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KUKA Innovation Award 2021

The winners of the KUKA Innovation Award 2021 have been announced: The Belgian research team Chorrobot convinced the jury with its innovative concept to automate demanding two-handed tasks and won the popular innovation competition on the topic of artificial intelligence.

Innovation Award 2021: Artificial Intelligence Challenge

By adding artificial intelligence to existing robot systems, the aim is to revolutionize the way humans and robots work together. This competition therefore focused on new use cases in which robots have so far faced major challenges in interacting with their real environment. Among the numerous applications for the tender on the subject of AI, an international jury of experts selected the five best concepts. To enable the finalists to realize these concepts KUKA was providing them with a sensitive lightweight robot LBR iiwa and a 3D vision sensor from Roboception free of charge and they also received coaching from KUKA experts throughout the competition.

At the HM Digital Edition, which was broadcast entirely digitally due to the coronavirus pandemic. An international jury selected the winner of the award during Hannover Messe 2021. The winner of the 20,000 euro KUKA Innovation Award 2021 is the Belgian team „Chorrobot“ of Belgium’s Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Flanders Make@KU Leuven.

The Winner

Team Chorrobot (CHallenging bimanual Operations using Reactive ROBOT control) KU Leuven and Flanders Make@KU Leuven, Belgium

The goal of Chorrobot from Belgium’s Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Flanders Make@KU Leuven is to leverage artificial intelligence in order to enhance the productivity of car manufacturers as well as small and medium-sized enterprises by facilitating and expediting the deployment of bimanual robot manipulation tasks. The concept enables users without extensive expertise in robotics to demonstrate some aspects of the task and to intuitively specify other aspects via a graphical user interface. This approach facilitates the commissioning of challenging bimanual tasks – including fixtureless assembly operations that involve non-rigid and non-fixed elements – as well as bimanual inspection operations in unstructured environments. 

Team contact: Dr. Cristian Vergara

Team Chorrobot

The finalists

Team ARAS (Advanced Robot Assistance Solution) Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg, Germany

Implicit knowledge instead of complex programming codes: the goal of the team from the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg is intelligent robot programming based on manual manufacturing sequences. The individual process steps are recorded by means of innovative data gloves and reproduced on the industrial robot using an AI-based self-learning system. The operator is freed from the need to formulate explicitly what the task is and how the robot has to perform it. Instead, the implicit knowledge of the operator during the manual manufacturing process is accessed. A corresponding skill sequence is automatically generated with this information, and the robot carries out its task – without the need to write a single line of code.

Team contact: Marlon Lehmann


Team BlindGrasp - IISc & MIT, India & USA

Humans can often easily explore closed spaces with their hands and pick up objects without even looking. The application by the international team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science and the U.S. Massachusetts Institute of Technology aims to bring such capabilities to robots. The goal is for robots to explore, recognize and pick up objects in vision-denied environments using the sense of touch. To this end, the BlindGrasp team is designing a novel gripper with tactile sensing capabilities that gathers the contact and proximity information. This data, coupled with the force-sensing capabilities of KUKA’s lightweight robot LBR iiwa, is used by a machine learning agent to learn motion policies and thus safely explore the environment and pick up objects.

Team contact: Achu Wilson

Team BlindGrasp

Team CHRIS (Collaborative Human-Robot Intelligent System) A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research (I²R), Singapore

Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, collaborative robots could help to reduce human-to-human interaction. However, configuring these machines for a set of given tasks still requires a great effort. The team from the A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research in Singapore is developing a programming-free approach that leverages the latest developments in AI capabilities. The technology enables more natural and safer human-robot collaboration. This allows the robot to support operators, especially in a high-mix low-volume manufacturing environment. The concept from Team CHRIS is comprised of intuitive object and task teaching, activity understanding as well as multimodal perception (vision, touch and speech) and reasoning. 

Team contact: Joo Hwee Lim


Team CRC (Cloud Remote Control) Chair for Individualized Production RWTH Aachen University & Robots in Architecture Research, Germany

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing are increasing the reliance on remote work. However, the impact of online tools for the construction industry is limited. Team CRC from the Chair for Individualized Production / RWTH Aachen University & Robots in Architecture Research is therefore integrating automation technology into online collaboration. Cloud Remote Control enables users to run robots, monitor processes and adapt tool paths from the comfort of their home or international office. This increases accessibility to worldwide robotic production, adding layers of Industrie 4.0 device communication and artificial intelligence to path planning. In this way, Cloud Remote Control empowers teams to remain safely at a distance while still collaborating closely on automated construction.

Team contact: Ethan Kerber

Team CRC

AI and machine learning, especially in combination with robotics, open up a wide range of new possibilities and new fields of application - so there's a lot of potential for KUKA. That's why this year's KUKA Innovation Award was all about artificial intelligence. And we received impressive concepts from all over the world.

Dr. Kristina Wagner, Vice President Corporate Research & Director RoX Program | The Robot X-perience

About the KUKA Innovation Award

In 2014, KUKA launched the Innovation Award to drive innovation in robot-based automation and promote technology transfer from research to industry. It addresses developers, graduates and research teams of companies or universities. The participants develop ideas for a task specified by KUKA. The focus is on a different technology each year. An international jury of experts selects the finalists from all the submitted applications. These final teams implement their projects with the aid of KUKA robots and other technologies and present the results to a wide audience at a trade fair. Thereby, KUKA enables them to make a professional trade fair appearance at large, international trade fairs such as the Hannover Messe, the automatica or the MEDICA medical trade fair. At the end of the trade fair week, the jury of experts chooses the winner of the prize, who receives 20,000 euros.