From its humble beginnings in 2006 with a single laboratory and two employees, this organisation has developed into a true success story. Today, over 200 staff are employed in Bremen at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), supported by more than 100 student assistants. They develop mobile robotic systems that can independently solve complex problems on land, in water, in the air and in space. The driving force behind this project is Professor Frank Kirchner, who was involved in establishing the Bremen facility and is now opening up new perspectives with his idea for a company.
While studying at the University of Bonn, Kirchner attended a lecture which gave him a lot to think about. The topic? Theoretical computer science. Kirchner was fascinated by the idea that systems exist which cannot be accounted for by mathematics. Alongside this, he studied the scientist Alan Turing, who was researching artificial intelligence at the start of the 20th century and developed a test which can be used to compare the intelligence of a machine with that of a human. “If they are equal, does that mean that humans are also machines, and can therefore be manipulated? This question astounded and scared me at the same time, but it piqued my interest. At the same time, even then I knew that researching artificial intelligence means that we are obliged to keep people continuously informed about the status of our research,” says Kirchner.
At the end of the 1990s, Kirchner moved to the USA and accepted a professorship in robotics at Northeastern University in Boston. “Artificial intelligence was always my focus. It’s not a computer program – it is embedded in a robotic system which is made of aluminium and copper wires and which has contact with the real, unpredictable environment. Finding the solution to this challenge is our core task.”