Deep Map, tesa ROM, and the book of life: The founding, development, and dividing of the EML
By founding the European Media Laboratory GmbH (EML) in the summer of 1997, Klaus Tschira intended to ignite new areas of research in applied computer science. The main aim of the EML was to develop new technological concepts that could be transferred to the market through research and development and ultimately to convert these concepts into consumer products. The Klaus Tschira Foundation was one of the EML’s clients. Much of what initially sounded like a bunch of hocus pocus regarding future technologies when the EML began its operations in 1997 would later prove critical to technological devices such as smartphones.
Our motto: “Think Beyond the Limits!”
In January 1998, Andreas Reuter – an experienced expert in computing – became the Managing and Scientific Director of the EML. A professor of computer science, Reuter had been the founding director of the “Institute for Parallel and Distributed Systems” at the University of Stuttgart. Andreas Reuter and Klaus Tschira also contributed to the EML’s motto, “Think Beyond the Limits!” The motto put into words the graphic logo of both the KTS and the EML, which depicts a puzzle in which the player has to connect nine points in a square with four straight lines without picking up his or her pen. The puzzle can only be solved by extending the lines beyond the limits of the square.
The participants of the two-week workshop on “Top-Level Ontologies” – which took place in 1998 at the Villa Bosch and was initiated by Klaus Tschira – were also required to think beyond the limits. The workshop was attended by prominent scientists, including American computer scientist and Turing Prize winner John McCarthy and British philosopher Richard Stanley Peters.
At the same time, the first EML project, “Deep Map,” began. This project focused on the creation of a portable electronic city guide. The visionary geoinformatics research that was conducted later gave rise to “Heidelberg Mobil International GmbH,” a company that develops cell-phone navigation systems for cities and major events and that now belongs to BridgingIT GmbH.
In July 1999, a spectacular international video conference took place at the Villa Bosch and significantly increased the public’s awareness of the EML. The C-Star Project included partners from Japan, Italy, and the US and led to the creation of a computer-based interpretation system for six languages that could be used on portable electronic tourist guides. As part of the event, the EML presented an initial prototype of its project “Deep Map,” which enabled tourists to navigate through Heidelberg with the assistance of computer technology. At the time, it was necessary for the user to carry a small computer on their belt, a laptop in their backpack, and a camera on their head.
In 2001, the EML organized the International Conference of Data Engineering (ICDE). Computer scientists from all over the world met in Heidelberg to discuss the conference’s main theme: how to channel the growing flood of data in the 21st century.
The Winter King’s garden
The EML later participated in numerous projects supported by the European Union and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung; BMBF). One of these projects led to the digital reconstruction of the historical “Hortus Palatinus” in 2003. At the beginning of the 17th century, Elector Palatine Frederick V, the “Winter King,” commissioned the construction of a vast, terraced garden around Heidelberg Castle. This garden was never completed.
The EML staff compared the terrain of the modern castle garden – an area of approximately 50,000 m2 – with the original plans of architect Salomon de Caus and other available sources, including paintings and engravings. Together, they were able to create a three-dimensional computer model through which the garden’s “visitors” could move virtually. The EML scientists were awarded the Research and Innovation Prize of the Rhein-Neckar Metropolitan Region Foundation for their work. One of the award winners – Dr. Rainer Malaka – became Professor of Digital Media at the University of Bremen soon after.
Data on the loose: The EML’s first spin-off
Right from the start, the EML was open to unusual project ideas and had the courage to take risks. When Dr. Steffen Noehte and Matthias Gerspach from the University of Mannheim discovered that adhesive tape could be used as a form of data storage, many people thought they had to be joking. Nevertheless, the two researchers were granted the opportunity to continue their work at the EML – with a team of ten! Three years later, they had founded the EML’s first successful spin-off, “tesa scribos,” which enabled them to reap the fruits of their spectacular project. Today, “tesa scribos” employs around fifty people at its Heidelberg location and another thirty at its Hamburg location.
In 2003, geoinformatics researchers Dr. Richard Leiner and Rüdiger Wolff set up another spin-off. Since then, “Leiner & Wolff.” has developed innovative software for flood protection They also received the Research and Innovation Prize of the Rhein-Neckar Metropolitan Region Foundation in 2006.
Molecules from the computer
In addition to geoinformatics, the EML’s second main focus was on the computational life sciences. At the EML, biologists, biochemists, and computer scientists used the computer to research the complex processes that take place in molecules and cells. Due to the fundamental nature of such projects, these and other research groups were transferred to a non-profit company – EML Research gGmbH – in September 2003. EML GmbH continues to work on location-based systems and to pursue its original “Deep Map” scenario. However, since 2007, its main focus has been on speech technology.