A smart-technology digital cockpit for the Gripen fighter jet; autonomous search and rescue drones; “jaw-dropping” up-to-the-minute satellite intelligence; smart sensors for land, air and sea applications: everything on this list of world-class Saab or Saab-related products has one central aspect in common – they all use artificial intelligence (AI). The days of AI being generally seen as only being about androids are disappearing fast. That’s because the concept of machines being able to imitate intelligent human behaviour has become central to our daily lives, as it has to Saab’s.
“AI is already having a huge impact on people’s lives today, often working behind the scenes and enabling us to do our jobs,” says Joakim Ekblad, Head of Emerging Technologies at Saab.
“Take your smartphone, for instance. If you start to type in the search field, it can predict what you want to look for before you finish typing; it’s like finding a microscopically small missing object in an enormous home.”
How Saab uses AI
Saab’s position as a leading security and defence company means that AI is used in more and more of its technology, such as surveillance and intelligence sensors.
“When it comes to surveillance of external threats, we are using satellite images that are being delivered to us on a daily basis,” says Ekblad. “With AI, we can use this technology to identify buildings, roads or any type of land at pixel level from a great height, using AI segmentation to pick them out from the aerial shot. It’s jaw-dropping intelligence that changes everything.”
“In this respect, Saab’s ESM/ELINT, COMINT and Radar sensors already provide a great situational awareness,” adds Ekblad. “But, by bringing AI into the picture, we will be able to present a situational direction and intent to our customers.”
Saab is now working with AI in many projects, and, with a belief in sharing technology, ideas and thinking with partners for mutual benefit and better outcomes, some of these are joint initiatives.
Collaborative AI research at Saab
One example is the autonomous sea rescue system that has resulted from the Saab Group’s collaboration with researchers from Linköping University, the Royal Institute of Technology KTH and Lund University, along with employees from Ericsson and Axis Communications.
Under the umbrella of the Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP), the team has developed a research system based on Saab products integrated with products and frameworks from the other partners. The system is cloud-based and can connect to real vehicles and sensors to perform autonomous search and rescue for people who have fallen overboard from a boat.
“Aligning real projects at Saab with research creates a network of the best engineers working with the best researchers on real problems--that’s a success factor for both academy and industry,” says Jesper Tordenlid, Manager WASP Research Arena for Public Safety.
WASP is a ten-year-long research programme and the research arena for public safety addresses research topics such as machine learning and reasoning, interaction between humans and robots in collaborative tasks, and search and rescue in a coastal environment. The scenario contains unforeseen events and is defined by the team with professionals in rescue operations.
The future potential of AI
For Joakim Ekblad, public safety applications using AI like the WASP project could play an even more prominent role in Saab’s future offer, complementing the technology’s use in weapons systems and surveillance sensors. He speculates about potential uses.
“We at Saab believe that it’s a human right to feel safe, and that means countries but also individuals. Maybe we can use it in places where there has been a natural disaster, to search for the best roads still available to get supplies in to people in need.
“We could also use it in a fast-moving emergency where there is conflicting information and we need to establish what the current situation is, where, and how many casualties there are, and so on.
“Or what if we can predict a crash 10 seconds before it happens from the way the drivers are holding the wheel, signifying that they are and there was a way to shut down the engines in time?”
Saab takes a long-term approach
Ekblad is a passionate advocate of AI. He feels fortunate to be exploring the boundaries of this growing technology at such an innovative company as Saab.
“Once we decide on something, our board supports us and encourages us to achieve our goals. It’s this long-term approach of thinking about what Saab will look like in 30 years’ time that keeps us constantly pushing the boundaries,” he says.
“Today, we are alone in Sweden with this kind of computational power, and I think the future of AI at Saab is very bright indeed.”