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Lunch Pitches with Suna Bensch and Krishna Upadhyayula

To encourage cross pollination of ideas between researchers from different disciplines, IceLab hosts interdisciplinary research lunches with the vision of allowing ideas to meet and mate. During the Lunch Pitch Season, the creative lunches take place at KBC every other Tuesday.

Place: KBCon Lilla Fokusrum  (KBC Focus Environment’s glass room), KBC
Time: Tuesday 21 January at 12:00.


Sign up to get a free sandwich at the lunch pitch

Pitch 1: Suna Bensch: How should we develop understandable robots?

Senior Lecturer at Department of Computing Science, Umeå University


Imagine yourself being approached from the front by a robot carrying a package and flashing green lights and then you hear another robot saying “I am on my way to you” and approaching you (and the other robot) from behind. Robots become increasingly complex and competent and it is crucial that humans understand what robots are up to, not only for human’s safety but also for efficient human-robot interaction. The term “understandable robots” refers to making the actions and intentions of robots understandable (or explainable) to humans. Up to now we have focused on making humans understandable for robots. We use machine learning algorithms and can successfully answer questions like: What emotion does the human have? What intention does the human have? The focus now is making robots understandable for humans. I’m looking forward to hearing input and ideas from the lunch pitch crowd centering around the following questions:

Should we (or can we) use machine learning algorithms to try to answer questions like: What plan or intention does the robot have? What are the benefits and drawbacks?

What does it mean to understand a robot? Is it more than understanding the robot’s intentions and plans?

What are the consequences of non-understandable robots (or machines)?


Pitch 2: Krishna Upadhyayula: How to Ensure Sustainable Performance of Game Changing Innovative Concepts Developed at Universities.

Assistant Professor at Department of Chemistry,  Umeå University


Academic researchers perform exciting research on different concepts, much of which will eventually lead to potentially commercializable technologies in the future. We call the discoveries that come from this research game changing innovations (GCI). We are developing a framework to analyze the sustainability performance of emerging innovation concepts in their early stages.  This will create a platform for making the innovation sustainable when scaled up to a pilot level and eventually commercialized.

We developed a four step framework to generate sustainability performance metrics for GCIs entering the technology valley of death (TVD): (1) conduct life cycle assessment (LCA) to evaluate environmental performance of the GCI and simultaneously reduce uncertainties of underlying data and technological readiness; (2) compare LCA results of the GCI with existing market incumbent solutions; (3) factor LCA results into investment evaluation methods; and (4) transform LCA results into indicators to reflect sustainability performance of the GCI. By using the above framework, two objectives can be accomplished: (a) generate sustainability metrics for multiple industrial sectors that can be used by investors; and (b) transform in house sustainable research concepts into potentially commercializable technologies. The principal intent behind our proposed framework is to assist the commercialization process of academic research concepts which can bring a higher sustainable value to the market and society.

Krishna is particularly interested in gaining input on:

  1. How can the sustainability team at the Chemistry department collaborate with experimental researchers to perform sustainability assessments of their innovations?
  2. Apart from life cycle assessment which is the main tool used to develop this framework, what other tools are experimental research teams aware of for analyzing the sustainability performance of their research concepts?
  3. Finally, what factors need to be considered to develop “Innovations to Build Sustainable Societies”?


About the Pitchers

 Suna Bensch is an associate professor in computer science. Her background is two-disciplinary with a Master’s in Computational Linguistics and a PhD in Theoretical Computer Science, both degrees from Germany. She has always been very interested in understanding how human communication works, verbally and non-verbally and both from an angle of production and perception. Her research centers around developing formal approaches that capture the underlying principles of human communication and can be implemented and effectively used by humans.


Dr. Venkata Krishna Kumar Upadhyayula is an Assistant Professor in Green Technologies and Environmental Economics Platform at the Department of Chemistry, Umea University, Umea, Sweden. Dr. Upadhyayula has a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from National University of Singapore and PhD in Chemical Engineering from New Mexico State University. Dr. Upadhyayula has a great passion of working at the interface of science, engineering and business management. With this motivation, he also took an MBA degree with emphasis on technology commercialization.


After his PhD, Dr. Upadhyayula gradually emerged as a sustainability strategist by acquiring a strong competency of systems thinking and performing holistic assessments to understand the benefits and implications of science on a society. In his current role at, Umea University, he is leading an effort on development of a framework for performing sustainability assessment of a city and understand role of sustainable cities in implementing circular economy in a country. This work involves quantification of ecological footprint of waste management services provided by a city ( i.e. treatment of wastewater and treatment of municipal solid waste and organic waste generated by a city) and sustainable valorization of byproducts (e.g. biogas, district heat) producing while managing waste. As a part of Sweden’s Bio4Energy research program, he also evaluating sustainable role of alternate fuels in building a fossil free transportation future. Krishna’s long term research vision is to apply learnings of sustainability science to develop smart and self sustaining cities.




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