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.”
While Kirchner had been studying, completing his doctorate and moving to the USA, computer science in Germany was advancing rapidly. In the 1970s, the first computer science professorships were established at universities. Thanks to the contributions of scientists such as Kurt Gödel and John von Neumann, Germany played a significant role in researching artificial intelligence. For this reason, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) was founded as a non-profit public-private partnership. A number of places tried to attract the new organisation, and it was Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken that ultimately prevailed. And for good reason: in the early 1990s, scientists in a team led by Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, scientific founding director of the DFKI, laid the foundations for Siri, Alexa and co. with “Verbmobil”, their speech recognition and translation system.
In light of all these rapid developments, in 2002 Kirchner was faced with a choice: to stay in Boston or to return to Germany. In the end, Professor Bernd Krieg-Brückner from the Department for Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Bremen asked Kirchner to accept the first professorship of robotics in Bremen.
There were two key reasons for my decision to go to Bremen: firstly, I could establish a department of robotics at the university. Secondly, the University of Bremen was the only facility at the time which offered a Dual Career Programme and could therefore offer my wife an interesting position as well.
Professor Frank Kirchner, Head of the Robotics Innovation Center at the DFKI
From 2002, Kirchner held the professorship of robotics in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. “It was an exciting time – little by little, hardware, sensors and chips were becoming more powerful and opening up more and more possibilities.” Thanks to Krieg-Brückner and his contacts at the DFKI, the idea of establishing a DFKI laboratory in Bremen was born. “Initially, I thought it was crazy, but I was soon convinced. The authorities in Bremen and the regional government’s commissioner for technology were also enthusiastic,” explains Kirchner. With support from the state of Bremen and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the DFKI laboratory for robotics and secure cognitive systems opened in February 2006. “At the start, I lost sleep wondering whether we would even manage to pay the rent,” recalls Kirchner. The DFKI rented the laboratory at 5 Robert-Hooke-Strasse, where Kirchner began work with just two employees.
In hindsight, these worries were unfounded – the projects kept coming. “We owe our success in large part to our highly-motivated employees. They simply enjoy their work and have always persevered, even if we failed to win a project every now and then.” After three years of successful development work and exceeding target agreements, the laboratory’s preliminary status was lifted in 2009 and Bremen became the third fully-fledged DFKI facility. “At this point we really have to praise the vision of the federal state of Bremen, as they invested in AI at a time when hardly anyone was even talking about the subject, let alone spending billions worldwide on its development. This is the reason why Bremen is among the global leaders in AI today,” Kirchner elaborates.
Just a year later, the space exploration hall was constructed as an extension to the DFKI’s main building, measuring 24 metres in length, twelve metres across and ten metres high. Here, space robots can be tested under realistic conditions – such as on the nine metre wide cratered terrain. Additionally, the ceiling of the hall is high enough that flight systems and interactions between satellites and robots can be tested. The costs for building and fitting out the hall – around €600,000 – were shared equally by DFKI shareholder Astrium, Bremeninvest and the DFKI.
2014 saw the construction of the 1,300m² maritime exploration hall. New robotic technology is tested for use in and on water in saltwater pools, test pools, a virtual reality laboratory and a pressure chamber. The hall was built at the new headquarters of the DFKI at 1 Robert-Hooke-Strasse. There has also been growing public interest in the DFKI’s research activities. Kirchner has remained true to his promise to keep people continuously informed about the current progress of artificial intelligence research. Among other initiatives, the organisation regularly holds open days. “We had five visitors on our first open day – now, we have over 1,000,” says Kirchner. “We couldn’t be happier. After all, 75 per cent of our funding comes from public funds and 25 per cent comes from industry – so it’s our responsibility to show people what we are doing.”
High demand from industry brings huge potential with it. However, as Kirchner explains, “We at the DFKI aren’t allowed to make any profit from the results of our research. But there would be many opportunities to develop marketable products on the basis of our results. The other problem we face is that we are only ever able to offer our employees limited, project-specific contracts and they could earn more by working in industry.” In order to avoid losing long-term employees entirely to industry and to be able to offer them career prospects, Kirchner is planning to found a company. Or rather, his employees will.
Everything should be in place by 2018. The employees will own the company; based on their expertise and the solutions offered by the DFKI’s research, they will develop and market new products. Kirchner has already secured commitments from investors and from the commercial department of the state government. It is clear that this venture has great potential, especially in the Bremen-based aerospace industry, and the project is now moving into the advanced planning stages. However, products will also be developed for other sectors such as underwater technology, Industry 4.0, rehabilitation robotics, machine learning and web-based platforms or tools.
The planned location is 5 Robert-Hooke-Strasse. “For me, this nicely closes a circle, as this is where we at the DFKI first started out,” says Kirchner. To make space, the DFKI employees at number 5 will move to number 1, as a further extension will be built behind this building in the near future, allowing more space for further research into artificial intelligence.
Your contact persons for moving to Bremen are Thorsten Tendahl, team leader for national relocations, +49 (0)421 9600 121, email@example.com and for international relocations Andreas Gerber, team leader of Bremeninvest, +49 (0)421 9600 123, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to know more about Bremen Technology Park, please contact Anke Werner, +49 (0)421 9600-331, email@example.com.
In this article, you will find out why Bremen Technology Park is so successful.
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This new master’s degree at Bremerhaven University of Applied Sciences prepares students for the future and offers them excellent job prospects.
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How will Brexit affect the trading of goods between the UK and the EU? Our guest contributor Anja Markmann, who is responsible for customs and international trade law at Bremen Chamber of Commerce, explains what is likely to change from April 2019 onwards.
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For over 15 years, Jacobs University in Bremen has attracted young, talented individuals from all over the world. Students from 106 countries make up a community that contributes to academic achievement and produces graduates that are highly sought after by companies.
Fiona Moore is originally from Burton-on-Trent, near Birmingham, and now works as a freelance translator in Bremen. She fell in love with Bremen in her early twenties. That was back in 2000, but 17 years later she is still as enchanted by the city as she was on the first day. She tells us about settling in Bremen, about her family and about being fortunate to have found a home in here.
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It’s an adventure playground for kids, an idyllic sanctuary for couples, and a quiet retreat for those looking to escape from stress – from joggers and Nordic walkers to lovers of nature and culture, the Bürgerpark in the centre of Bremen has something for everyone. For the last 150 years, this protected heritage site in the centre of Bremen has relied solely on the support of donations to keep it open and well-maintained.
A great deal of manual labour goes into aircraft construction. Despite this – or perhaps even because of it – Airbus is changing its approach to make increased use of digital technologies. It’s also researching the applications of new manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing. And not a moment too soon, as Airbus’ site manager in Bremen, Dr André Walter, explains in our interview.
GeoSea, a subsidiary of the Belgian DEME group, is helping to construct of some of the largest offshore wind farms in the German North Sea – and in Bremen, the company has found the ideal location to carry out its work.
Art, design and people with disabilities make up the fascinating focus of the work of two young designers from Bremen. Working together with employees from community-based workshops, they develop and improve on designs for handmade products – and are continually thrilled by the potential they see in their co-designers.
Companies wishing to access the European market should be careful about their choice of location. Brexit could result in significantly higher financial and tax burdens for UK-based companies. Under these circumstances, setting up a base on the continent might be a better option. Find out what challenges companies will be facing.
Environmentally friendly manufacturing and ethical standards are the principles on which the fair trade clothing sector is based. Leela Cotton, a successful German-Turkish textile company, produces clothes for children and adults that are not only stylish, but also make a positive contribution to the environment in the way they are manufactured.
Why have so many IT companies chosen to establish themselves in Bremen? We asked five key business figures and researchers from various organisations to tell us what makes the city such an attractive location for the IT sector.
3D imaging with millimetre accuracy for underwater industrial activities and deep sea exploration – company founder Jakob Schwendner has a very clear goal. The first prototype of a camera with brand new sensor technology was built in Canada and presented to industry professionals at the Ocean Business conference in Southampton, United Kingdom, in April.
The Bremen Hansalinie Industrial Estate is a successful business park that is currently undergoing expansion. Several major logistics companies have based themselves here, developing increasingly sophisticated processes that aim to optimise just-in-sequence production for the automotive industry.
Of all the states in Germany, Bremen has the highest density of major research institutions in relation to its population – a fact that also benefits those who study there. It offers a range of international education opportunities for prospective academics with strong practical relevance and research activities that span a diverse range of fields.
Weatherproof displays for transport services, and screens that don’t produce glare in bright sunlight – these are just some of the devices provided by AlfaNet Computer und Electronic Handels GmbH, a Bremen-based company founded nearly 25 years ago by Thomas Lie.
They came, they saw, they marvelled – Chinese business people in Bremen visited the Mercedes-Benz plant and were surprised to find that an automotive manufacturer with a vast robot workforce was also Bremen’s largest employer, with just under 13,000 (human) employees. But where do they all work?
Three continents, four countries, and Bremen at the centre of it all – a start-up could hardly be more international. The young entrepreneurs Ahmed Cheema and Stefan Kuzmanovski want to make sustainable manufacturing and the use of ethically sourced materials standard practice.
Lighter, more bespoke and more intricate: for companies open to new ideas in manufacturing and construction, metal parts produced by 3D printers present an economic alternative to conventional die cutting, rolling and milling. Leading the way is Materialise, a company with its own metal printing plant in Bremen.
Bremen has been twinned with the city of Dalian in north-eastern China since 1985. Find out more about the similarities and connections that the two port cities share.
Up to now, cricket has been very much a niche sport in Germany. But that is changing. In Bremen, a woman is calling the shots in this male-dominated sport – with great success. Her men’s team are the 2016 German cricket champions.
Wearables and smart glasses provide hands-free digital information. A visit at the headquarter of the global market leader for Industrial Wearable Computing, Ubimax in Bremen.
In 2016, companies invested a combined total of €229 million in the federal state of Bremen. Where do these investors hail from, how many jobs have they created, and what is their line of business? Our infographics provide an overview.
How will the UK’s impending exit from the EU affect the logistics sector? Günther Hörbst, Managing Director of the Via Bremen Foundation, on the economic links between the United Kingdom and the EU
The Chinese designer Haoyu Li combines his German design degree with Chinese business acumen. Now he is opening a design office in Bremen, with the aim of making it easier for Chinese products to enter the German market, and to bring German brands to China.
Keen to remain in Bremen? Then why not combine residency status with self-employment? Manuel Kühn from Bremeninvest’s welcome service knows all about how a start-up could allow British citizens to beat Brexit and kill two birds with one stone.