munich_i Session 1: Assisting the human

Premiere 2021

To final report

How robots will simplify human life in the future.

Breakthrough advances in sensor technology, programming and control technology as well as navigation have given rise to a new generation of robots that are currently establishing themselves as smart assistants in many aspects of human life. These smart mobile robots are to prove themselves in nursing and geriatrics as well as in supporting human workforces in processes that are harmful to health.

Experts from all over the world will outline to what extent such robots will make human life easier in the future:

Dr. Reinhard Ploss, Infineon
Prof. Dr. Marco Hutter, ETH Zürich
Prof. Dr. Achim Josef Lilienthal, University of Örebro
Prof. Carme Torras, Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial
Session Chair

Looking at the various kinematics and designs of such assistive robots provides an idea of the almost infinite range of possible applications. Systems on four legs or even six wheels achieve a degree of mobility that allows them to move even in rough terrain – e.g. for surveillance, inspection or reconnaissance purposes. Extraterrestrial missions are testament to the capabilities of such machines: For example, NASA's Opportunity robot, which landed on Mars in 2004, conducted research on the red planet until 2018.

Back from Mars to retirement homes: Here, entirely different but no less demanding tasks await the robots. Dressing, eating, rehabilitation training – any interaction with humans puts very high demands on the safety technology and sensitivity of smart assistive robots.

And: With all the convenience that robotics add to people's everyday lives, ethical questions remain. This aspect will also be covered in the session.

The Speakers of the Session

“From factory automation to Smart Helpers – Enabling solutions for the major challenges of our time with electronics for robotics and AI”

Serving the needs of a growing world population while reducing the impact on the environment requires new approaches. Digitalization, including Artificial Intelligence and collaborative robotics, are key to a more convenient and sustainable way of life. They allow for higher levels of productivity and help to reduce physical stress and improve the quality of life for humans. Infineon is helping to make these applications more productive, robust, energy-efficient and trustworthy with advanced semiconductor technology.

Reinhard Ploss has been a member of the Management Board of Infineon Technologies AG since 2007 (mandated until 31 December 2022). He has been CEO since October 1, 2012.

Reinhard Ploss was born in 1955 in Bamberg. He studied process engineering at the Technical University of Munich and received his doctorate in 1990. He began his career at Infineon in 1986 (Siemens AG until 1999).

“Learning to Walk”

Recent development in robotics, machine automation and intelligence has led to systems that are skilled and mature enough for real-world deployment. For example, quadrupedal robots have reached a level of mobility to navigate complex environments, which enables them to take over inspection or surveillance jobs in places like offshore industrial plants, in under-ground areas, or on construction sites. In this talk, I will give some insight into our work with the quadruped ANYmal, mobile manipulators and automated construction machines. I will show how these robots can learn and plan complex manoeuvres, how they can navigate through unknown environments and how they are able to conduct surveillance, inspection or construction tasks with super-human precision.

Marco is an assistant professor for robotic systems at ETH Zurich and founder of ANYbotics AG. His research interests are in the development of novel machines and their intelligence to work in unstructured environments. With his research team at ETH and the company ANYbotics, he created some of the most advanced legged robots and mobile manipulation systems that find applicaiton in various real-world scenarios. Marco is part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics and NCCR Digital Fabrication and PI in various international projects (e.g. EU Thing) and challenges (e.g. DARPA SubT). His work has been recognized with a number of awards and prestigious grants such as the Branco Weiss Fellowship, ETH medal, IEEE/RAS Early Career Award or ERC Starting Grant.

"Logistic Operations with Human Workers and Autonomous Forklifts through Automatic Deployment"

In this talk I will present results of our work towards introducing fleets of autonomous forklifts in warehouses shared with humans. I will describe in brief how we aim to facilitate that larger teams of forklifts can be gradually introduced to the work environment, and that the system as a whole is highly flexible, rock-solid reliable, self-optimising, quickly deployable and safe, yet efficient.

Achim J. Lilienthal is professor of Computer Science and head of the Mobile Robotics and Olfaction (MRO) Lab at Örebro University. His core research interest is in perception systems in unconstrained, dynamic environments. Typically based on approaches that leverage domain knowledge and Artificial Intelligence, his research work addresses rich 3D perception, navigation of autonomous transport robots, mobile robot olfaction, human robot interaction and mathematics education research. Achim J. Lilienthal obtained his Ph.D. in computer science from Tübingen University. The Ph.D. thesis addresses gas distribution mapping and gas source localisation with mobile robots. He is senior member of IEEE and author/coauthor of more than 250 refereed conference papers and journal articles.

“Assistive robotics: AI challenges, ethics and dreams”

The combination of robotics, artificial intelligence and the internet of things offers immense possibilities to improve healthcare and assistance in daily living activities. Most tasks assistive robots need to perform (e.g., helping users to dress, guiding rehabilitation, feeding) require dexterous manipulation skills, which need to be easily taught and customized by non-experts. In addition, such skills must be very compliant and intrinsically safe to people, as well as able to deal with deformable materials like clothing. Some results of projects addressing these de-manding challenges, such as CLOTHILDE and SOCRATES, will be showcased.

Assistive robots raise also fundamental ethical issues, many practical ones stemming from robot decision-making conflicting with human freedom and dignity. Several institutions are developing regulations and standards, and many ethics education initiatives include contents on human-robot interaction and human dignity in assistive situations. Free materials to teach and generate debate in this regard will be presented, which exploit the appeal of science fiction to speculate about the role the human being and the robot may play in this pas de deux in which we are irremissibly engaged.

Carme Torras is Research Professor at the Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial (CSIC-UPC) in Barcelona, where she leads a research group on assistive and collaborative robotics. She received M.Sc. degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Barcelona and the University of Massachusetts, respectively, and a Ph.D. degree in Computer Science from the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC). Prof. Torras has published six research books and more than three hundred papers in robotics, machine learning, geometric reasoning, and neurocomputing. She has supervised 19 PhD theses and led 16 European projects, the latest being her ERC Advanced Grant project CLOTHILDE – Cloth manipulation learning from demonstrations. Prof. Torras is IEEE and EurAI Fellow, member of Academia Europaea and the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona. She has served as Senior Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Robotics, and Associate Vice-President for Publications of IEEE-RAS. Convinced that science fiction can help promote ethics in AI and robotics, one of her novels - winner of the Pedrolo and Ictineu awards - has been translated into English with the title The Vestigial Heart (MIT Press, 2018) and published together with online materials to teach a course on “Ethics in Social Robotics and AI”.

Session Chair

"Assisting the human" will be moderated by Prof. Dr. Ruth Müller, Assistant Professor of Science & Technology Policy at the Munich Center for Technology in Society (TUM) as Session Chair.

Technologies have the potential to assist humans and improve our quality of life. However, it is essential to design technologies with a focus on the benefits for the many, and not the few. Question of social justice and equity need to move to the center of technology development, particularly in fields such as AI and robotics. To this end, we must foster interdisciplinary collaborations between the social sciences and AI research and address social, ethical and political questions in an integrated way already during technology development.

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