Protein-folding and digital solutions for Sustainable Development Goals – a summer in the labs

Meet Kaspian Jakobsson and follow his journey on what started as an internship leading to an extended experience for life; from developing a database explorer, interesting events, Ericsson’s CEO Börje Ekholm and a UI containing sustainable ICT-solutions.

Ericsson Research Blog

Students from many different fields join Ericsson Research for internships or thesis work. You could be next. Follow our blog to learn about the students at Ericsson Research during the summer 2018.

A while back, I had an idea. Why are there so many mobile phones laying on our night tables, completely idle? There must be a way to harness this considerable amount of processing power in a more productive way. I started thinking about productive ways to utilize the power and remembered a Stanford project called Folding@home. This project simulates advanced molecular dynamics on idle computers – it is called protein-folding – in order to combat harmful diseases.

This would be perfect for a mobile implementation! But why would people do it…? People won’t do anything for free, especially if there’s no reward. What’s the perfect incentive? Money! The blockchain technology has already solved this problem, with crypto-currencies such as the folding coin and cure coin! Both currencies reward the user for donating processing power with a virtual coin.

I pitched this combined blockchain- protein folding app to my coworkers at Ericsson who hummed in response. Not a great first reaction. I put the idea on the shelf, but recently discovered that a smart team of engineers had the same idea, this time in relation to powering cancer research. Let me introduce DreamLab, developed by Vodafone and the Garvan Institute. Maybe the idea wasn’t as off as I thought?

The sustainable ICT-solution explorer

This isn’t a blog post about DreamLab, nor about my own genius ideas, but rather about the database explorer I developed, and my experiences here at Ericsson.

I came to Ericsson to develop and maintain a database and User Interface (UI) containing sustainable ICT-solutions. DreamLab is one of 166 solutions currently in the database. Among the other solutions, we find a broad spectrum – from SMS information for farmers, which contain temperature, humidity and more, to cars powered only by solar panels and even to tablets with braille output for the blind. The more solutions I add to the database, the more I learn and the more trends we can extract from the current sample through some basic statistical tools.

Here are some takeaways from the database so far:

Digital health is the leading problem targeted, with solutions in agriculture coming in second. If you are looking for areas to innovate, there’s a huge shortage of solutions in smart energy supply, smart recreation and smart finance. The most popular UN Sustainable Development Goals to be targeted are health, closely followed by industry and innovation. Keep in mind the database is a constant work in progress! 😉

The result of the UI-design looks like this, and I’m continuing to add solutions every day.

How do I decide which categories to separate the solutions with? That is, how can we quantify and generalize information in order to compare solutions to each other? At first it felt like an easy question to tackle, but it seemed like the more I thought about it, the more I got entangled in a web of other questions.

Pernilla Bergmark, Master Researcher here at Ericsson and my supervisor, explained orthogonality in statistics to me, and what the categorization would be relevant for. I was still a bit confused. The database already had a set of categories from the last researcher, so why would further categorization be needed? At last we settled on targeted SDGs per solution, not limited by amount or direct and indirect targetedness. This is easy to understand and interpret, and in line with Ericsson’s efforts to use the SDGs as well.

It was a good decision, resulting in a good UI design as well. During the development I got to see the elegance of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), as well as its more feral sides. I developed some very nice modules but some of the code had to be brute forced together to reach the desired behavior.

Working at Ericsson

One of the best things about working at Ericsson with passionate researchers is to attend interesting events relevant to their research. One of the events I was fortunate enough to participate in was the “Exponential Climate Action for Cities” (X-CAC) international workshop, arranged by Future Earth, Ericsson and the UN Science&Innovation Network. X-CAC was about exploring exponential pathways to decrease cities’ carbon footprint and developing one combined roadmap in the end. It had some very interesting speakers, ranging from TED-talkers to professors in business and social sciences, but the most exciting part was the actual workshop. We used an agile methodology to develop a plausible suggestion for the roadmap. Our group came with the idea to ban cars in city centers, further expanding into a car-free city eventually, and the final report from this event is being developed right now.

Except for working with the awesome people in the sustainability team, I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting Börje Ekholm, President and CEO of Ericsson. He had a very calm and collected presence. He asked us interns what we thought about working at Ericsson and seemed genuinely interested in our answers and other thoughts. I’ve also met with the CTO, CFO and the head of HR to name a few. It’s been super interesting to see how different people think about executive roles, and how humble and calm Börje seems.

About me

The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) has a project in Sweden called Tekniksprånget (Technology Leap). The project enables newly-graduated high school students to get internship at jobs with a classical engineering association. It was through the Technology Leap I got in touch with Ericsson, and after the internship ended I got the opportunity to stay. Coming to Ericsson and getting to work with the sustainability team has been a great learning experience for me and a great opportunity to see how large corporations are run, from the inside out. My supervisor and all other great people and academics I’ve met at Ericsson Research are passionate about their expertise and that passion translates into great work, which I’ve been very inspired by.

I grew up on Gotland, an island in the middle of the Baltic Sea. It has a very special nature, consisting of limestone and crooked pines, shaped by the harsh winds on the coast. Visby is surprisingly small, even though it’s the island’s largest city. With only 50,000 inhabitants, you grow up knowing everybody and with everybody knowing you. I think Gotland has made a big impact on me and moving here to Stockholm to start work at Ericsson surely has been one of my biggest life decisions yet. I’ve always been interested in programming, and developing websites in my spare time enabled me to start working with relational databases quickly. Otherwise I’m deeply passionate about musicals, 3D-art and mindfulness.

Fun Facts About Gotland

  • Around 58,000 people live and work on Gotland year-round, 24,000 of whom live in Visby.
  •  Approx. 1 930 000 people visit Gotland every year.
  • The area of Gotland is 3,140 km2. This is actually just 0.8 % of the area of Sweden.
  • Visby is surrounded by a very well preserved medieval wall that has about 3.5 kilometres of length and 11 meters of high.
  • The island of Visby has 92 churches, one of them dating back to medieval times.
  • The Island is said to have approx. 2000 hours of sun per year, usually being at top in Sweden.
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