The office space in a basement near the TU Dresden campus is somewhat cramped. The desks have had to be moved closer together on several occasions to cater for the arrival of new staff. The company is barely a year old but has already outgrown its premises. But that’s par for the course when you are at the cutting edge of technology. “It’s amazing what’s happening,” says Christian Piechnick. He and his wife Maria are two of the six founders of Wandelbots. “I almost can’t get my head around it – there’s just too much going on.” If Professor Frank Fitzek, Head of the Deutsche Telekom Chair of Communication Networks at TU Dresden, has assessed the situation correctly, they are just at the beginning. Fitzek is one of the leading innovators in the field of digital communication – and a co-founder of the start-up. “This idea not only could change the world,” he says. “It most certainly will.”
Millions of euros are currently being spent on research into Artificial Intelligence (AI). More specifically, into how machines can be induced to learn. AI is set to have a major bearing on our future. The problem, however, is applicability. Primarily because only very large companies can afford such technologies.
A mission rather than a vision
The Wandelbots research team have found just the right solution for this problem: they have developed a system and software for teaching machines to perform certain tasks and processes. For example, fitting a car window. Or assisting a baker in making bread rolls. Christian Piechnick can conceive of many more areas in which this innovative approach could work:
“The tools that have so far been designed for the programming of robots are mainly intended for specially trained professionals. But with our system, we also want to make such technologies accessible to medium-sized companies such as a bakery.” This is their vision, though ‘vision’ doesn’t quite capture the essence. “We see it more as a mission,” says Maria Piechnick.
The thirty-something couple do not look anything like the usual caricatures of a nerd. Instead, they look like poster models for the young, bright start-up generation. He speaks quickly, jumping from one thought to the next, while she is reserved, almost shy. Both studied Media Informatics at TU Dresden. After graduating in 2012, they stayed on as research associates – in an environment that spurred them on to try new things and also to embark on an unconventional route.