Meet ML@GT: Woody Zhu Uses Algorithms to Help Atlanta Police Departments Better Serve their Communities

The Machine Learning Center at Georgia Tech (ML@GT) is home to nearly 100 talented students from across campus, representing all six of Georgia Tech’s colleges and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

These students have diverse backgrounds and a wide variety of interests both inside and outside of the classroom. Today, we’d like you to meet Woody Zhu, a fourth-year machine learning Ph.D. student who has used data to help police departments better serve their communities and would love to travel back in time to witness the Apollo 11 landing.

Advisor: Yao Xie, H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial Systems and Engineering

Hometown: Wuhan, China

Major/year: Fourth-year Machine Learning Ph.D. student

Previous degrees earned and from what institutions: BS and MS from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications. 

Tell us about your research interests. Where might people be impacted by them in everyday life?

My research focus on machine learning and data science is inspired by important applications, including police operation, power grid resilience, intelligent transportation, and engineering seismology, financial security, healthcare, and diffraction and imaging in material science. I have a particular interest in spatio-temporal modeling and decision making by combining machine learning, statistics, and optimization.

An example of this would be our work with data-driven policing, which aims to balance police workload and efficiency. These projects are in collaboration with the City of Atlanta and the City of South Fulton. In 2017, we proposed an algorithm that automates the process of the police’s investigation by dissecting incident reports and learning the similarities between police reports and common patterns in how crimes occurred. The algorithm has been adopted in the Atlanta Police Department’s AWARE System. In 2019, we used data to redesign the City of Atlanta’s police zones and beats, determining where to allocate officers across the city, and proposed a new police zone design. This was officially adopted on March 17, 2019 by Atlanta Police Department.

In addition, we work closely with City of South Fulton to redesign their police zone design and help the community feel safer.  

What drew you to wanting to research these areas?

Back to 2015, I was previously working in a tech startup as one of the co-founders of a company that aims to provide intelligent cloud services for downstream IT companies and social APPs. Some of the technical questions in our project drew me to consider pursuing a Ph.D. degree in data science. 

What has been challenging, rewarding or unexpected about earning a doctorate degree?

It’s a challenge to face various of setbacks in my Ph.D. studies and research, and learn how to manage and live with them.

Tell us about something that brings you joy.

Traveling somewhere I have never been before. 

Zhu enjoyed a trip to Key West, Florida.

If you could time travel to any period of time, where would you go and why?

Definitely 1960s – 1970s, I would be able to witness the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing.

What have you been up to during quarantine?

Research and hiking. Also having family time with my wife and our cat, Riley.

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