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WASP: shaping the future of Swedish industry

The Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Programme (WASP) brings together Swedish industry and academia to ensure Sweden will be competitive in the future. Saab plays a strong role in the programme, providing research and administrative talent, and technological expertise.

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Why is WASP important?

WASP was established by the Wallenberg Foundation as a strategic initiative to boost Sweden’s research capabilities in artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and software, three technology areas that are crucial to keeping the country competitive in the 21st century.

Saab has been a core member of WASP since it was founded in 2015. Gunnar Holmberg, Business Developer for Future Aviation Systems and coordinator for Saab’s involvement in the programme, explains why it’s so important:

“Sweden relies on ‘system-building’ industries, such as aviation, defence, robotics, telecommunications, cars, and trucks and buses. We need to keep being good at those in the future, so we need to be able to recruit the right people to industry.

“As Sweden’s largest ever research programme, WASP offers a vibrant environment. From the perspective of industry, ‘boundary spanners’ - people who work between industry and academia - can develop throughout their careers, and I think that’s crucial for the competitiveness of the Swedish system-building industries.”

Saab’s involvement

Saab’s involvement in WASP spans management, technological expertise, research and talent recruitment, and educational aspects.

Saab’s Chief Technical Officer Petter Bedoire sits on the programme board, while Gunnar Holmberg’s own WASP-related work includes scouting for industry PhD students and sponsoring the programme’s public safety demonstration arena in the Swedish coastal town of Västervik.

In addition, several of the programme’s project leaders come from Saab. For example, Jesper Tordenlid combines his role at Combitech with being manager at WARA-PS, the WASP Research Arena for Public Safety.

That research arena uses Saab technology, including SAFE, Saab’s command and control system, and Kockums autonomous Piraya boats, to provide a realistic, large-scale and industrially relevant demonstration environment by using scenarios that focus on keeping society and its citizens safe.

Representatives from Saab and Combitech are also in the WARA team, while Saab systems are used in programme labs and demonstration environments, such as the testing of autonomous search and rescue systems for use at sea.

“Saab also makes one of the strongest contributions of industrial PhD students to WASP’s graduate school, and we contribute to the WASP run recruitment programme to find professors from outside Sweden that can help to strengthen Sweden’s research ecosystem,” explains Gunnar Holmberg, himself an adjunct professor at the University of Linköping.

“We need people who have one foot in industry and the other in academia, to benefit from their combined skills to progress the field.”

Add to this the regular involvement of Saab engineers in the graduate school and elsewhere, and it’s clear Saab and WASP have a strong link.

How WASP helps Saab

Of course, WASP provides benefits for Saab too, as Holmberg explains:
“Saab’s guiding purpose is that everyone has the right to be safe, but the future is full of uncertainty, so people and systems will need to work increasingly together to maintain a safe and secure society."

“We’ll also need to be more flexible in the way that we use resources, so the old division between military systems, security systems and civilian systems will be less significant.

So, if we are striving to have different systems working together that weren’t intended to work together from the beginning, and if we need a flexible response in uncertain situations, we’ll need systems that can work together, are adaptable and can interact with humans efficiently and transparently."

“It’s an extensive effort for Saab to achieve that and we need new skills to do so. These come partly from the industrial PhDs, and we have great expectations that WASP will give us the development capabilities that we need.”

Five years in, Holmberg says WASP is going from strength to strength.

“We already see the effects on Saab at a general level, and we are proud to see that some of the first PhD graduates in the WASP programme are from Saab. Some are already back with us and contributing to the next steps in our products.”