ICAI Interview with Jesse Scholtes: Making an impact in the real world

Program manager of FAST LAB, Jesse Scholtes, makes sure the collaboration between the researchers of TU Eindhoven and their five industry partners runs smoothly. Scholtes: ‘My main role is to manage the expectations and create a win-win situation.’

FAST LAB (new Frontiers in Autonomous Systems Technology) has joined ICAI this week. The lab is in its fourth year of research and creates smart industrial mobile robots that can deal with sudden obstacles in environments like farms, airports and oil & gas sites. The researchers of Eindhoven University of Technology work together with the industry partners Rademaker, ExRobotics, Vanderlande, Lely and Diversey.

Jesse Scholtes

How is it to work with so many different partners in one lab?

Scholtes: ‘Academia and industry are different worlds. Our industry partners want to implement the technology into their products as soon as possible. They are short-term driven. The academic world wants to come up with the best idea and the best way of solving something. For me it’s important to manage the expectations continuously, be very transparent about what we do and how that will turn into a benefit for our partners.’

How do you make this work?

‘Two things are important. One is the realization of all parties that it’s a shared investment. If the companies would develop this research on their own, it would cost them a lot more. The second thing we did from the start is make sure the involved companies are not each other’s competitors. That’s the biggest prerequisite for success. The companies share the same kind of R&D questions, but are active in a different domain. If you take away the potential commercial risk, then people open up, start to talk, share ideas and learn from each other.’

How do you translate that into concrete results?

‘In the first year the researchers spend a lot of time at the industry partners to understand what their challenges are. One of the core things that we have adopted is the end-of-year-demonstration. Researchers bring their new ideas, implement them into the systems of the industry partner and test them in a real world environment. Here we can see the results of what we’ve made and we can also steer the project to a different direction if needed.’

What are you most proud of regarding FAST LAB?

‘That we created a very open friendship and constructive partnership with our researchers and the partners. They really came together as a team, working on the same topics and helping each other. That cannot be taken for granted.’

Where do you see FAST LAB in the next few years?

‘FAST LAB will continue for one more year. But we are working on a successor with existing partners and probably with some new partners. There is a lot of interest. I hope we can create an ecosystem of companies and university-researchers working together and creating this type of win-win situation. As long as we continue to do that, we can continue this cycle and provide much needed continuity in development of novel ideas.’

On the ICAI Lunch Meetup of January 21, 2021, Jesse Scholtes will present the FAST LAB. More info and sign up here.