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KUKA Innovation Award 2015 goes to italian research team

Augsburg/Hanover, 17 April 2015. The winner of the KUKA Innovation Award 2015 has been announced: a research team at the Biorobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa was awarded first place at Hannover Messe. With their development “ReTeLINK: Reciprocal Teleoperation of the LBR iiwa and an Interactive Exoskeleton”, the engineers beat the other finalist teams to win the competition.

17 April 2015

The Italian developers convinced the international panel of judges, winning out against more than 20 contestants. Dr. Bernd Liepert, Chief Innovation Officer of KUKA AG, handed over the prize of € 20,000 yesterday at the award ceremony at KUKA’s trade fair booth. The winning team proved successful with their application, which involves establishing a data link between two compliant robot arms: the KUKA LBR iiwa robot arm and a newly developed upper-limb (shoulder-elbow) exoskeleton. The human thus moves the lightweight robot like its own arm, using the sensorized exoskeleton capable of detecting the shoulder and elbow joint angles. The exoskeleton’s motors provide force feedback of the LBR iiwa joint interaction with its environment. This can be applied to applications in telepresence and rehabilitation treatment.

Finalist teams present their ideas at Hannover Messe

Throughout the week of the trade fair, the four finalists of the KUKA Innovation Award presented their developments to the visitors in Hall 17 directly next to KUKA’s booth G04. Alongside the winning team, another three finalists demonstrated their projects. The RoboCut team from the Archaeological Research Center and Museum in Neuwied and the Agile and Dexterous Robotics Lab (ADRL) at ETH Zürich is investigating how robots can help decrypt human history. In experimental archaeology, stone-age tools are created and used for hypothetical tasks under controlled conditions. By comparing the microscopic traces on the flint stone tools from the experiment with traces on real artifacts, information about human tool use in prehistory is gained. In the RoboCut application, the LBR iiwa lightweight robot moves a stone tool across various materials, saving microscopic traces from the tool’s cutting edge. The traces are then compared with those on real artifacts.
The CATCH project team from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) presented the catching of flying objects with uneven shapes. The LBR iiwa is equipped with a gripping hand and programmed to catch an object that is thrown to it. Since the robot only has 0.4 seconds to determine the trajectory and the hand is not able close its fingers as quickly as a human hand, the hand-arm system adapts to the trajectory at lightning speed while it is catching the object.

The APPLE project (Autonomous Picking and Palletizing) is carried out at the Center for Applied Autonomous Sensor Systems (AASS) at Örebro University in Sweden and provides a solution for logistics tasks. For this purpose, the team developed a mobile manipulation system incorporating the LBR iiwa. The system is capable of independently picking up empty pallets and autonomously navigating to a designated load area in the factory. After arriving there, the LBR iiwa picks the required products from a full pallet one after the other using an innovative gripper that gradually draws in the products and places them on the empty pallet. 

All four developments alike have proved to be real crowd-pullers at the trade fair. “We congratulate our finalists and share their pleasure in having implemented their ideas so creatively and quickly with the LBR iiwa. This shows once again how exciting robotics can be,” says Dr. Bernd Liepert, KUKA’s Chief Innovation Officer.

Technology transfer

The KUKA Innovation Award was launched in 2014 with the aim of intensifying cooperation between science and industry. “It is our objective to promote the transfer of technology from the world of science and research to the world of industry,” states Dr. Rainer Bischoff, Head of Corporate Research, explaining the intention behind the competition. “I am delighted that we attracted a large number of contestants again this year with such innovative projects. The finalists’ developments have gone down really well at the trade fair.” The contestants were set the task of developing a robotic application in human-robot collaboration that functions in a realistic work environment. To ensure equal conditions for all participants and to allow a fair and direct comparison of the entries to the contest, it was stipulated that the application should incorporate the KUKA LBR iiwa lightweight robot. This was supplied to the participants free or charge for the duration of the competition.
The sensitive KUKA LBR iiwa is precise, compliant and flexible, and is equipped with mechanical systems and drive technology for industrial operation. It makes it possible to automate delicate and complex assembly tasks in which the use of robots was previously inconceivable. With seven axes, it is modeled after the human arm and can be operated in position and compliance control. The LBR iiwa functions as the operator’s “third hand”, thus offering a whole new range of potential applications without the need for safety fencing.