"When people in 50 years look back at today, it will be clear just how much the world has been changed by robotics and artificial intelligence (AI)", says Sami Haddadin. "The impact will be comparable to the invention of the stone axe or weaving loom." He finds it difficult to predict exactly where these technological advances will take humankind. Haddadin is nonetheless quite clear in his belief that "technology should always benefit humans".
38-year-old Haddadin is the founding director of the "Munich School of Robotics and Machine Intelligence" at the Technical University of Munich (MSRM). Established in 2018, the research centre follows an innovative approach to research: using machine intelligence, that is to say by combining AI and robotics, the scientists are keen to develop sustainable technologies and solutions to key challenges of our time. The foundation for this is interdisciplinary basic research that takes a long-term view.
The experts want to combine basic research and practical applications in three major fields of research. They will then put the results to the test in everyday life, collaborating with industrial partners and potential users of the technology. Besides improving robotic assistants designed to support the aged in their daily lives (geriatronics), the goal is to further develop safe collective-learning robotic assistants for industry and medical robots for minimally-invasive surgery. Furthermore, the researchers are working to get autonomous transport systems and robot teams – for example for inspecting and maintaining large-scale infrastructure – ready for application.
Sami Haddadin has always been driven by curiosity, ever since he was a child growing up near Hanover. "I was always keen to hear different opinions, give free rein to my imagination and talk openly about things", says the son of a Jordanian doctor and a Finnish mother.
He has come a long way: after obtaining his PhD at RWTH Aachen University in 2011, he spent several periods pursuing research in Silicon Valley between 2011 and 2013. Together with his brother, he was awarded the Deutscher Zukunftspreis in 2017 for the invention of Franka, the sensitive robotic assistant with intuitive operation. In March he will receive the 2019 Leibniz Prize, the most important research award in Germany. In 2014, while still in his early thirties, Haddadin was awarded a professorship at the Institute of Automatic Control at Leibniz University Hannover. "That was something very special for me. Particularly as people often say that it is virtually impossible in Germany to obtain a chair in our subject at such a young age", he explains.
An engineer among medical specialists
Haddadin sees himself as an engineer in the original sense of the word – as someone who "creates" and invents tools. Namely tools that improve life for human beings. Once again, he attributes this to his upbringing: having a doctor as a father meant that human coexistence and valuing of human life always had the highest priority. "From an early age, I was interested in questions like: How can one help others? and: What concrete action can one take to achieve this? – and ultimately this is what prompted me to study engineering and robotics."
Around two years ago, Haddadin withdrew from Franka's operational business in order to concentrate fully on research again. In April 2018 he returned to Munich, where he had studied electrical engineering, information technology and technology management at the Technical University of Munich and at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München between 2002 and 2009. From 2005, he had additionally pursued robotics research at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) – all of which laid the foundations for his work today.
Germany, a research location with great potential
Although he has been offered some attractive research positions in the USA, he chose Germany as his research base. "I am deeply rooted here", he says. What is more, he explains that Germany and Europe uphold good values. When it comes to research, sustainability is the goal here, as well as shaping the future and having an impact. "My decision to remain in Germany was always meant also as a statement", says Haddadin. In Munich he now has the chance to drive forward his award-winning visions of human-friendly robots.
Various options for young researchers
Young researchers will find good conditions for studying electrical engineering and information technology at many German universities. The following universities score particularly well in the CHE Ranking, for example:
Excellent conditions for electrical engineers can also be found at non-university research institutions in Germany, for example at the:
German Aerospace Center, Munich
Innovations for High Performance Microelectronics, Frankfurt (Oder)
Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at RWTH Aachen University
At the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at RWTH Aachen University, engineers are trained for future leading positions in teaching and research, and in industry and society. The faculty is known above all for its close relationship between research and teaching, which is made possible primarily by intensive cooperation within RWTH Aachen University, within the Jülich-Aachen-Research Alliance (JARA) and with associated institutes and external research partners.www.elektrotechnik.rwth-aachen.de