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Thomas Nilsson sitter vid en bärbar  dator uppkopplad mot en större skärm. Han bär en ljusblå skjorta med uppkavlade ärmar
Published: 2024-03-08

From a techy childhood to a multinational tech company

PROFILE Thomas Nilsson and his brother Stefan were first introduced to electronics and computers by their father, Jan-Ove, who was then working as a TV technician. Together they ordered building kits and small programmable microcomputers that they investigated and developed software for. Thomas' interest was the start of his career in computer science. His studies at the Department of Computing Science then led him to doctoral studies and later to Bosch Sensor Tech in the Swedish town of Lund.

Image: Daniel Jung (Bosch Sensor Tech)
Thomas Nilsson sitter vid en bärbar  dator uppkopplad mot en större skärm. Han bär en ljusblå skjorta med uppkavlade ärmar

At Bosch Sensor Tech, Thomas works as a Senior Data Scientist with focus on sensor data merging (sensor fusion) and sensor networks, with possible application areas such as consumer electronics industry, medical industry, automotive industry and mobile communication.

During a few days in the autumn of 2023, he visited the department, now as an alumnus, with a series of interesting lectures. The presentations included the development and applications of sensors. Both researchers and students at Umeå University were listening to him.

The value of studies at the Department of Computer Science

When Thomas applied to the university after finishing upper secondary school, he had his aim set on computing science, especially programming and hardware. Studying the Master of Science Programme in Computing Science and Engineering (Read more about the programme in Swedish) was a no-brainer for him. The programme already provided a broad and solid foundation where the student studies a number of theoretical courses from different areas of computing science.

The programme focuses on courses in programming, artificial intelligence, computing technology and mathematics. The student also takes complementary courses in other natural sciences subjects. In addition, it is possible to take courses of your own choice within and outside Umeå University.

The programme also includes many practical courses. Thomas remembers that right from the start there was a big difference from the study methodology of upper secondary school. The courses were more advanced and more abstract than before. For example, there was a challenging course in functional programming where you were not allowed to use variables but only to develop your own functions in the programming language. A variable can be compared to a name of a box of information, the content can be a number or a text.

"It was a good course as you learnt how to programme in a modular way, to be structured and to comment your programming code well," he says.

The maths courses gave him a lot, even though Thomas did not understand at the time why it would be good to be able to theoretically prove that the Pythagorean theorem is true or not. It was only during his doctoral studies and in his professional life that theoretical problems became normal for him.

"The knowledge you got from those first maths courses was very useful," says Thomas.

Moving on to doctoral studies

After his studies at the Master of Science in Computer Science and Engineering programme, Thomas chose the path of research. The questions that Thomas Nilsson addressed during his doctoral studies were how better problem solving methods, so-called algorithms, can refine the quality of data communication over wireless networks. By experimenting with different methods and approaches, he found that only changing the algorithm can improve the performance of the investigated network technologies. In addition, there is no need to change other software to achieve this.

During the winter of 2008, Thomas defended his doctoral thesis titled "Distributed Multiple Access and Service Differentiation Algorithms for Wireless Networks". After his defence, it was easy for Thomas to find a job.

His first position was at the research department of Ericsson, a data communications company, where the focus was on base stations for mobile communications. He got to work on cutting-edge engineering in all generations of mobile communications, from 3G to 5G technology. Using his knowledge from his doctoral studies, among other skills, he was able to find new development methods for the technologies' communication.

Components as small as the size of a red blood cell

The sensors that Thomas Nilsson is working with today are so-called microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that are used to measure physical changes in the environment around us. He explains that the sensors can measure changes in acceleration, movements in three-dimensional space, particle concentrations, pressure, temperature or sound levels.

The sensors can be used in cars and mobile phones

"Many of Bosch's clients want smaller and more energy-efficient sensors in order for them to be commercially viable. The components in the sensors must therefore be very small," he says.

"A component can be as small as four micrometres, which is about as small as a human red blood cell, which is five micrometres in size," says Thomas.

18-month continuing professional development programme

What drew Thomas to Bosch was that they were working at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Machine learning is the ability of computers to learn and improve themselves by analysing data and making decisions without being specifically programmed for each task. The techniques are used by the company for applications such as IoT (Internet of Things, sensor-controlled computing devices that communicate wirelessly with each other) and data communication.

Almost immediately, he was sent on an 18-month continuing professional development programme in machine learning. Bosch is very serious about developing its employees to ensure their expertise for future challenges. Now Thomas is sharing the knowledge he gained with new employees at Bosch Sensor Tech.

Students are well on track to become excellent engineers or academic researchers

Good growth of engineers

Thomas had the opportunity to give a lecture to a group of students where he explained in depth how he works with algorithms but also what everyday life is like at Bosch.

- "The students who asked me questions had very interesting and complex questions as well as thought-provoking technical insights that contribute a lot to the conversation," Thomas concludes.

Facts - Thomas Nilsson and the Bosch Group

Thomas Nilsson
Thomas grew up in Hörnefors, a town in northern Sweden, and started the Master of Science Programme in Computing Science and Engineering in the autumn of 1997. He was interested in wireless data communication and his degree project came to be about this. The telecoms company Ericsson invited him to work on a broadcast system integrated into a Wi-Fi network.

His supervisor Jerry Eriksson introduced him to doctoral studies at the department. He defended his thesis "Distributed Multiple Access and Service Differentiation Algorithms for Wireless Networks" in the winter of 2008. This was followed by employment at Ericsson and the processor manufacturer ARM. He now works at Bosch Sensor Tech as a Senior Data Scientist.

The Bosch Group
A German multinational technology group with business lines in a variety of markets. For example, the group is the world-leading producer of car components (according to a survey by Automobil magazine, 2019) (1).

They have developments in the field of energy and construction technology, and hardware and software development in mobility and IoT (Internet of Things). Bosch is best known to the general public for its production of household appliances.

The Bosch Group and all its subsidiaries are largely owned by a charitable organisation, Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH. The special ownership structure of the company guarantees the Bosch Group's freedom to develop without the influence of shareholders, for instance. This allows the organisation to plan for the long term and to make significant investments to secure its future. In 2022, the Bosch Group donated 27.4 million euros to charitable purposes worldwide (2).

(1) Link to the Automobiles magazine article (German)

(2) Read more about the Bosch Group's work on sustainable development and their charitable efforts.