30 million euros: Cottbus startup receives largest research funding in Europe

Cyberagentur finances revolution in neuro-adaptive human-machine interaction: The Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity GmbH (Cyberagentur) signed a contract worth 30 million euros with the Cottbus-based startup Zander Laboratories GmbH on December 15, 2023.

The company aims to develop neurotechnological prototypes over the next four years, revolutionizing human-machine interaction and artificial intelligence. High-risk interventions in the brain to control machines will no longer be necessary.

Managers and project leaders of the Cyber Agency's new research contract met with the contractor Zander Laboratories GmbH (Zander Labs) today (December 15, 2023) at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) to sign a contract worth around 30 million euros. The Cottbus start-up won the competition with the most innovative idea for researching neurotechnology in the context of human-machine interaction over four other providers. The contract is the largest single funding of a research project in the European Union awarded by the Cyber Agency.

On October 7, 2022, the Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity GmbH (Cyber Agency) published its tender procedure "Safe Neural Human-Machine Interaction". The aim of the tender was to design the benefits of human-machine interactions in a beneficial and secure way for the citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany at an early stage in terms of cyber security.

Start-up impresses with groundbreaking idea

Zander Labs proposes the innovative project "Neuroadaptivity for Autonomous Systems" (NAFAS), which aims to revolutionize human-machine interaction. Although technology has made tremendous progress, machines remain limited in their ability to understand, learn and respond to human emotions, mental states and cognitive decision making. This limitation leads to cumbersome communication between humans and technology and limits the potential of human-computer interaction. The NAFAS project aims to change this paradigm. The project is working with a so-called passive Brain Computer Interface (pBCI). This means that, in contrast to conventional approaches in neurotechnologies, the user does not have to actively imagine certain things, but simply performs the desired action - as we are used to doing in everyday life.

The researchers then try to use the brain signals to find out which mental states the person has used to achieve their goal. The ultimate aim is to identify categories that can be transferred to artificial Systems and enable machines to interpret human mental reactions in a given context. The aim is to research a new generation of machines that can adapt to the user's cognitive and affective states in real time in order to personalize the user experience and improve the effectiveness of autonomous Systems without the need for manual input.

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Zander, Manager of Zander Labs and Lichtenberg Professor for Neuroadaptive Human-Technology Interaction at BTU, and his team are looking forward to the start of the NAFAS project commissioned by the cyber agency. "Our declared aim is to redesign the interaction between humans and technology: We are striving for Systems that can intuitively adapt to the individual user, based on their brain activity, and for AI applications that learn directly from the human brain."

"The project impressed us with its conceptual strength and innovative approach," says Dr. Andreas Schönau, deputy project manager and research officer in the Human-Machine Interaction unit of the Secure Society department at the cyber agency. "The implicit approach is unique and has the potential to set new scientific standards in the neurosciences."

The researchers at Zander Labs will develop a neurotechnological prototype over the next four years. These should be able to read information from a brain so that a person can exchange information with an external system via their thoughts and thus guide it to complete a task or learn new skills.

If this is successful, humans and machines can perform actions, pursue goals and exchange information together via pBCI. At the end of the project, four demonstrators will be created that contextualize the principle presented and transfer it to concrete use cases in internal and external security.

Human-machine interaction without invasive interventions

"The revolution will be that we enable machines to capture and interpret brain data in real time, giving them an insight into the user's current, individual perception and interpretation. This will enable us to transfer the user's knowledge, values and goals to the machine, allowing intuitive interaction," says Prof. Dr. Zander, summarizing his concept. "This approach in the field of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) clearly shows the differences in approach between the USA and Europe. While the US favors invasive methods and focuses mainly on medical applications, we focus on non-invasive technologies and aim to serve users without limitations. This will revolutionize human-machine interaction." Zander Labs places the highest value on security and privacy when processing brain data and transferring it to the machine. This is achieved by making the systems compatible with humans and thus aligning artificial intelligence with that of humans. Despite the significantly higher funding in the USA, this pioneering research approach is therefore being rethought and further developed in Germany and Europe. Europe is at the forefront of research in this field.

As the leading force behind this project, Zander Laboratories GmbH is pooling both its own expertise and the specialized knowledge of the subcontracted institutions. These include the Fraunhofer Institutes for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) and for Digital Media Technology (IDMT), the Dutch TNO, Brain Products GmbH in Munich, Eaglescience Software B.V. in Haarlem and academic institutions at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg, the University of Vienna and the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg.

Science fiction 'Made in Cottbus': Great importance for the science location

The Research Director of the Cyber Agency, Prof. Dr. Christian Hummert, began by reading out the message of greeting from Brandenburg's Minister for Science, Research and Culture, Dr. Manja Schüle: "No, this is not a new film project by Steven Spielberg or Ridley Scott - this is science fiction 'Made in Cottbus': Prof. Thorsten Zander from BTU wants to develop neurotechnological prototypes with his start-up Zander Laboratories GmbH and thus revolutionize the interaction between humans and machines as well as artificial intelligence. A highly exciting project. And it is sensational that the cyber agency is providing 30 million euros for this disruptive and innovative approach. This is another great boost for science and research in Lusatia. And who knows: maybe we will see Thorsten Zander's prototypes in a Hollywood blockbuster in the future."

Prof. Dr. Hummert added: "Just like in these visionary science fiction films by the two movie stars, the work at Zander Laboratories GmbH is like a cinematic odyssey that blurs the boundaries between man and machine. We are faced with a challenge that is reminiscent of the complex plots of these directorial legends: risky, but groundbreaking. NAFAS could put us at the forefront of technology. This research can be a leap forward for Germany's digital sovereignty and also a potential catalyst for cultural resonance that goes far beyond the boundaries of science."

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Michael Hübner, Vice President for Research and Transfer at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg, said: "We congratulate Professor Zander and his highly innovative startup on being awarded this project. The technology that he and his team are researching can be used in many areas. These areas fit very well with the profile lines of BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg. In particular, the profile lines 'Sensor Technology and Artificial Intelligence' and 'Health and Life Sciences' offer the best points of contact. I am looking forward to the research results and the collaboration with his start-up."

Dr. Markus Niggemann, Alderman and Head of the Financial Management, Economic Development & Social Affairs Division, welcomed the Mayor of Cottbus, Tobias Schick: "The commissioning of Zander Labs will strengthen the city's scientific excellence and contribute to the development of innovative technologies. This major scientific contract with a Cottbus-based company will drive forward the transfer of our urban society into a region of the future. The city administration will therefore continue to fund cooperation between the municipality, scientific institutions and industry in order to further develop Cottbus, with its university and research facilities such as Zander Labs, into a center of scientific progress in the Lusatia region."

The signing ceremony was attended by

Prof. Dr. Christian Hummert, Research Director and Manager of the Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity GmbH.

Daniel Mayer, Commercial Director and Manager of the Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity GmbH

Dr. Andreas Schönau, Research Officer, Human-Machine Interaction Unit in the Secure Society Department of the Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity GmbH

Prof. Dr. Thorsten O. Zander, Manager Zander Laboratories GmbH and Lichtenberg Professor at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg

Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Michael Hübner, Vice President for Research and Transfer at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg

Dr. Markus Niggemann, Alderman and Head of the Financial Management, Economic Development & Social Affairs Division, standing in for Mr. Tobias Schick, Mayor of the City of Cottbus/Chóśebuz

Further information:




Scientific publications Brain-computer interfaces:

Kapitonova, M., Kellmeyer, P., Ball T.: A Framework for Preserving Privacy an Cybersecurity in Brain-Computer Interfaces Applications. NeuroMentum AI GmbH on behalf of the Agency for Innovation for Cybersecurity GmbH. (2022). https://www.cyberagentur.de/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/20220705-OFFEN-BCI-Framework-Abstract.pdf

Zander, T. O., & Kothe, C. (2011). Towards passive brain-computer interfaces: applying brain-computer interface technology to human-machine systems in general. Journal of neural engineering, 8(2), 025005.

Zander, T. O., Krol, L. R., Birbaumer, N. P., & Gramann, K. (2016). Neuroadaptive technology enables implicit cursor control based on medial prefrontal cortex activity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(52), 14898-14903.


Michael Lindner
Press spokesman of the Cyber Agency;
Phone: +49 151 44150 645
E-mail: presse(at)cyberagentur.de

Background: Cyber Agency

The Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity GmbH (Cyber Agency) was founded in 2020 as a fully in-house company of the Federal Government under the joint leadership of the Federal Ministry of Defense and the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland by the Federal Government with the aim of taking a cross-departmental view of internal and external security in the area of cybersecurity with a focus on application strategy. Against this background, the work of the cyber agency is primarily aimed at the institutionalized implementation of highly innovative projects that are associated with a high risk with regard to the achievement of objectives, but at the same time can have a very high potential for disruption if successful.

The Cyber Agency is part of the National Security Strategy of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Cyber Agency is headed by Prof. Dr. Christian Hummert as Research Director and Manager and Daniel Mayer as Commercial Director.

Contact us

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Thorsten Zander
Neuroadaptive Mensch-Technik-Interaktion
T +49 (0) 355 5818-613

Press spokeswoman

Ilka Seer
Referat Corporate Identity
T +49 (0) 355 69-3612
Ceremonial signing of the contract at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg. from left to right: Prof. Dr Christian Hummert (Research Director, Cyberagentur), Prof. Dr Thorsten Zander (Managing Director Zander Labs, Lichtenberg Professor at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg), Daniel Meyer (Commercial Director, Managing Director, Cyberagentur). ©BTU / Sascha Thor
Prof Dr. Thorsten Zander, Managing Director of Zander Labs and Lichtenberg Professor for Neuroadaptive Human-Technology Interaction at BTU, at the presentation of his new project "Neuroadaptivity for Autonomous Systems". ©BTU / Sascha Thor
During the presentation of the project (from left to right) Prof. Dr Thorsten Zander (Managing Director of Zander Labs, Lichtenberg Professor at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg), Prof. Dr Michael Hübner (Vice President for Research and Transfer at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg) and Dr Markus Niggemann, representing the Mayor of Cottbus. ©BTU / Sascha Thor
An experiment on passive brain-computer interfaces / passive BCIs. Electrodes placed on the scalp record brain activity and translate it in real time into changes that are visible on the computer screen. © Gedachtegoed
Analysis of brain activity. A scientist investigates the electrical sources in the brain from which certain activities arise. © Gedachtegoed