Dec 07, 2017 — Interaction between rigid robotic devices and soft materials imposes significant challenges and largely unresolved problems to current practice in robotics. Therefore, a collaboration between the University of Stuttgart (Germany) and the University of Auckland (New Zealand) has been established, developing simulation-driven concepts and design for control and automation of robotic devices interacting with soft tissues.

Robot handling a flexible tube at the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units (ISW, University of Stuttgart) © University of Stuttgart/Uli Regenscheit

The International Research Training Group (IRTG) consists of 8 institutes from Stuttgart and 5 institutes from Auckland, providing a wide range of research expertise ranging from simulation technology, through cyber-physical engineering and robotic device technology, to biomedical engineering and technologies. The project is led by Prof. Oliver Röhrle (Institute of Applied Mechanics) and Prof. Alexander Verl (Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units) from the University of Stuttgart and Professor Peter Xu (Faculty of Engineering) and Associate Professor Leo Cheng (Auckland Bioengineering Institute) from the University of Auckland.

The research group aims to develop novel approaches to interact safely and adequately with soft tissues. Therefore novel concepts are going to be examined, covering the lack of information and knowledge on how soft materials deform and how signals can effectively be recorded and interpreted accordingly to provide appropriate feedback to the control. To achieve these goals, research will be advanced in detailed simulations of soft tissue on high performance computers, model order reduction and also in practical fields as developing new concepts for sensors and actuators as well as biomedical and industrial applications such as exoskeletons, meat cutting systems or surgical devices.

However, the main focus of the IRTG does not lie solely on new technical developments but as well on the education of a new generation of young researchers. Thus, 20 PhD students (10 from Stuttgart and 10 from Auckland) will be provided with unique education on the highest academic level. Combining the interdisciplinary skills and in-depth expertise in developing and applying novel simulation techniques, modelling approaches as well as sensing and control methods, the young researchers will be very well prepared to face the future challenges of soft tissue robotics.

The IRTG is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) within grant GRK 2198, starting with 2017.

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