Professor Heikki Huttunen, the founder of AI Hub Tampere, discusses the values and future visions of AI hub.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Heikki Huttunen, and I am an associate professor at Tampere University of Technology at the department of signal processing. My field of research is  Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning. The areas are quite close to each other. Machine learning is more traditional whereas AI refers to the modern applications and hyped things that you can achieve with the modern methods. Machine learning is the engine of all the applications available nowadays. Apart from my TUT position, where I conduct research, guide some graduate students and teach courses in our degree program, I have an affiliation with a small company in Tampere called Visy Oy. I have been a partner in Visy for 15 years now, and I am working there part-time now. I am a board member of the same company. Our work is centred on automatic license plate recognition using a camera. We are reading the card number plates from vehicles entering the access control area, such as parking lots, parking facilities, international or national ports, and stations. Besides, we are doing other kinds of optical character recognition, which is also based on machine learning. This is where I learnt everything I know about machine learning.”

Heikki Huttunen

How you came up with the idea of AI Hub Tampere?

“I saw many small companies interested to utilize AI as a part of offering to their customers. On the other hand, they are uncertain about how to do it and what practical steps should be taken. AI Hub Tampere is intended for helping small and medium-sized companies to introduce artificial intelligence as a part of their product offering.

The motivation behind undertaking this initiative is to provide free guidance and services to the small and medium-sized companies.  Many consultation companies are offering their services for a fee. For instance, the consultation companies offer help to small companies to integrate artificial intelligence with their product. They are not neutral partners, and the reality could be that the particular AI is not suitable for the customer. Nevertheless, the consultation companies assure them to become partners, and they try to implement something which might not work that well. Therefore, we wanted to have a neutral and publicly funded expert organization, that can help organizations with artificial intelligence. Since all our services are publicly funded, they are free of charge for our customers.”

What do you want to achieve with AI Hub?

The primary target is to help Finnish industries, our own students and help the complete ecosystem of the Pirkanmaa region. Thus, students and companies will meet each other and fruitfully get benefit from artificial intelligence. In short, it could be “Democratization of Artificial Intelligence”. In the present context, most big companies have their open source AI platform, for example, Google has the TensorFlow, and Facebook has PyTorch. The missing link between the free software and the companies is someone who knows how to integrate it. We intended to serve as that link and try to facilitate gaining access to those AI platforms and provide the required expertise.”

Who is the target audience of AI Hub? Why is AI Hub important?

The primary intended target audiences are the small and medium-sized companies in Tampere Area and more specifically the engineers that are working there. We want to promote the services primarily to the engineers and secondarily to the managers. Of course, managers are our target audience as well, and we intend to arrange sessions intended for business decision makers. One of our goals is to train people how to buy artificial intelligence, and these sessions will help us achieve our target. If decision makers have inadequate knowledge about AI, they might be unaware of the limitations of AI or might end up paying a high price for a service, which is relatively simple. They might also ask for a service, which is practically impossible to implement. On the other hand, they might not know what the possibilities are and miss some opportunity.

Students are the key part of our Ecosystems. The universities exist to educate people for the companies, and the students will be integrated with the companies via AI Hub Tampere. The Huawei AI Hackathon is one example, which we are organizing next week, in collaboration with Huawei. So the company is looking for talents and providing infrastructure, hardware and proposal tasks for the students. Simultaneously, we try to attract the students in this event to come up with ideas and solutions that might be interesting for the companies. Thus, we want to promote this among our students because we need them to be a part of this ecosystem.”

With whom are you building up the AI Hub? What fields of science are involved?

The AI hub focuses explicitly on the thematic area of intelligent machines, which is also the focus area of the whole university. The AI Hub Tampere of intelligent machines is focusing on benefiting industrial companies utilizing AI. There is a big ecosystem of intelligent machines in Tampere. There are many companies like, Sandvic, Kalmar, Metso who are making great products and we will be crazy if we don’t utilize the ecosystem of good companies. With this in mind, we are also involved with the professors of other research areas in Tampere University, for example, Prof. Timo D. Hämäläinen (Computing Sciences, embedded systems), Associate Professor Reza Gabcheloo and Assistant Professor Roel Pieters (Automation technology and Mechanical Engineering, robotics) and University Lecturer Aino Ahtinen (Computing Sciences, human-machine interaction). This multidisciplinary team is a perfect combination to provide experts of the Computational side as well as the Automation Engineering side which is essential for this thematic area of intelligent machines. There are AI Hub for other thematic areas, for example for health, but we intend for industrial usage, in particular, intelligent machines.”

Who are your partners for AI Hub Tampere?

“Our partners include a wide variety of funding organizations and stakeholders in intelligent machines and artificial intelligence. To name a few, Business Finland, City of Tampere, FIMA (Forum for Intelligent Machines), Pirkanmaa Litto (The Regional Council of Pirkanmaa) are actively involved with us.”

Where do you see AI Hub Tampere in 10 years?

“It is a good question because we intend to make a long-term facility center for Artificial Intelligence. In 10 years, I see AIHUB Tampere has become a long-term setup for involving companies, universities and students together. Maybe as a model, we could consider other platforms that exist, for example, the SMACC platform. It is a manufacturing facility that exists in TUT. In 10 years, I want to see AIHUB as the new SMACC or to be in level with SMACC which has become a significant facility for the Pirkanmaa Region Business.

Something you would like to add…

“We are now speeding up, so several events are coming up and important stakeholders are joining our Ecosystem. For example, “Huawei is organizing AI Hackathon next week. On 17th December 2018, there is IBM University tour, hosted by us. In January 2019, we will have our first pilot workshop, where we invite the engineers to have a one-day workshop on Artificial Intelligence. Here they get to hear AI researchers, which is kicked off by me and there will be hands-on sessions where they can work with AI technology for intelligent machine data. For the first workshop, we are collecting our own data and participants can play around with it and can solve problems intended for intelligent machines. We plan to continue this track of workshops organized for the companies. These workshops will be the backbone of our operations. I think next spring we can have even four workshops where we advertise and invite engineers from related companies to join free of charge. Here, they will work on challenges related to AI, and this could be the first step for companies to understand the overall cost. “In addition to this, another line of operation is our help desk activity that we plan to launch, early next spring.  People will be answering phones and emails about possibilities to meet with experts of AI in the university. This service is in line with the existing facility of TUT, for example, the Pulmaperjantai events, where the companies were able to call and ask for help related to any engineering problem. The university has selected three professors from relevant areas to discuss with the company experts for one and a half hours. Here the companies present their problems, and the researchers at the university guide them how to solve free of charge. However, our focus is narrow but deeper concerning only AI, and we have longer-term pre-study. The discussions are more than 1.5 hours, and we provide computational facilities to implement something on the data from the companies, and everything is free of charge.”

Author: Aparajita Chowdhury