Dlr: how bavaria’s high-tech hotbed is building robots of the future

Bavaria is a high-tech state. The existing infrastructure is unparalleled worldwide. Scientists build robot prototypes for space travel and care. Big industry shows strong interest. Dynamic startups enrich the economy and society with innovative ideas. An inventory.

They colonize new worlds. Exploring alien planets. Let a paraplegic walk again. In just a few years, they could be doing just that, the robots from Bavaria. The potential is there.

"These are extremely exciting times. Artificial intelligence has given us an enormous boost", knows Alin Olimpiu Albu-Schaffer, director of the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen.

Walking robot with inner ear sensor that gives it a sense of balance

It’s a playground for prototypes.Here, scientists push a blind humanoid robot standing on a soft-floor mat and are pleased when it stops. A real breakthrough. Toro" walking robot Has a kind of inner ear sensor that gives it a sense of balance. Combined with numerous other sensors in its feet and joints, Toro keeps its balance and reacts sensitively to its environment thanks to advanced control technology, AI software and25 built-in motors – even without visual feedback.

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Because of advances like these, Albu-Schaffer can well imagine pensioners in ten years’ time preferring to buy a humanoid robot butler for the household rather than a new sports car.When mankind sets off for Mars in the next few decades, DLR robots may already be working on a research base on the Red Planet.

Bold visions that need the support of politicians, the public and big industry to become reality.

Bavaria plans to invest six billion euros in digital program by 2022

Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Soder is known to be fond of them. By 2022, the Bavarian state government plans to pump around six billion euros into the Bayern Digital program "so that all sectors, all companies and all of society can benefit from the growth promises of digitization",Josef Pschierer, the Minister of Economics, told FOCUS Online.

Hundreds of millions of euros will be invested in robotics, artificial intelligence, mobility and new research facilities such as the Munich School of Robotics and Machine Intelligence at the Technical University of Munich (TUM).

A severely movement-impaired patient controls a robotic arm with the help of a sensor on her arm

Soder’s latest plans for the "Bavaria One" space program – Cue satellite – but meet with more ridicule and anger than enthusiasm on social networks. Behind this is the question of the social added value of the investments.

DLR scientists firmly believe they can deliver the. Albu-Schaffer finds it "fascinating, That its high-end prototypes should be able to colonize Mars on the one hand, and also help people on Earth with the same technology on the other hand. "In a few years, this should benefit us all", explains the scientist.

How can robots help caregivers in the future??

A healthcare robotics center is currently being built in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. DLR and Caritas work closely together and test how assistance robots can support caregivers in the future.

Albu-Schaffer and his team are focusing on the "Edan" project and the humanoid Justin.Wheelchair patients control a robotic arm via sensors on the skin that respond to signals from the residual musculature.

Humans and robots go through a ten-minute training phase in which the machine learns to translate signals from the paralyzed patient into the desired movements.

People with degenerative diseases or paralyzed people should regain some self-determination in this way. DLR is working on actions such as pouring water and drinking it, opening doors and opening and closing them. Independent trips to the movies, coffee dates with family and friends are the vision.

Strong infrastructure: "That makes us unique in Bavaria worldwide"

According to a study by the Techniker Krankenkasse health insurance fund in Bavaria, the acceptance of robots in the home is 66 percent. Across Germany, the figure is 58 percent. Nevertheless, skepticism still prevails. Opponents warn that patients in care need human affection, need to feel emotionally comfortable in their environment.

"Of course, people in need of care also want and need human interaction. But they don’t want to be washed and fed by other humans. If they can do it themselves again with the robot, they’ll be happy", says Albu-Schaffer.

With the right investments from financially strong companies, an intelligent robotic arm like this could be used for 50.000 euros.

Against this background, Albu-Schaffer praises the very good existing infrastructure in the state.

"There are leading research institutions in robotics, strong universities, a large industry and many dynamic startups", Albu-Schaffer lists the advantages of Bavaria’s tech landscape. His team then benefits, for example, from fresh young suppliers offering stereo cameras, artificial skin or drives. "That makes us unique in Bavaria worldwide."

Startup developed sensors that indicate via app which parking spaces are occupied

Textual lunch break in Munich. There’s something from the Asian around the corner. Felix Harteneck pokes into wok vegetables and tells his story. He is the prime example of a successful Bavarian startup entrepreneur. In 2015, together with Clemens Techmer and Jakob Sturm, he escaped from the TUM Innovation and Start-up Center for Entrepreneurs at the Technical University of Munich. The trio founds "ParkHere. Since then, innovation awards have been piling up on the shelf. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already stopped by.

The startup impresses with novel sensors for parking spaces that tell drivers in real time, for example via the app of the respective customer, which parking spaces in the city center or in the parking garage are occupied or still free. Cars generate the energy needed to transmit information when they pass over sensors. No power supply, no battery. The efficient and sustainable hardware should be able to withstand being run over for 25 years before the first maintenance is due.

Artificial intelligence helps Harteneck and his colleagues, among other things, to read the enormous amount of data correctly. Park Here trains the sensors to distinguish whether a car has just driven over them or whether it’s just a stroller or wheelie bag.

Parking space seekers account for 30 to 40 percent of inner-city traffic

Through efficient and smart parking management, the founders ultimately also want to ensure a better life in cities and reduce CO2 emissions by almost a third. Because: 30 to 40 percent of inner-city traffic falls to annoyed parking lot seekers. Park Here sensors are already in place in Munich, Ingolstadt and Sankt Gallen, Switzerland. Other interested parties from all over Europe are lining up.

And Harteneck is already thinking ahead. His vision: intermodal travel. "Inner cities should be car-free. Parking should be reduced to create housing and parks", says Harteneck. Intelligently planned Park&Ride points are needed at which drivers can change and continue their journey to the city center by shuttle bus or bicycle.

Park Here is a success story. After the latest growth phase, the startup has 40 employees. Harteneck, however, complains that other promising young companies in Germany too often fall by the wayside. Investors are needed to get through the first rounds of financing. And they are too risk-averse in Germany, they say.

"This is exceptional compared to other federal states"

But what Harteneck now observes in Bavaria is primarily many funding programs for collaborative projects. "Those who conduct research together with several companies also receive a lot of funding from the state of Bavaria. Primarily for artificial intelligence, mobility and robotics.", says Harteneck. "This is extraordinary compared to other federal states."

Lack of risk appetite among investors also causes problems for Albu-Schaffer. "The leap to the mass market has not been a great strength here lately", he struggles. Large companies are very interested in the robot prototypes, but no one is coming out of the woodwork yet. There are still major unanswered questions about cyber security, for example. Since all robots are to be controllable remotely, there is a risk of hacker attacks.

Until computer scientists have found a suitable solution, Albu-Schaffer and his team are trying to make the robots more attractive with longer and longer test runs with users and care experts, as well as more and more multifaceted features. At some point, the prototypes should be so good that a company invests billions and goes into production. And then robots made in Oberpfaffenhofen conquer Mars and German households.

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