04 January 2018

Gunnar Bark, long-time manager for Ericsson’s research activities in Linköping, is to take over as director of WARA, the Wallenberg Research Arenas, an important part of the WASP research initiative. The role brings challenges, which he is looking forward to getting to grips with.

Gunnar BarkGunnar Bark Photo credit: Monica WestmanFrom his years at Ericsson, Gunnar Bark brings a genuine interest in collaboration between companies and academia: he has seen what doesn’t work, but he has also been brought to realise how important collaboration can be for both sides.

“I have followed the development of mobile broadband for 20 years at Ericsson, and it’s been an amazing journey. Now I’m looking forward to an equally amazing time following the development of new technology at other companies and in other contexts,” he says.

WASP

WASP – the Wallenberg Autonomous Systems and Software Program – is Sweden’s largest single research investment ever, with a budget of nearly SEK 3 billion until 2026. Its aim is to build up a solid platform of knowledge within the field, making it possible for Swedish industry to remain competitive and take the lead.

The arenas are intended to be testing grounds in which new technology, new algorithms and new software from both research labs and company development departments can be tested in realistic conditions. In the arenas, it is to be possible to create comprehensive near-reality scenarios. Thus, the challenge Gunnar Bark is facing is to build up a completely new type of collaboration, with more parties involved, and where the pathways between commerce and the academic world have not yet been laid.

“The companies involved in WASP are interested in the idea, but it’s not easy for them to make time available. Delivering technology usually works well, but researchers and developers must also be involved, in order to create the overall solution,” he says.

Problems with competitors may also arise.

“It works well when we’re talking about long-term research, but as we get closer to applications, the question of competition becomes more awkward.”

Better conditions for research

Another major challenge is getting doctoral students and their supervisors interested in industrial applications. By far the most important aspect for them is the possibility of publishing the results.

“We must convince them that they will gain better conditions for their research, and that publications have a greater impact if the research is also relevant to industry. Being able to write in your CV that you were involved in WARA will certainly make it easier to get a top job in industry after graduating,” says Gunnar Bark.

This is, however, not an easy task: 100 doctoral students are currently working in WASP, with around 70 supervisors at five universities. And more are planned.

“This is not like a moon shot where you have one clear objective, and must focus on the research needed to achieve it. The aims of WASP are much broader than this: we’re talking about building up a knowledge platform. We are not riding in from high to dictate the conditions: we are acting to inspire and try to open the eyes of doctoral students, supervisors and companies to the possibilities and competitive advantages that the arenas give.”

Arenas

Two arenas are being started. Most progress has been made for the WARA PS arena, which will work with public safety. It is headed by Martin Rantzer at SAAB.

Gunnar Bark and Lars NielsenGunnar Bark and Lars Nielsen Photo credit: Peter ModinThis arena is located north of Västervik, close to the coast and many different types of terrain. One planned test scenario is a search-and-rescue operation at sea in which autonomous boats and drones collaborate with each other and take decisions autonomously. The researchers and companies involved are currently working with hardware and software in their own laboratories. The first test in fully realistic conditions is scheduled for September 2018.

The second arena is WARA CAT, where “CAT” is an acronym for “collaborative and autonomous transport”. The arena, Asta Zero, lies outside of Borås. The infrastructure is being built here to develop and test automatic driving, and collaborative intelligent transport systems. An example: As several vehicles approach a crossroads, it will not be necessary for all to stop. Only one or a few brake, while the others continue driving. This is achieved by vehicles communicating over a newly installed 5G cellular system at the arena, and coordinating their speed through the crossing. The aims are to increase the possibility of driverless transport, increase traffic efficiency and maximise safety.

In addition to the nearly SEK 2 billion that has previously been committed to WASP, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation recently allocated a further SEK 1 billion for an initiative in artificial intelligence.

“We are currently discussing how we can couple the research within artificial intelligence to the arenas, and it’s possible that we will look at establishing a third arena. The type of arena we end up with also depends on which companies are interested,” Gunnar Bark concludes.


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