Collaboration between academia and industry in Japan and Sweden – Seven projects have been granted seed money

Electronic skin with the sensibility of a fingertip and an AI-based early warning system for extreme weather. That is the focus for two of the seven projects that have granted seed money in the call for Academia/Industry collaborations.

During MIRAI 2.0 Research & Innovation week in June 2021, Intsam through Vinnova, Sweden’s Innovation Agency, announced a call for funding applications. The call aimed at initiating new collaborations between universities, businesses and public sector organizations in Sweden and Japan. Seven projects have now been granted funding. The projects cover all subject areas within MIRAI 2.0 – ageing, sustainability, materials science, artificial intelligence and innovation/entrepreneurship. The majority are multidisciplinary. 

E-skin

Ted Johansson is a researcher at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Uppsala University. His project will try to develop electronic skin (e-skin) that is reminiscent of the skin we have on our fingertips.

“The e-skin consists of many, small, sensitive tactile sensor points on a curved surface. In addition, the material must be flexible. We collaborate with a Japanese company that usually produces electronics for flat surfaces, such as large TV screens. They have extensive experience with a unique technology and want us to use their technology on a new kind of surface. They see business opportunities in the long run”, he says.

Mimics nature

The researchers have a neuromorphic approach when they try to find technical solutions, inspired by nature’s solutions to different situations and challenges. 

“This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to two researchers who investigated how receptors for touch and temperature function in human skin. We try to do the same thing, but with electronics”, says Ted Johansson.

He foresees several areas of use for the electronic fingertip skin, for example on hand prosthetics in the future, together with an AI function that processes and interprets signals between the e-skin and the brain. “It could also be used on a robotic hand, to make the robot more sensitive and get a better “feel” when they grip something. The robot should be able to grip an egg without crushing the shell”, says Ted Johansson. 

illustration electronic skin

Extreme weather and indoor temperature

Another project that has been granted seed money is about developing an AI based early warning system in buildings, which automatically and energy efficiently regulates indoor temperature during extreme warm and extreme cold days.

Vahid Nik is an Associate Professor at the Division of Building Physics at Lund University. He is the scientific coordinator of an EU project focusing on increasing energy flexibility in urban areas through collective intelligence, called COLLECTiEF. The project will develop an energy management system for buildings in urban areas, enabling them to communicate and collaborate with each other and with the urban energy system. The aim is having an economic system that is climate resilient and easy to install and use. 

Vahid Nik has now, together with Japanese counterparts at Hiroshima University, been granted seed funding from Intsam for a new project connected to this that focuses on indoor comfort. Infants, elderly and sick people have difficulties coping with extreme temperatures. During extreme cold or warm days, it is important to keep the indoor temperature at a suitable level, especially for the vulnerable groups.

“We plan to develop an early warning system for extreme temperatures, based on artificial intelligence and expected human behavior, into our original project. In other words, user comfort will be taken into account in the AI-based decision-making process and when planning for climate resilience”, says Vahid Nik.

He is looking forward to collaborating with Hiroshima University. 

“Hiroshima University has a strong research profile on resilience studies, considering several aspects of resilience including climate and social factors. Their relevant case studies, knowledge about human and social factors, and national and international contacts will considerably enrich the quality of this project”, he says. 

Illustration of project

The seven projects

The projects that have been granted seed funding from Intsam through Vinnova focus on the following:

  • Blended biofuel pellets for household and industrial boilers using Miscanthus biomass and wood residues; Karlstad University, Hokkaido University.
  • Implementing novel sustainable solutions based on collaborative robots using mixed reality (MR) and artificial intelligence (AI). Karlstad University, Ritsumeikan University, Goodtech Solutions AB.
  • Designing self-care for increased health of older people in the digital area; Lund University, Uppsala University, Waseda University.
  • Integrating human health and user comfort (with a special focus on elderlies and vulnerable groups while considering climate change and extreme weather events) through developing an AI based early-warning system. Lund University, Hiroshima University, NODA Intelligent systems.
  • Neuromorphic circuits on flexible substrates for electronic skin; Uppsala University, Semiconductor Energy Laboratory CO, Ltd.
  • Sustainable Ageing of Migrant Populations in Sweden and Japan and their Transnational Families in the Framework of Digital Technologies; Karlstad University, Tokyo University
  • Combining Swedish and Japanese technologies (anammox bacteria, membranes, algae) in order to detoxify the wastewater from recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS). University of Gothenburg, Hiroshima University.

Intsam
The call is funded by Intsam through Vinnova, Sweden’s Innovation Agency. Intsam is a coordinating group for Swedish government research funding bodies, with the task of strengthening and coordinating research and innovation initiatives with countries outside Europe. Intsam includes Formas, Forte, the Swedish Energy Agency, the Swedish Research Council and Vinnova.