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In memory of Professor Jan-Olof Eklundh


Professor Jan-Olof Eklundh (1939-2021)
Published Mar 30, 2021

Our dear colleague, supervisor and mentor, Professor Jan-Olof Eklundh, passed away on 21 February 2021. He is mourned by his wife and family as well as his academic family spread all over the world.

The strong development that has taken place in recent years in artificial intelligence is largely based on the development of algorithms for computer-based perception, such as speech and image recognition. Jan-Olof Eklundh was one of the Swedish pioneers in this field. He worked in the field of image analysis, with the goal of constructing computer programs whose performance reaches that of the human visual system. Today, this has become possible to an increasing degree and self-driving cars are a near reality. This was considered to be well into the future only 10 years ago, but definitely even further away when Jan-Olof began his activities at Swedish National Defence Research Institute in the 60's.

Founded CVAP (now RPL)

In the early 80's, Jan-Olof came to KTH and began to build up a research group that later became Computational Vision and Active Perception Laboratory (CVAP), today called RPL – Robotics, perception and learning. One of his greatest achievements then was to introduce the ideas in artificial intelligence and image analysis that were leading in the United States at the time, especially in the group at MIT around David Marr. Understanding the problem with perception, was a matter of mapping how images arise in the interaction between light and surfaces and how they can vary depending on the point of view.

The connection between the image and the 3-dimensional space was central, as was the fact that in biology perception and activity are strongly linked, which is of great importance when trying to tackle problems in robotics and autonomous systems. An influential example from Jan-Olof's research was the so-called “KTH head” which implemented many of the ideas around so-called active perception.

Member of IVA and KVA

Jan-Olof supervised nearly 30 people to a doctoral degree during his years at KTH. He was one of the founders of the Centre for Autonomous Systems, which was inaugurated in 1996. Jan-Olof was elected in 1992 as a member of the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) and in 2002 as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA).

Jan-Olof was incredibly social and saw the importance of having a scientific conversation and tackling the big problems. This was often done in an informal and unconventional way. His workshops out in the Swedish archipelago attracted the best in the field to exchange ideas and socialize. These opportunities gave us more junior an opportunity to meet and discuss with the giants in the area in a relaxed way and build invaluable networks over a beer on the pier on Rosenön. Jan-Olof always seemed to have his swimming trunks with him no matter where in the world he was, ready to take a dip. We take with us some of his job satisfaction and curiosity when we build on his life's work at KTH.

Written by Jan-Olof's academic descendants at The Division of Robotics, perception and learning (RPL)