KUKA Innovation Award 2015: retrospective report

KUKA Innovation Award 2015 went to an Italian research team In their “ReTeLINK” project, an exoskeleton communicated with the KUKA LBR iiwa.

KUKA Innovation Award 2015: the winners

The winners of the KUKA Innovation Award 2015 with their “ReTeLINK” solution.

The winning “ReTeLINK” project

An Italian research team managed to convince the international jury, leave 20 competitors in its wake and advance important innovations in the field of human-robot collaboration. Researchers from the Biorobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna took home the KUKA Innovation Award 2015 with their application ReTeLINK (Reciprocal Teleoperation of the LBR iiwa and an Interactive Exoskeleton). 

The “ReTeLINK” is an application which involves establishing a data link between two compliant robot arms: the KUKA LBR iiwa robot arm and a newly developed upper-limb exoskeleton (shoulder-elbow). With the application, the human moves the lightweight robot like his own arm, using the sensorized exoskeleton capable of detecting the shoulder and elbow joint angles. The exoskeleton’s motors provide force feedback of the interaction of the LBR iiwa with its environment. This can be applied to applications in telepresence and rehabilitation treatment.

Human-robot collaboration: exoskeleton communicates with the LBR iiwa 

During the competition for the Innovation Award 2015, the winning team created a way to tele-operate a robot that is improved, more natural and more intuitive. “ReTeLINK” does what conventional haptic devices achieve through virtual reality. However, the application also connects two real physical systems with their own inertia, compliance and impedance. As a result, both robots (the exoskeleton and the LBR iiwa) use compliance features inspired by nature for safe interaction with an unstructured environment

The two robots can even trade roles – for example, in order for a person to be entrusted with control of the LBR iiwa. This enables a remote object wearing the exoskeleton to initiate movements. This innovative form of human-robot collaboration offers enormous potential for clinical tele-rehabilitation. Beyond this, ReTeLINK is an interesting tool for advanced neuro-biomechanical studies in the field of human motor sensory systems.

KUKA Innovation Award 2015: the winning team

The team supporting Dr. Marco Cempini, Mario Cortese and Matteo Moisè in their 2015 Innovation Award win came from the Wearable Robotics Laboratory at the Institutio di BioRobotica of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy. About 15 people worked on the ReTeLINK project – among them postdoctoral students, scientific assistants, PhD students and a junior professor.

From the very beginning, they all played a key role in laboratory and organizational work. Thanks to their ability to adapt, their flexibility and their exceptionally well-structured division of labor, they all acquired valuable technical knowledge. All of them have a strong background in the field of robot development and work autonomously and extremely fast.

Besides the KUKA Innovation Award 2015, numerous research projects – both EU-sponsored projects (CYBERLEGs, WAY, AIDE) and regional projects (AMULOS, IUVO, Earlyrehab) – have added to the winning team’s wealth of experience. While developing the prize-winning ReTeLINK human-robot collaboration solution, the team worked with many different types of wearable robotic devices (upper/lower arm, hand, walking devices).

The winning team from the Biorobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa.

KUKA Innovation Award 2015: other finalists

During the KUKA Innovation Award 2015 competition, many other interesting projects dealing with human-robot collaboration and the LBR iiwa were also presented. Besides the winning team, the following projects were also in the running:

  • APPLE (Autonomous Picking and Palletizing): The project provides solutions in the field of logistics. Here, a mobile manipulation system was developed to enable the LBR iiwa to navigate independently as well as to pick objects up and set them down. The project team comes from the Center for Applied Autonomous Sensor Systems (AASS) of Örebro University in Sweden.
  • CATCH (Compliant Articulated Robot Catching): The project enables the KUKA LBR iiwa to gently catch flying objects of uneven shape. This is made possible through a compliance controller and a two-phase process. The project was carried out by a research team from the “Learning Algorithms and System Laboratory (LASA)” department of the EPFL Lausanne.
  • ROBOCUT (Robots Decrypt the Human History): The project is used for experimental archaeology. The KUKA LBR iiwa is thus able to analyze Stone Age tools and research their prehistoric use. The team comes from the Archaeological Research Center and Museum in Neuwied as well as the Agile and Dexterous Robotics Lab (ADRL) at ETH Zurich.

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