Germany spurs AI with state incubator, JEDI network and BMW backing
Germany has made its move in the international AI arms race with state support for tech start-ups, a ‘JEDI’ innovation network with France, and backing for its ‘Cyber Valley’ set-up from industrial giants including BMW, Daimler, Porsche, and Bosch.
The German government is to create a new state innovation agency to support tech start-ups and research in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), mobility, and medical research.
The new agency will provide longer-term support to innovators, so their projects are not scuppered before realising their potential, said Germany Trade & Invest, the country’s economic development agency.
“It has been recognised many of the better ideas often get lost to costs or barriers to market entry at the point of implementation,” it said.
In a statement, Germany Trade & Invest claimed “disruptive ideas’ will be effectively given €151 million “more creative room” through the initiative.
Projects will be managed through the agency on temporary contracts; universities and research institutes will be engaged to assess performance. Projects will be assessed within the framework of public procurement before being released into the market.
Robert Hermann, chief executive of the state’s economic development agency Germany Trade & Invest, said: “The formation of this agency marks a further turn from Germany towards a position as a leading place for innovation incubation.
“The willingness of the government to commit to innovative thinkers and give them long-term support through the inevitable bumps and potholes along the road to market entry and implementation is a sign of the value Germany believes is inherent in such projects.
“Fortunately, there exists the small-to-medium business network of companies willing and able to help these thinkers carry out their projects, while our R&D facilities are also among the best in the world. As long as we are able to support ideas like this, Germany will continue to pioneer the solutions of tomorrow in the digital age and enjoy the values created therein.”
Germany is at the centre of Europe’s front in the new international arms race in AI research and development, envisioned as a key enabler in economic transformation. The UK and France have made moves already, and the European Commission, representing European member states, has pushed for more funding for AI too.
The Joint European Disruptive Initiative (JEDI) proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September, is starting to take shape, noted Germany Trade & Invest.
The JEDI programme is modelled after DARPA, the US Department of Defence agency hat has produced technologies such as GPS and TCP/IP.
With an annual budget of €1 billion, it will develop “dozens of operational prototypes” each year, and fund 50-70 “extremely ambitious” projects in areas such as cybersecurity, biotechnology, energy storage, health and aerospace.
Fifteen programme managers have already been hired, reported Germany Trade & Invest, and three or four project competitions, each with a budget of €10 million, will be announced in the fall.
Separately, the so-called ‘Cyber Valley’ initiative in southwest Germany, aimed at transforming the area around the university cities of Stuttgart and Tübingen into an international venue for AI research, covering machine learning, robotics and computer vision, is gathering pace.
BMW, IAV, Daimler, Porsche, Bosch and ZF Friedrichshafen have already signed up as industry partners. Amazon will send 100 researchers to Tübingen within five years, it said.
Germany wants to appoint 24 professors in Tübingen and 23 in Stuttgart, as well as eight directors from the Max Planck Institute, the independent association of German research institutes.
The group will form the research staff at a new Max Planck Research School for Intelligent Systems (IMPRS-IS), which will take 100 doctoral students at a time. Ten further professorships will be filled and 20 new research groups will be established in the next five years.
Meanwhile, Bosch has said it will invest €1 billion into a new chip factory in Dresden in Saxony, Europe’s centre for microelectronics production, which already makes half of all the chips made in Europe.
The investment is being supported by €200 million from the federal government and €100 million from the state of Saxony. The Bosh factory, its second in the region, will create 700 new jobs and produce semiconductors for cars and the ‘internet of things’ (IoT), starting in 2021.
Saxony’s microelectronics cluster boasts roughly 2,300 companies and some 60,000 employees.
In related news, Robot maker Kuka has teamed up with the insurance group Munich Re and the Porsche-owned consulting firm MHP in Augsburg on a ‘smart-factory-as-a-service’ model in an old dumpling plant in Munich.
The demonstration site has been set up to show how smart factories enable flexible small-batch manufacturing for other companies by quickly reprogramming robots and outfitting them with different tools, while also offering improved risk management, financing and investment costs.
The trio say the model can shorten launch times for new products by up to 30 per cent.