From Blockchain to Autonomous Driving – The FZI Open House 2018

Digitalisation is on the rise everywhere. At the third FZI Open House on February 22, 2018, the focus was particularly set on the following topics: blockchain, artificial intelligence, digital health care and mobility.

Jan Wiesenberger, Executive Director of the FZI, was pleased to announce, during his welcome speech at the Open House of the FZI Research Center for Information Technology on February 22, 2018 that "so many guests came so that we were in lack of seats." Almost 300 visitors who have, by means of various laboratories and exhibits, already been able to get an idea of what a wide range of topics the FZI Research Center for Information Technology deals with on a daily basis, fill the hall. For example a mobile robot can find its way through the crowded corridors without even bothering. Intelligent robots fill popcorn into bags at first and then pack it in the shipping carton. Or a smart home for assisted living: The technology immediately registers and reports if the occupant falls and no longer gets up on his or her own.

Also the child in a man (and some women) does not come up too short: The small course for simulator-controlled model cars, which are also able to drive autonomously, is closer to real life, than some may think: They are trained by experts of the FZI via a neural network and thus achieve lap times that are difficult to beat on the driving simulator.

The station for IT security shows just how quick sheer fun can suddenly turn into deadly seriousness: You can find there a pretty linguistically talented, pink toy called Furby, which can wiggle its ears in the cutest way, but has a bad disadvantage: Anyone who understands it can expand the fuzzy mascot’s vocabulary significantly via Bluetooth. So far that Furby can suddenly give instructions to digital smart home assistants like Alexa which was not intended. The spectrum of consequences extends from mischief to serious damages.

All of this is just a small foretaste for the visitors of what is deepened then in the considerable number of lectures – and it also serves as a pastime during the breaks. The hall is completely full as Prof. Dr. Christof Weinhardt of the FZI quotes the former Vice President of the USA at the beginning, with a statement from 2013 who said at that time: "I think the fact that within the bitcoin universe an algorithm replaces the functions of [the government] … is actually pretty cool."

Weinhardt covers a wide range of this phenomenon, of which the epitome is bitcoin, but which is also used in areas completely different from crypto currencies. Weinhardt's definition of Blockchain is: "Distributed, transaction-based database with a decentralised data consistency log and an unchangeable transaction history". The purpose of the exercise: "Secure P2P interaction without a central instance."

Jannick Eisenhardt from IBM (International Business Machines Corporation) Germany subsequently explains how far this technology has already progressed in concrete industrial applications. "The Valley of Tears Follows after the Hype" is the title of his lecture, in which he warns of exaggerated expectations but also indicates that more than 400 relevant customer projects are currently in the pipeline at IBM. His conclusion: Blockchain is the most overestimated and least understood technology, but it also has the greatest upheaval potential.

From IT crypto catacombs to hospital corridors

Dieter Klose, Management Assistant of the municipal hospital Städtisches Klinikum Karlsruhe, talks about the topic of digital health care. How can the digitalisation of the medical field help? One of its benefits is the quick access to the complete patient documentation and another is that the processes are completely electronic. Among other things, this increases the forensic patient safety. Speech recognition instead of traditional dictation shortens the so-called diagnostic process. There are also positive perspectives, especially for administration. The keywords are electronic work scheduling, improved calculation of unstable salaries, higher universality of employee identity cards. The benefits for patients range from multimedia offers at the bedside to improved care, for example for stroke patients. Example: "Stroke-ARTEV": A network by which hospitals in the surrounding areas can contact the highly competent neurology department of the Klinikum Karlsruhe quickly and round the clock.

Digitalisation is also making its way into rescue services. A long-standing research partner of the FZI is Vomatec Innovations GmbH, whose approach – the so-called RescueWave – Dr. Stephan Heuer brings down to the following denominator: better control of large-scale emergencies through digitisation. Self-configuring communication networks and a quick overview of the number and location of patients are also a part of RescueWave like an electronic examination device as well as the assignment of patients, rescue devices and target hospitals via IT. The border between IT support and complete artificial intelligence (AI) is fluent, whom a further thematic block is dedicated at the FZI Open House. Daniel Kerscher, from Robert Bosch GmbH, depicts how AI is suitable in the concrete economic life, for example to optimise a highly complex supply chain. InTrack is the name of the platform used by Bosch, which is also an app family whose sphere ranges from recording orders from the sender, through material disposition to migration to the company's IT cloud.

Supreme Discipline Mobility

Professor Dr. Jürgen Bortolazzi, Development Manager at Porsche, speaks for the automotive industry, which works strenuously on autonomous driving. He warns against rushing ahead too quickly: "We should not take on too much", he says and advises caution. What is important in this context is the legal aspect: As of level 3 (conditionally automated) the manufacturer of the vehicle is fully responsible and also liable.

Generally, Bortolazzi sees two tendencies nowadays: On the one hand, there is the so-called own mobility, in other words the classic manual driving which is going to remain in the future. But on the other hand, there is also the trend towards autonomous driving, in which traditional vehicle manufacturers would be competing with IT players like Google, Apple or Uber, especially in regards to level 5 (fully automated).

Bortolazzi describes its development expenses as "gigantic and unprecedented", but at the same time he is sure that the investments are well done, since autonomous driving relieves the driver who thus will save time and would be willing to pay for it in addition in the end. An example of how it begins currently: Finding and driving to the charging station, for example in car parks as well as docking to the charging station are all things that already can be automated.

Apart from that Bortolazzi still sees an immense amount of work to be done by all parties in every aspect of fully automated driving and mentions the following key subjects in this context: rapid growth of the requirements on sensors and their extent along with processing of data generated by it, the validation of the whole development both on the test ground and in the simulation- and not least, the networking of the vehicle with the data infrastructure. Concerning the practical implementation he mentions medium-term brands: The years 2019 or 2020 for level 3 and for level 4 he predicts "not before 2023."

The editor Michael Kern reported about the FZI Open House 2018 for the FZI.