Minister for Energy and Digital Development visits IDA

On Wednesday 20 april, the minister for energy and digital development Khashayar Farmanbar visited the Department of Computer and Information Science (IDA) to be briefed on innovative solutions within the area of energy and digitalisation, and to meet researchers and students. Linköping municipal councillor Mari Hultgren also joined the visit.

Khashayar Farmanbar Thor Balkhed

The head of IDA Henrik Eriksson, director of studies Jalal Maleki, and coordinator Anna Moe welcomed the minister and councillor, and the visit started in the B Building with an introduction to the use of large-scale games and computer simulations as a way of understanding societal challenges.

Climate change and energy systems megagame

Professor Björn Johansson and associate professor Ola Leifler presented the interdisciplinary project “Turning the power”, a so-called megagame about climate change. In the game, between 20 and 100 participants together confront challenges related to energy systems, society, the environment and climate – all with the goal of creating a sustainable energy system.

The megagame consists of a large-scale board game played out over a 30 to 50-year timeframe. The participants consist of actors from various interest groups who negotiate and make decisions based on a simulation of climate change and the changes it causes in society. By changing the focus in the game – for example from local initiatives to global collaborations, or from emphasising technology-driven changes to emphasising the importance of changes in behaviour – different future scenarios can be explored. Thereby,  participants can try out different ways of changing the direction of society.

The game aims to improve understanding of different actors’ perspectives, one of the goals is to promote dialogue about the measures necessary for transforming society.

Ola Leifler, Björn Johansson, Khashayar Farmanbar and Mari Hultgren at gathered around the megagame area board. .Ola Leifler, Björn Johansson, Khashayar Farmanbar and Mari Hultgren at the megagame area board.

Khashayar Farmanbar was then shown the playing board itself, which he studied with great interest. The minister also made a comparison between political decision-making and the limitations that are present in the game.

- I sometimes compare it to a football match. You rarely go directly for the goal. In reality, you have to dribble forwards, taking account of both short- and long-term perspectives.

During the pandemic, the megagame concept was tested online. Mari Hultgren revealed that she had, in-fact, been one of the participants. During the autumn, the researchers are planning to test a larger, live version, and are hoping to see a broad range of actors as participants.

With robots in the humanoid lab

The next stop on the tour involved PhD student Mattias Tiger and robot developer Fredrik Löfgren showing the minister the humanoid lab, one of IDA’s two robot laboratories. The department is active in research on and development of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems. Through various projects, IDA also supports companies, public authorities and Region Östergötland with the digitalisation and introduction of modern AI technology.

The minister is holding a little white robot while a larger white service robot is standing on the floor looking up at him.Khashayar Farmanbar. Photo credit: Thor BalkhedOne of the big challenges they face is creating robots that can be safely used in real scenarios over which they have no control. How does a robot navigate the outdoors safely? How can we create safe, reliable and robust autonomous systems? The researchers test different ideas not only through simulation and lab tests, but also out and about in real life.

 

 

We are active outdoors, for real, with people and expensive equipment, says Mattias Tiger.

 

Courses are also held on the subject, and there are many projects currently on the go – for example, projects on driverless cars, firefighting robots, service robots and football-playing robots. The researchers also compete in the construction and programming of robots, which gives them a good idea as to how their algorithms compare to their competitors’. For example, they participate in the world cup in robot football, “RoboCup”, with their football-playing robots.

- It’s great, because then you’re forced to build a robot that can do everything, says Mattias Tiger.

In other words, the robot must be able to understand where it is, where other players are, where to go, and where they should shoot the ball. All this requires several functions, including planning, communication, and action on the field.

- A lot of things happen, even things we thought the robots shouldn’t do, such as running around and cutting cables, says Fredrik Löfgren.

Mattias Tiger and Fredrik Löfgren are standing on the carpet with the minister in one of IDA's robotic laboratories.Mattias Tiger and Fredrik Löfgren show the minister IDA's humanoid lab. Photo credit: Thor Balkhed

To foster and promote people interested in robots, an “AI Academy” has been created, where participants are given access to an infrastructure with powerful, self-developed software tools and unique working stations with powerful processors, lots of RAM and GPU acceleration.

AI in transport systems

After the minister’s glimpse into robot development, senior associate professor Magnus Bång presented how AI can be applied in transport systems. There are several projects in this area at IDA, for example in collaboration with Sweden’s leading provider of air traffic control, LFV, with support from the Swedish Transport Administration.
Magnus Bång stands in front of some big screens speaking about articial intelligence in transport systems.Magnus Bång. Photo credit: Thor Balkhed
- This is about supporting the operators in their work directing flight, maritime and drone traffic, says Magnus Bång.

They aim to achieve increased efficiency in directing large amounts of traffic.

- It can be a bit tricky. We try to understand each object’s situation in relation to the traffic and the operators. Have the operators seen what they need to?

To understand what the operators pay attention to, the researchers track their gaze using “eye tracking”. This is important not least of all for understanding when an operator is most receptive to information, so that the support offered to them is well adapted. It is necessary to understand how the operator acts in different situations. If they are in the process of solving an acute problem, information from an AI-based supporting system may disturb the human decision-making process. The operator must also be able to check that the AI supporting system works.

- It is important to know when a complex system involving AI cannot control all of its own processes, says Magnus Bång.

Minister met programming and design students

Chu Wanjun visar för gruppen vilka frukter roboten kan känna igen just nu. I förgrunden ligger en apelsin.Chu Wanjun demonstrates what fruits the robot can identify at this stage. Photo credit: Thor Balkhed

Next, the minister got to meet students who focus on the theme "sustainable design”, by building a robot that is to combat food and energy waste in the kitchen. Associate professor Chu Wanjun explained that the project is interdisciplinary – that some of the students have backgrounds in programming, others in design and sustainability. The minister watched with interest as Chu Wanjun demonstrated the robot’s capabilities when it comes to identifying apples, bananas and oranges.

The minister also got to meet the undergraduate students Julia Johansson and Julia Skantz, who are studying innovative programming. They showed the minister an example of games they are currently developing.

Two students show the minister a game they have developed.Julia Johansson and Julia Skantz show the minister a computer game under development. Photo credit: Thor Balkhed

Self-driving buses, drones and helicopters

To get to the final part of the day’s programme, Khashayar Farmanbar and Mari Hultgren got to ride on Linköping’s self-driving bus, along the main road of Campus Valla, to IDA’s second robot laboratory. The laboratory has a double-height ceiling, which allows for indoor flights with both drones and helicopters. It also has its own positioning reference system in the room, replacing GPS. The research engineers Piotr Rudol and Mariusz Wzorek gave a demonstration of two small helicopters which have previously been used in agriculture, but which have now been rebuilt to be used with autonomous steering.

Piotr Rudol and  Mariusz Wzorek stands in a robotic laboratory with the minister and demonstrates a helicopter that has been rebuilt.Piotr Rudol and Mariusz Wzorek demonstrates a helicopter that has been rebuilt. Photo credit: Thor Balkhed.

The minister was impressed when the researchers told him that drones were actually developed from scratch at the laboratory during the years 2006–2016. Nowadays, they develop drones with special functions and capabilities by modifying commercial platforms. For example, this might be drones which are able to deliver radio equipment using mini parachutes.

Drones with autonomous steering are being developed in several sizes, and the researchers are working with projects on developing a whole fleet of autonomous drones and land-based robots that can collaborate to execute advanced tasks, such as in fighting forest fires.

Khashayar Farmanbar, who has a background in computer science and innovation himself and had listened to the IDA researchers with great interest, ended the visit by thanking the department very much for the tour.

- It’s very nice to see such high-level innovation, he said.

 

You can read more about the minister for energy and digital development, and the work of the Ministry of Infrastructure, using the following link: Khashayar Farmanbar

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