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From theory to practice: learning to program while playing in the robotics lab

A complete 6-axis robot in toy format instead of a 2D model drawn on the blackboard: students at DHBW Stuttgart swap dry theory for independent programming of the real KUKA system software in their robotics lecture. This prepares them optimally for their first application in industry.

Ilaria Wollek
26 June 2024
Reading Time: 3 min.
As a lecturer on the mechanical engineering course at DHBW Stuttgart, Klaus Meeners has been teaching the basics of robotics for over ten years. However, until two years ago, students were mainly taught the theory of programming and controlling robots using a recorded model on the blackboard. However, this has changed with the arrival of four educational robots from OrangeApps GmbH at the university. The software company develops individual application software for KUKA and other industrial customers. The OrangeApps team also produces a robot made from LEGO bricks, which can be moved and programmed with the corresponding software just like the real robots from KUKA - only much smaller in toy format.
The students of the Mechanical Engineering degree programme in the robotics laboratory at the DHBW Stuttgart. © Klaus Meeners 

Practicing on the small desk robot

Klaus Meeners' three-stage course involves learning the theoretical basics of kinematics and process types and then trying out what they have learned on the real KUKA robots in the training center at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen. But before they start controlling the large robots, the students have the opportunity to practise on the educational robots. "You understand a lot from the theory, but I can demonstrate what robotics means and how robot control works much more clearly using the real system software," explains Klaus Meeners. Using various tasks, the fifth-year students learn about the command types of KUKA robots in a fun way. "It's always great for me to see the students say after the first lesson: we can operate the modular robot and we've understood what's important," says the robotics lecturer, delighted with the learning experience in his lecture.

The robotics lab gave me a deeper insight into the world of automation with a practical demonstration of KUKA robots.

Alain, student DHBW Stuttgart

KUKA education robot as a project close to the heart

Daniel Schmidt, Managing Director of OrangeApps GmbH, is also enthusiastic about the successful application of his product at the DHBW Stuttgart: "The educational robots are a project close to our hearts. If we can get young people interested in robotics, automation and IT, then we've already accomplished the biggest task we set ourselves." The small orange robots in desk format are not only used at the DHBW Stuttgart. The company now sells around 300 educational robots a year to training companies and educational institutions worldwide.
Daniel Schmidt, Managing Director of OrangeApps GmbH (left) and industrial robotics lecturer Klaus Meeners (right) programming the education robots in the robotics lab at DHBW Stuttgart. © KUKA

From the building block robot to the training cell

"At the end of the semester, the students come to the robot training cell in Sindelfingen with a completely different attitude," reports Klaus Meeners. "By practising on the educational robots, the students already have their own ideas in mind and already know what they want to programme on the large KUKA robot."

According to programme director Prof. Dr Florian Simons, there are still a lot of plans for the modular robots: "The introduction of the educational robots at the DHBW Faculty of Engineering was received with great enthusiasm . In future, we plan to integrate the building block robots into other degree programmes, for example in the Industrial Engineering department." The robotics lecture has become increasingly popular since the introduction of the training models at the university. It's no wonder that childhood memories are awakened alongside the enthusiasm for robotics.

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