‘Humans of Helmholtz AI’ #4: Helmholtz AI @ DLR

Meet the Helmholtz AI local unit for aeronautics, space and transport @ DLR

At Helmholtz AI we aim to push boundaries in terms of artificial intelligence and machine learning, but this still requires some human-powered efforts. Let us introduce the ‘humans’ who make Helmholtz AI possible! 


This month, we spoke with the five humans who currently compose the Helmholtz AI local unit for research field aeronautics, space and transport at the German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Let’s meet...

Xiaoxiang Zhu, the head of the Helmholtz AI local unit @ DLR and an expert in AI for Earth Observation. She is the head of the department EO Data Science at DLR's Remote Sensing Technology Institute (IMF), a Professor for Signal Processing in Earth Observation at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), and director of the International Future AI Lab "AI4EO". At Helmholtz, she is a member of the Helmholtz Incubator 'Information & Data Science', serves in the steering boards of Helmholtz Information & Data Science Academy (HIDA) and Munich Data Science School (MUDS), and is a recipient of Helmholtz Postdoc Fellow, Young Investigator Group, and Excellent Female Scientist (W3), among other projects and initiatives. 

Richard Bamler, the director of DLR's Remote Sensing Technology Institute (IMF), an institute which hosts a Helmholtz AI young investigator group and a consultant team. He has been a scientist in satellite remote sensing for Earth observation for about 30 years. He is also a professor at TUM.

Anja Rösel, coordinator of the Helmholtz AI local unit; she has an overview of ongoing Helmholtz AI activities in the local unit and keeps close contact to Helmholtz AI central unit, also supporting  outreach activities. She is a geographer by training and did her PhD on remote sensing of sea ice at the University of Hamburg, where she was first aware of the power of ML. After her postdoc at the Norwegian Polar Institute, she came to DLR as science manager at the EO data science department at IMF. 

Martin Siggel, the team leader at DLR's software technology institute and a Helmholtz AI consultant. His main job is ‘to find the person with the right skills in my team when we get a consulting request’. He studied Physics and did his PhD at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) about the radiation treatment optimization of cancer patients. Since 2012, he has worked at the DLR on several optimization topics, like aircraft design optimization, computer geometry and machine learning at the DLR's High-Performance Computing department.

Daniela Espinoza, a Helmholtz AI consultant in the field of deep learning, in which she uses earth observation images for different applications and develops new algorithms. She holds a bachelor in computer science, a MSc in geographic information systems, and a PhD in signal and image processing. 

Maximilian Denninger, a Helmholtz AI consultant in the field of vision related machine learning, an occupation that he combines with pursuing a. PhD at the German Aerospace Center in the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics


Inspiration in interdisciplinary research

‘Interdisciplinarity’ is the keyword used by most of the team when describing Helmholtz AI strengths. Xiaoxiang finds ‘inspiration’ in it, and Richard also finds ‘the fresh spirit in the whole team and the dynamic development of the field’ inspiring and exciting. Martin especially likes ‘the network of AI experts with whom one can discuss both practice-relevant issues and research questions’. 

Talking about inspiration sources, Maximilian points out ‘the possibility that our research can possibly help millions of people in their everyday life’. For Anja, it is ‘talking and discussing to people with different backgrounds and education: this gives me a more complete picture of our society’, to which she adds that  ‘it is a great idea to build up this network of AI expertise to exchange knowledge and experience across the Helmholtz Community. We should never stop learning!’.


Pushing the limits of applied AI

‘In the near future, Helmholtz AI will have to be brought up to full operational state. This requires in particular a broad acceptance and use of its consulting power by the Helmholtz centers’, says Richard. Consultants Martin, Daniela and Maximilian aim to ‘become a recognised research network at international level, especially for cutting-edge AI research.’ Xiaoxiang adds her will to ‘push the limits of applied AI to all Helmholtz research areas, making it attractive for AI talents’, something Anja agrees with: ‘If we bundle our expert knowledge we can build something big’.


Beyond research

Family and sports are also common ways of spending spare time among the DLR team. Anja, for instance, enjoys doing trips and mini adventures with her son in their small yellow campervan. She shares a passion for biking with Martin, who enjoys  ‘anything that's fast. In summer I am often on the mountain bike, in winter on the snowboard. I also love playing with my small children and creating paper moon rockets’. Daniela also likes biking along the Isar, as well as cooking, gardening or playing with her son. 

Recommendations-wise, Maximilian mentions the last film he watched, ‘The imitation game’, and Richard talks about the last book he read, ‘Fragrance Harbour’ by John Lanchester, a ‘moving story against the background of Hong Kong's history’.