Bavarian high-tech agenda
Fraunhofer IKS expands its fields of research

The Fraunhofer Institute for Cognitive Systems IKS is now over a year old. To ensure its second year gets off to a good start, it has received further funding from the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs to the tune of 20 million euros, which will be used to speed up the process of expanding into new research areas.

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Transferring safe intelligence from research to application is one of the primary aims of the work at Fraunhofer IKS, because this is the prerequisite for improving the trustworthiness of cognitive systems and enabling the safe use of intelligent services in the platform economy.

The State of Bavaria is supporting this work as part of the Bavarian high-tech agenda: The Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy has now granted Fraunhofer IKS further funding of 20 million euros, with the aim of allowing the institute to expand its fields of research more quickly.

Further development of research work

This means that Fraunhofer IKS will be able to work on new areas of focus. The scientists at the institute are investigating how machine learning can be used in the context of safety-relevant applications even under challenging conditions. Among other things, this involves implementing reliable learning even when only very little or incomplete training data is available. In such cases, for example, additional mechanisms during operation should ensure the robustness of the systems.

Furthermore, Fraunhofer IKS research also focuses on the question of how intelligent safety-critical systems can be protected during their life cycle, i.e., from development right up to operation. In particular, the central departments are investigating how AI technologies can support the architectural development and assessment of cognitive systems.

The ability to provide proof of safety for AI-based systems also features on the research agenda. To achieve this, evidence along the entire chain of safety requirements is being collected and reviewed to ultimately provide complete proof of safety. That being said, not much research has yet been conducted into the required evidence and associated test procedures for safety-critical AI-based systems in particular.

Servitization gaining in importance

Beyond this, Fraunhofer IKS is undertaking a fundamental expansion of its research focus. Up to now, the focus of the research activities has been on technical systems and machines such as vehicles or production machines. In other words: The result of the development of a cognitive system was primarily a tangible product. This approach was justified when the focus was on consolidation in the initial phase of establishing the institute. At the same time, however, it now only covers part of the market requirements. This is because, in many cases, the focus has now shifted away from the product itself and toward a higher-level service to which the product contributes along with other products and digital services. Many disruptive offerings from the field of digitalization have emerged on the basis of this principle of “servitization”. Technology companies in particular are developing intelligent products such as autonomous vehicles not from the perspective of the products, but from the perspective of the digital services that the products can be used to implement; for example, intelligent mobility platforms.

This means that — staying with this example — rather than just looking at autonomous driving, the focus is now on providing support for intelligent mobility. Digital agricultural machinery is evolving into intelligent agricultural services. Intelligent medical devices are being integrated into intelligent digital health services.

The main focus for Fraunhofer IKS, however, is less on the development of application-specific intelligent services and more on the underlying architectures, platforms and development environments. These elements should enable the rapid and flexible development of new intelligent service offerings on the basis of cognitive systems in accordance with the highest quality requirements — particularly in terms of safety.

New application fields

Alongside these additional technological areas of focus, Fraunhofer IKS is also expanding into other application domains. Initially, the researchers focused on software engineering for safety-critical applications in the fields of autonomous driving and Industrie 4.0. This focus has since been expanded to include the field of medical engineering and domains in which autonomous vehicles are used; for example, agriculture and logistics.

Despite all of these new areas of focus, the overarching goal of the research conducted at Fraunhofer IKS remains the same: to enable the use of software intelligence in safety-critical systems. In other words, using safe intelligence to take the digitalization of industry and society to the next level.

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Director Mario Trapp
Mario Trapp
Cognitive systems / Fraunhofer IKS
Cognitive systems