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Joris Sijs, lead scientist AI and autonomous systems

Building a robot one day that will coach the Dutch national team through to the World Cup final – that’s Joris's ultimate dream. But he’s already doing great things at TNO Defence & Security.

Robot technology

Joris Sijs, lead scientist AI en autonome systemen

“My colleagues and I are developing robot technology that can be used to ensure security in places where humans are at risk. We want to make robots so autonomous that they no longer need to be steered directly by humans, so that you only have to say: give us a sign if you see a swimmer in trouble in this rough sea, or if you find a gas leak on that industrial site. And that it reports to you when it has completed its task or if it’s stuck.”

Robot as national team coach

“We’ve already come a long way with robot technology, but we aren’t yet where we want to be. When you see videos of robots that can do something clever, there’s still usually somebody out of shot who’s pressing the buttons. We want to give that kind of robot a higher level of intelligence. So that it doesn’t just see a chair, but also understands what it’s for and can then carry out actions. That will probably take another five to eight years. A robot that can interact with people is the next step. One that can teach people something, such as football. A robot as national team coach, that would be something.”

Having fun being nerdy

“I’m lead scientist for AI (artificial intelligence) and autonomous systems at Defence & Security. We work with 10 to 15 colleagues on a research project, for which each person does their own part of the research. My job is to give direction and bring everything together to create a whole.

At the beginning, the projects were still small. My manager saw that I was doing pretty well in bringing fundamental research through to application. Since then, the projects have continued to grow larger. I usually work on three big projects and 10 small ones at the same time, as lead scientist, but also as reviewer or scientist, for example. That’s great, because now and then I just want to enjoy being nerdy for a few hours.”

Cross connections

“One day a week, I work as a researcher and lecturer at Delft University of Technology. There, we do fundamental research. At TNO, I’m much more involved in seeking the limits of application. There’s no shortage of applications at TNO. In industry, you spend 20 years working on one printer or scanner. At TNO you can make cross connections between various techniques and applications, in my case between measurement & control engineering and AI and robotics. And that really opens up a whole new world for you.”

My own start-up

“My ambition is to enter the Dutch market successfully with all the knowledge and know-how that we have in the area of autonomous systems, preferably in a start-up. We buy existing robots and use them to build a fully autonomous system with a high level of intelligence. For the police, Shell, Chemelot, and many more. Maybe one day for the Royal Dutch Football Association. Never say never. Someone will eventually discover how to make it technically possible.”

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