Overview of the Institute of Robotics

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:

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

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.

Gerhard Schweitzer

Selected Publications:

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

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