stems from the time, effort and passion of its members. Enthusiasm within the group is high. That’s really important.” Beurskens adds that it is vital to give people the opportunity to really get to know each other and to let them work together over a longer period of time. “This is how we can build a strong bond between our members.”

That is what makes working within the association different, according to the men, rather than collaborating on interdisciplinary coursework at the university. Van Wouw: “You are then stuck to a time limit of only a few weeks, which means that the bond between people is less strong. What’s more, in the end everyone just wants to get a good mark for his or her own coursework.” The members work within the community on long-term projects with, for instance, a competition as a deadline. “As a result, they develop both technical and social skills.”

The team itself also makes grateful use of another community – TU/e Innovation Space. A place on the university campus where various start-ups and student teams are busy developing their innovative idea into a product or service. “We were looking for a workplace where our members would be able to get together,” says the treasurer. That’s how the association came to TU/e innovation Space. Eventually they were given more than just a workspace. “The contact with other teams and experts walking around here is really nice. This allows us to spar over entrepreneurial questions and we are coached to get even better results.” Consequently, the board asserts that it has given a very good pitch and that challenging goals are set and accomplished time and time again.

AI conference

For the coming year, the board already has a number of interesting e-sport competitions in mind which they want to participate in. Including an event organized by Fruitpunch.ai. – a TU/e student team focusing on the organization of e-sport competitions. “As well as that, we would love to be able to attend a large AI conference with a good number of our members. This is where various competitions take place”, Beurskens says. “We want to immerse people in such events so that they can easily exchange ideas.” The ultimate goal is to take that knowledge back to the association, build even better AI and subsequently publish it for other users. “Being able to work together for the best result is key to our association.”