Boğaziçi University becomes member of iNavigate consortium

In the newly-funded H2020-MSCA-RISE-2019 project, Boğaziçi University Institute of Biomedical Engineering teams up with 25 academic and non-academic organizations in EU and USA to develop brain-inspired technological solutions for autonomous robotic mobility.
Kenan Özcan

Institute of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Boğaziçi University becomes one of the partners of  iNavigate research project which brings together scientists and engineers in academic, private and NGO enterprises on ‘’Brain-inspired technologies for intelligent navigation and mobility. iNavigate’s 20 institutional and academic partners’- from Europe and USA such as Germany, France, Norway, UK, Spain, Belgium, Greece and Turkey- goal is to strengthen EU’s excellence in brain-inspired robotic control solutions.  The solutions that will be developed will be tested in existing robots and will also help the development of next generation releases and future product design.  Boğaziçi University participates to the project with Daniela Schulz (Project leader on behalf of BME), Esin Öztük Işık, who chairs the Reintegration Committee and BME Institute Director, Can Yücesoy who will support the Sustainability Committee..

We have conducted an interview with Daniela Schulz to get further information on the project.

First of all, could you define the term ‘’brain-inspired technologies’’ or next generation technologies via some examples.  In which sectors we will see those examples?

The goal of iNavigate is to define how the brain generates motor action using elementary instructions and to translate this knowledge into novel technological solutions to control robotic mobility.  Thus, the idea is to learn how the brain works and to use this knowledge in technological innovation. 

More specifically, we will analyze animal and human behavior during navigation and observe the brain during this behavior.  We will next define the neural principles that govern navigational behavior and translate these into algorithms.  These algorithms will then be tested in robotic devices, for example, bionic arms, industrial arms, and aquatic and land-based robots.  We expect that autonomous robotic navigation, that is, navigation without the use of maps, can be improved by implementing control algorithms that utilize only the most useful information about the environment.

The knowledge and control schemes we generate in this project will impact multiple sectors where intelligent motor decisions need to be made, for example, in rehabilitation where patients with brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, and amputations can benefit from intelligent sensory-motor feedback systems.  Sensory-motor controls can also be implemented in educational robots, for example, to promote learning in children, especially when disabilities do not allow children to attend regular schools.  More obviously, our control algorithms can be implemented in self-driving vehicles.

What will be your role in this project?

I am the lead contact for the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Boğaziçi University, thus, the person in charge of the proposal on our end.  I will be representing the interests of the BME in the supervisory board (main decision-making body) and steering committee (day-to-day management; coordination with 5 action committees).  I will chair one of the five action committees, the Diversity Committee, whose responsibilities is to ensure equal opportunity for all staff members, irrespective of race, religion, sex, gender identity, age, national origin, or other. 

My colleague Assoc. Prof. Dr. Esin Öztük Isık chairs the Reintegration Committee, which will coordinate participants after their travels (secondments) and will ensure that newly gained knowledge will be transferred back to the home institution.  Our Institute Director, Prof. Dr. Can Yücesoy, will support the Sustainability Committee, which will ensure that the partnerships continue past the funding duration of iNavigate.  As a researcher, I will help develop and implement research projects under iNavigate, thereby fostering collaborations with iNavigate partners.  And, most importantly, I will make sure that students will go on secondments to further their careers at international level.

How Boğaziçi University contribute to this project, could you explain the main tasks of Boğaziçi in this project?

Boğaziçi University is a consortium member of the project.  The BME is our university’s entity for carrying out and/or coordinating the proposed work.  We have expertise in all areas of the iNavigate project, such as behavioral neuroscience, computational neuroscience, artificial intelligence and robotics.  We will propose specific research projects and will work with our partners to support the goal of iNavigate.  Faculty and Ph.D. students will carry out the work, built careers, and transfer knowledge back to our institution.  We also have the lead of one of the work packages of the project, which is knowledge transfer (WP5).  BU provides all necessary structures and administrative support to make the project happen on our end.  This includes the legal, tech transfer, and financial offices.  And, of course, BU provides our research infrastructure and support. 

A network of universities mainly from Europe will cooperate within the project’s scope. Do you think the current  Coronavirus pandemic will have effects on such projects that require mutual work among the academicians from different countries? And how will the partners of the project will secure their cooperation under these circumstances?

Yes, our project is clearly impacted by the pandemic at this moment.  All secondments are delayed.  Teleworking cannot substitute the secondments.  A possible extension of the project will be discussed with the relevant officials once the timeline of the pandemic can be predicted.

What will be the concrete outcome of this project in terms of industrial outputs as of November 2023 when the project will be finalized?

iNavigate will strengthen EU’s excellence in brain-inspired robotic control solutions.  The solutions we develop will be tested in existing robots but will also help the development of next generation releases and future product design.  For example, our partner Eodyne in Spain will implement our control solutions in the field of rehabilitation.  MiRo is an educational robot that was developed at the University of Sheffield in the UK.  It will be the first commercial robot to implement a brain-inspired control system.  It will also be improved to develop vision-based navigational capabilities for cluttered and dynamic indoor environments.  At BMW our control solutions will be implemented in autonomous vehicles.

As indicated on project’s web site Boğaziçi University will use the amount of 230.000 Euro as an EU contribution. How this budget will be evaluated for this project?

This budget will be used for secondments.  It is calculated in person months.  A person that travels to do research at a partner organization will receive € 2100 per month for a maximum of 12 months to cover the expenses of the secondment.  There will also be a small research budget to support the secondment.   

Boğaziçi University recently became one of academic members of another EU project ‘’European University of Neuroscience and NeuroTechnology’’. Is there any link between those two projects?

Yes, there is.  All iNavigate members are associate members of NeurotechEU, except for Radboud University and BU who are partners of NeurotechEU.  iNavigate can be viewed as a pioneer project for NeurotechEU.  It forms a basis for and supports NeurotechEU.  On the other hand, NeurotechEU and BU’s role in implementing the neurotechnological innovation work package is a much bigger plan than the iNavigate project. 

Technology is fastly developing especially via AI supported applications. How do you foresee this development in the near future? In what ways technology will change our lives, our work, health systems etc? And how technology inspire the  new directions for brain researches in the near future?

In my view, AI-supported technology and technology in general will continue to improve our lives, especially in health care, where we can benefit from more accurate diagnoses and personalized treatments.  In research, new technologies and methods will allow for new insights.  We may understand biological systems in ways that we haven’t been able to until now.  It’s a bit like the difference between a light and an electron microscope.  With advanced technology, we can see more, understand more, and survive better, if we choose to.