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Of fish and innovation: EIT Manufacturing

Did you know that Europe has a stronger innovation performance than China, for example? But lags behind countries such as the USA or Japan? That’s what the European Commission’s European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) 2021 reveals, which measures innovation performance based on 27 performance indicators. But even if innovation performance continues to improve, how do you sustainably strengthen Europe’s innovative power? And how can fish help?


Innovations are not only in focus in the current time of crisis, quite the contrary. They ensure companies’ long-term competitiveness. That’s why in 2008 the EU created the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), an institution designed to strengthen Europe’s ability to innovate and thus remain globally competitive.

The EIT is divided into nine innovation communities, whose focus areas could not be more diverse: from climate to health and nutrition to urban mobility.

From innovation to product development

One of the communities – EIT Manufacturing – aims to bring together leading industry players to create an innovation ecosystem that sustainably improves European products, processes and services and stimulates globally competitive and sustainable manufacturing.

This is an ambitious goal in which KUKA also plays an important role as a founding partner. The now more than 50 partners from 17 countries benefit from the network and focus on four strategic topics:

  • Industrial robots that collaborate and interact with humans to both increase manufacturing performance and contribute to worker well-being;
  • Additive manufacturing combining multiple materials for individualized products and services; and
  • Digitization of zero-defect manufacturing to increase efficiency of industrial processes;
  • Digital platforms and integrators as key to European manufacturing innovation.

As an EIT member, KUKA will develop technologies for future manufacturing tasks in the coming years and within the framework of various innovation partnerships. In particular, EIT Manufacturing promotes the transition of novel technologies into advanced product development.

In “Pick-A-Future”, robots must identify and grab fish in a box.

Solutions for salmon and co.

One example of a project within EIT Manufacturing is “Pick-A-Future”. For this project, the project partners have been working intensively with fish. Yes, you read correctly: fish. What at first glance doesn’t seem to go together at all makes perfect sense when you take a closer look. After all, demand for healthy edible fish is on the rise, and only with the help of automation and a sophisticated bin picking application can the growing volume of fish be sorted and packaged for transport. Bin picking describes the process of reaching into the crate: Robots have to recognize the fish through a vision system, grab them and sort them correctly. The challenge: Although fish are fundamentally similar in shape and generally similar in appearance, there are no two identical specimens.

While project partner Siemens took care of quality assurance and the freshness of the fish, French research company CEA developed a gripper. KUKA supplemented this technology with AI algorithms designed to recognize which fish is where and then precisely grab it.

The project was so successful that the KUKA Technology Innovation Center is currently working in the follow-up project “Pick-A-Future II” to optimize the technologies developed so far and expand them with new gripping strategies.

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