Through The Eyes of a Curious Mind

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This award-winning student’s lifetime of loving learning has led him to fighting COVID-19 and other healthcare problems alongside Canada’s leading figures.

By: Fiona Lam

Aman Bhargava remembers his first taste of entrepreneurship as a self-taught magician. “When I was little, I got really into magic tricks. I had a job at a restaurant entertaining patrons and would get invited to perform at events.”

Today, Aman is the co-founder and CEO of CareTrack, a medical startup using machine learning and data visualization to improve assisted living care. He is also leading the computer vision and machine learning developments at MannLab on a wearable technology called CoVis that scans for COVID-19 symptoms at a distance.

His journey with machine learning began in Grade 11 when he stumbled upon YouTube videos and documentaries that captured his imagination. Aman was fascinated by the ability of machine learning algorithms and programs to learn on their own. He had always enjoyed creating things that could perform useful tasks better than he could and “machine learning is the pinnacle of that—it could be learning new things about the world that I would have no idea about,” said Aman.

“It could be learning new things about the world that I would have no idea about.”

In pursuit of his interest, Aman enrolled as an Engineering Science student at the University of Toronto where he is finishing his second-year and plans to specialize in Machine Intelligence next year. For Aman, however, much of his learning takes place outside of the classroom.

Aman presenting his first-year design project on the use of technology to minimize human error in fighting.

A quick browse through his YouTube channel, Aman’s Projects, and you will find a wide array of skills Aman has learnt and experimented with on his own time since high school: physics simulations, photography, animation, robotics, education, programming, design, music covers, music production, and sometimes even a combination of them. Aman also participated in the University of Toronto Aerospace team and played cello for the university’s Skule Orchestra.

For these diverse passions, Aman was awarded the Engineering Alumni Network (EAN) Scholarship in November 2019. He was the first to win this award, reserved for someone who demonstrates “a passion for engineering-related design, creativity and innovation as exhibited...through design-related extracurricular activities, co-curricular involvement and/or entrepreneurial pursuits.”

Some of the Engineering Alumni Network 2019 award recipients and Aman

Aman’s openness to learning can be traced back to his childhood. Even as a child, his natural curiosity had shone through as he grew deeply interested in niche activities like origami, the Rubik’s cube, drawing, and magic. “I’ve always enjoyed learning stuff on my own.” From these different learning experiments, Aman discovered that “once you learn something, you can use it on any problem.” This outlook has carried its relevance to his current projects.

“Once you learn something, you can use it on any problem.”

Aman notices the common mathematical roots between his current research on brain wave analysis and music production. “‘[Seeing the interconnectedness of different fields is] very helpful when trying to expand your knowledge to a new field. It’s kind of like everything is on a tree of knowledge and there are different branches that may not seem like they’d be that closely related but they all stem from the same tree.”

Aman also discovered the fruitfulness of failure at a young age. For him, failure is discouraged by a school system that enforces the lasting effect of a bad grade. “In reality”, Aman said, “if you fail to learn something, it’s okay. Moving forward, you can learn from your mistakes and succeed later.

This growth mindset may be credited in part to the hands-off approach of his brother and parents, both of whom are doctors. Without pressure from them to focus on achieving good grades, Aman could explore topics unrelated to school. Aside from his family, Aman’s educators have also kindled his interests and curiosity. One of them was his high school physics teacher.

“If you fail to learn something, it’s okay. Moving forward, you can learn from your mistakes and succeed later.”

“He was just an insanely good educator. He could make the most technical subjects really approachable and really fun to learn,” reminisced Aman. “He also made time in the curriculum to show us applications of the things we were learning. A lot of the time, that was in the form of showing us these science fiction movies.”

One of those movies was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. To bring the movie’s complex ideas to real-life, his physics teacher explained how NASA would do simulations of a spaceships’ movement through the solar system and galaxy. Intrigued by NASA’s work, Aman started learning programming on his own and tried to emulate what NASA was doing.

"I’ve always enjoyed learning stuff on my own."

This do-it-yourself (DIY) learning is not uncommon for Aman. Like many of his other projects, Aman self-taught much of the math and computer science skills that went into building his startup, CareTrack. The idea for CareTrack began the summer before his undergraduate. A family friend, Sandeep Sobti, was visiting from the US and began chatting with Aman about the problems he faced daily as a geriatric psychiatrist and how artificial intelligence can help solve them. By the end of the week of Sandeep’s visit, Aman had developed a prototype that would later evolve into CareTrack.

With CareTrack, Aman wanted to not only make the process of documenting patient behavior much quicker for nurses but also use machine learning to provide deep insights into patients’ health and the nature of their diseases. Combined, these solutions would enable nurses and doctors to optimize their patient care plans.

The CareTrack team consists of Aman, Sandeep, who is now the team’s health advisor, and two of Aman’s peers, Adam Carnaffan and Elizabeth Scott. They are now piloting CareTrack in three nursing homes. While waiting on these clinical trials to run its course, Aman is, naturally, occupying himself with other entrepreneurial and research projects like one he is working on with MannLab in response to COVID-19.

Left to right: Spencer Teetaert, Stephen Joly, Aman Bhargava, and Steve Mann. This is when Aman started one of his brain scans for mental health projects at the lab.

Alongside Professor Steve Mann, the Father of Wearable Computing, and Canada’s leading educators, researchers, and clinicians, Aman is working on a wearable system called CoVis to scan for symptoms of COVID-19 at a distance via infrared, radar, and optical input streams. He is currently leading the computer vision and machine learning aspects of the project, along with some of the radar signal processing. Recognizing his potential, the University of Toronto recently nominated Aman for a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Student Research Award (NSERC USRA) to fund his full-time research MannLab over the summer.

Long-exposure photo of Aman’s simulation of Steve Mann’s Sequential Wave Imprinting Machine (SWIM). This was taken on the same night as the previous photo and one of the projects Aman worked on at MannLab

Aman plans to attend grad school after his undergraduate but he is still uncertain about whether he wants to head into research, industry, education, or entrepreneurship as a career. One thing he is confident about, however, is everyone’s capacity to learn anything. As he said at the end of our chat, “do the things that you are interested in regardless of whether you have a background in it because you are capable of learning it.”

To see more of Aman’s projects, visit his website and learn more about CareTrack.

Fiona Lam is the Associate Digital Marketing Analyst at Pearson Canada.

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