The Institute of Robotics emerged from the Institute of Mechanics in January 1990. It is a member of the interdisciplinary Mechatronics Group of the ETH. Within the scopes of Mechatronics we do research on (i) the dynamics of controlled mechanical systems, concentrating mainly on two typical areas, robotics and magnetic bearings, and (ii) nanotechnology.
Robotics is an area where knowledge and methods from mechanical and electrical engineering and from computer science are being integrated to form a new kind of machine. The requirements on industrial robots have been increasing as they tend to be used for more demanding tasks than simple handling jobs. The "intelligence" of teleoperated robots and manipulators also need to be improved for use in unstructured environments, especially outside the industrial world. For difficult tasks the working environment most often requires an interaction of the robot with its operator or other humans, in order to guide the machine and to deal with exceptional situations. Such an interaction with an intelligent machine allows a soft and versatile automation of complex processes. As a main topic, therefore, we do research on the robot as an interactive and cooperative machine.
The interaction with the human operator or environment can happen at various levels, and we try to demonstrate related problems and solutions through application-oriented projects such as the following ones:
A ping pong playing robot with learning capabilities has been developed over the past years.
The cooperating robot with tactile and vision sensing has been a large and successful joint project of the Mechatronics Group, where technology transfer into industry is being pursued now in a Brite/Euram project.
In the ROBOTRAC project, already some years in progress, technology for a mobile sensor supported manipulator platform on rough terrain has been developed. This technology is now applied to a large construction manipulator
MODRO is a modular robot concept, with an open architecture, high-level, object-oriented programming language based on Oberon, and the realtime operating system XOberon. It provides the basic structure for most of our applications.
Within the Zentrum für Integrierte Produktion ZIP - it is an interdisciplinary approach to develop concepts for integrating man, techniques and organization into a production unit - we are building a robot assisting in the automation of sheet metal bending. Features of the robot are task level programming and sensor guidance.
A MObile Post distributing System MOPS is developed, which will have to distribute mail boxes in the ETH office building CLA / Mechatronics and Production. In this project, techniques for mobile service robots are developed.
A very actively developing research area is Nanorobotics. We participate in an ETH-Project, cooperating with colleagues from mechanical and electrical engineering, biology, and physics in order to build small handling systems as manipulation tools with nano-precision. Here, the intelligent interaction between the operating range of the very small and the dimension of the supervising human will be an important feature of the system.
Magnetic bearings constitute our second main research area. Over the years we have developed methods, tools, and applications for this new bearing technology. It is especially suited for
vacuum and clean room techniques
machine tools, electric drives, and turbo-machinery
vibration control including active damping, balancing and identification.
Interest from industry in robotics and magnetic bearings has grown substantially. Therefore, we have been concentrating our research on magnetic bearings in the International Center for Magnetic Bearings in the ETH-section of the Zurich Technopark. Furthermore, a spin-off company, MECOS Traxler AG, is taking care of production requests in magnetic bearings.
Nanotechnology constitutes our third and latest research area. Key to nanotechnology is the controlled accessibility of the nanometer-world and its processes from the macro-world, i.e. the human operator's environment. To this end, we develop novel multifunctional sensors and actuators combining near-field and far-field interaction mechanisms. These tools are applied in the characterization, manipulation, and modification of nano-structures ranging from biological molecules to microfabricated solid-state devices.
As Mechatronics comprises technologies where the integration of knowledge from various areas is most essential, we support and we search for cooperation with other researchers and institutions. The Institute of Robotics is a cofounding member of the Mechatronics Group and of the Neuro-Informatics Group. The Mechatronics Group consists of members from the Departments of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, i.e. from the areas of Mechanics (Prof. Dual), Control Techniques (Prof. Geering), Electronics (Prof. Tröster), Electro-technical Development and Construction (Prof. Hugel), Computer Vision (Prof. Kübler), Machine Tools and Manufacturing (Prof. Rehsteiner), Electrical Drives (Prof. Reichert), and Robotics (Prof. Schweitzer). The Group has joint research projects; it is responsible for the Postgraduate Course on Mechatronics, and it coordinates the undergraduate studies in Mechatronics for mechanical and electrical engineering students. The Neuro-Informatics Group supports a new interdisciplinary research area on the border lines between Neurobiology, Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, and Technical Sciences. Members of the group are from the University of Zurich and from the ETH Zurich.
Our activities have been supported by the ETH Zurich, the Schweizerische Nationalfonds, the Kommission für Technologie und Innovation, the Nationaler Energie Forschungsfonds, Euram/Brite, and industry.
Schweitzer, G., Bleuler, H., Traxler, A.: Active Magnetic Bearings. Basics, Properties and Applications of Active Magnetic Bearings. Verlag der Fachvereine (vdf), ETH-Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Zurich, Switzerland, Aug. 1994
Schweitzer, G.: Mechatronics-basics, objectives, examples, Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, vol. 210, pp 1-11, 1996
Schweitzer, G.: Mechatronics for the design of human-oriented machines, IEEE/ASME Trans. on Mechatronics, vol. 1, pp 120-126, June 1996
Updated April 2003, Ph. Cattin