A beacon of light for artificial intelligence

The Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems is celebrating the opening of its new building in Tübingen

This opening ceremony involved teamwork between humans and machines. While the robot Apollo held the red ribbon, Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann and Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, cut the symbolic cordon to officially open the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems’ new building in Tübingen. They were assisted by Science Minister Theresia Bauer and Stefan Schaal, the Institute’s Managing Director. After a two-and-a-half-year construction period, the scientists recently moved into the Institute building made possible by funding worth millions from the federal state government. They are now conducting basic research on artificial intelligence here.

“The Max Planck Society has created a scientific beacon of light here which beams far and wide, attracting both emerging and established scientists from all over the world,” remarked Max Planck President Martin Stratmann. The new building, which houses all three of the Institute’s departments, was constructed between September 2014 and March 2017. It was funded by the federal state of Baden-Württemberg’s government which places great emphasis on research into intelligent systems: “With its Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen and Stuttgart, the Max Planck Society has firmly established one of the key research fields in the digital transformation in Baden-Württemberg,” indicated Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann. “The federal state has contributed € 41 million to the new building in Tübingen – this represents a sound investment which will help ensure that Baden-Württemberg remains a leading centre of research on artificial intelligence.”

A training ground for robots and a 4D full-body scanner

The new building provides scientists with an outstanding environment in which to advance their theoretical and experimental research. Apollo is just one of the robots which has space for extensive experiments here. While this machine specializes in recognizing and handling various items, Athena, another robot, will one day manoeuvre independently through various terrain. A variable training ground for robots will even be set up for this purpose in future at the spacious robotics laboratory of the “Autonomous Motion” department led by Stefan Schaal.

The expansive “Capture Hall” – which belongs to the “Perceiving Systems” department led by Michael J. Black – also creates new research opportunities. It will soon house the 4D full-body scanner – the only one of its kind in the world – which can fully record the body and its movements in space and time in high-definition. The researchers will then use these recordings to create a precisely reproduced three-dimensional avatar – the virtual equivalent of a person.

The scientists in Bernhard Schölkopf’s “Empirical Inference” department will even use the building’s roof in their research. A state-of-the-art telescope with five adjacent lenses is being installed here which researchers will use to develop mathematical methods to correct astronomical images.

Communication zones encourage creative dialogue

As Bernhard Schölkopf and his team are also exploring machine-learning methods for medicine and other socially relevant research fields – in addition to astronomy – and are predominantly focusing on theoretical work, the new building’s architectural design benefits them greatly. It fosters creative dialogue with plenty of comfortable communication zones and glazed meeting and seminar rooms. This is one of the advantages of the new building which is also much appreciated by Stefan Schaal, who is currently the Institute’s Managing Director: “It was important to us that the new building’s design enabled all employees to communicate easily.”

The communication-enhancing design was produced by the “ArGe Architekten” studio in Waldkirch and implemented by the Tübingen-based construction management firm “dannien roller hofmann”. The new building accommodates the Tübingen section of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems which was only founded six years ago and has another Institute section in Stuttgart.

“The Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems is a project close to my heart,” revealed Martin Stratmann, who initiated the establishment of the new Institute in 2007 during his time as chairperson of the Max Planck Society’s Chemistry, Physics and Technology Section. “I firmly believed – and of course still do – that extremely exciting basic research can be carried out on the comprehension, learning and action of intelligent systems which can enable major progress to be made in cognitive robotics.”

The Institute has since become one of the world’s leading research centres on intelligent systems and a wellspring for further activities supported by the federal state of Baden-Württemberg: “The mobility, medicine and mechanical engineering solutions of the future are inconceivable without artificial intelligence,” pointed out Winfried Kretschmann. “The go-ahead for the “Cyber Valley” – one of Europe’s largest research cooperation ventures in this field – was given in Baden-Württemberg at the end of 2016 .” At the initiative of the Max Planck Society, the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, the universities of Stuttgart and Tübingen and various industrial partners have joined forces in the “Cyber Valley” to step up research activities on intelligent systems – such as for autonomous vehicles – and to create a thriving environment for start-ups in this field.


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