A Mark of Internationality

CITEC supports worldwide network of researchers

The Cluster of Excellence CITEC stands for creative ideas from internationally renowned researchers who bring new, innovative contributions to the field of interaction technology with their research projects. In the past year, some 120 researchers from the Cluster participated in research stays or conferences abroad. The 250 researchers at the Cluster hail from 27 different countries, and come from five different faculties, a dynamic that facilitates the Cluster’s interdisciplinary research. Since the Cluster’s inception in 2007, 200 people have earned their qualification at the Cluster. This is also thanks to CITEC’s infrastructure and international networks at many levels.

Timo Korthals (center) works with international experts for example of the Queensland University of Technology. Photo: CITEC/Bielefeld University “Thanks to the successful cooperation with the Deutschen Akademischen Austauschdienst (DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service) within the Thematic Network of Interactive Intelligent Systems, we have been able to work with the academic dimensions of the entire world,” says Timo Korthals, a member of the Cognitronics and Sensor Systems research group, which is led by Professor Dr. Ulrich Rückert. “But we have also been able to travel to other countries, and host international experts. This year, for example, we were at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia.” Funding provided by the DAAD allows students from Bielefeld to travel to academic partner institutions, and students from partner institutions come to the Cluster of Excellence CITEC to conduct small research projects. “Lively academic exchange takes place thanks to the DAAD, and of course, the CITEC Summer School,” says Korthals.

This year, early career researchers came together for the sixth annual CITEC Summer School. During this event, doctoral researchers exchange ideas with renowned researchers from around the world, work together on interdisciplinary projects, and present their research findings.

In order to best facilitate this international cooperation, CITEC works with partners in the Thematic Network Initiative Interactive Intelligent Systems (TN IIS) from Italy, the United States, Australia, Israel, and Japan. Together with Indiana University in the United States, CITEC researchers, for instance, developed a system with which they can set up robot experiments independent of location. In his dissertation, computer scientist Florian Lier deals with the reproducibility of software-intensive robot experiments. His dissertation has grown out of a cooperation between the CITEC Central Labs and the Cognitive Systems Engineering research group. “We created step-by-step instructions, and with the help of these, any researcher can download the data quickly and easily to create an identical software environment, which is part of the set-up of the experiment,” says Florian Lier. In May, Lier and six colleagues visited Indiana University, where they met with Psychology Professor Dr. Robert Goldstone and robotics researcher Professor Dr. Selma Šabanović, among others. There, they tested and discussed the approach for reproducible research with a current experiment from the fields of psychology and human-machine interaction.

Prof. Dr. Friederike Eyssel (right) conducts research with Prof. Yukie Nagai PhD (left) from the University of Osaka. Both present here the former Science Minister Svenja Schulze (center) the robot iCub. Foto: Ina Fassbender Psychology Professor and CITEC researcher Dr. Friederike Eyssel also works closely with colleagues from around the globe. Together with Selma Šabanović, she conducts research on the role of touch in human-robot interaction and group perception. “Selma Šabanović and I have a robust exchange, and we work together on many levels. We conduct projects and studies together and advise doctoral researchers,” says Eyssel, who heads the research group Applied Social Psychology and Gender Research.

In 2017, Eyssel worked together with her colleague Šabanović at the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW) in Oregon, and at the Ro-Man conference in Lisbon, among others. In addition to this, both researchers are guest editors of a special journal issue. “The biggest success of our cooperation is the foundation of trust we have been able to build over the years. This has repeatedly inspired new projects with partners at Indiana University and also the Italian Institute of Technology. Regarding doctoral researchers, our exchange was very fruitful and resulted in repeated visits to Bielefeld. The workshops we planned together at the top conferences in social robotics were also a highlight, along with our joint publications,” summed up Eyssel.

CITEC has also been working together with the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) for some years now, where Eyssel conducts research together with robotics researchers Alessandra Scuitti and Francesco Rea. “My work with Alessandra and Francesco has long been exciting and inspiring,” says Eyssel. “To work on planning and implementation, one member of my team was able to spend a few weeks at the IIT and learned a lot there. In October 2017, I also held a workshop on the topic of embodiment in human-robot interaction together with Alessandra Scuitti and Katrina Lohan (from Heriot Watt University) at the HAI2017 conference. This workshop further deepened our cooperation beyond the concrete research.” HAI was held at CITEC for this first time this year, at the CITEC Building on Bielefeld University’s North Campus.

“Together with researchers from the Queensland University of Technology and Friederike Eyssel, we are conducting a social robotics studies on the modelling of human attitudes towards robots,” says Jakub Zlotowski, a postdoc at the CITEC Cluster of Excellence. Currently, he is working as a visiting researcher at the Queensland University of Technology. Previously, Zlotowski worked together with Eyssel to deepen an existing cooperative partnership with the University of Osaka. “We are working on a new study on the perception of androids with researchers from Osaka. Together, we prepared the necessary materials to perform an online study in several locations around the world in order to compare cultural differences in the perception of androids.”

Zlotowski is also involved in discussions and preparations of research on intimacy in human-robot interaction, working together with Professor Dr. Ronald Arkin from the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) in Atlanta, USA and Friederike Eyssel. Arkin is also member of CITEC’s virtual faculty. Members of the virtual faculty are leading international experts from all of the disciplines represented at CITEC. They exchange ideas with CITEC researchers, travel to CITEC for research visits, and contribute to CITEC events and projects.

In addition to these international relationships spanning the globe, CITEC researchers also benefit from the infrastructure offered by the CITEC Building, which was opened in 2013. In the CITEC Building, there are over 25 labs where researchers can use various large devices and technical systems. “The physical proximity to colleagues from different disciplines is particularly helpful,” says Timo Korthals. “Something quite unique is the willingness to help and work together – of everyone from colleagues to departments to research groups. This is facilitated by CITEC’s open-concept infrastructure, which is always bringing new people into contact with one another. You still get the latest information from the CITEC grapevine – who’s doing what, what other groups are researching at the moment, and who might be able to help you.”

In November of this year, the Cluster marked its 10-year anniversary. For this occasion, CITEC Coordinator Professor Dr. Helge Ritter has invited all former researchers and cooperation partners from the Cluster of Excellence to an anniversary celebration. The festivities will take place at the Cluster in March 2018 in the CITEC Building.

Currently, CITEC researchers are working on an application for a potential third term of the Cluster. The new Cluster would be called “Cognitive Interaction: Science, Systems and Technology.” The concept will be submitted to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) in February 2018. The decision will be made at the end of September 2018 and if the application is accepted, the new Cluster will begin on 1 January 2019, first for a period of seven years. In this third phase of the Cluster of Excellence, CITEC will continue to focus on the promotion of early career researchers and internationalization.

The funding of the existing Cluster, and thus of CITEC, was extended in this context until the end of 2018. Bielefeld University already successfully cleared the first hurdle of the Excellence Strategy of Federal and State Governments of Germany in September 2018. From a total of 195 draft proposals submitted in the preliminary round, 88 (45 percent) of the applications made it to the main round of this challenging competition.