Digital engineering and the human-machine interface is likely to benefit from a recent international collaboration on the interaction between soft materials and rigid robots at the University of Auckland.
The new research-training group between New Zealand and Germany will also have implications for the future of safety and medical ergonomics for the meat, agricultural and automotive sectors.
Overall, the aim is to educate a new generation of digital engineering doctoral students at the University of Auckland and the University of Stuttgart in areas including simulation technology, computer modelling, sensor technology, and robotics and control engineering.
The interaction of rigid robots with easy-to-deform materials is challenging even independent of its applications in functions such as the field of developing and designing exoskeletons, fully automatic apple pickers, or meat cutting devices.
The collaboration is led by two professors from the University of Stuttgart - Professor Oliver Röhrle and Professor Alexander Verl and two professors from the University of Auckland, Professor Peter Xu (Faculty of Engineering) and Associate Professor Leo Cheng (Auckland Bioengineering Institute).
“Soft materials or tissues are often subject to damage or injuries when handled by rigid robots and so far there have been few attempts to improve this situation,” Professor Xu said.
“To contribute to a long-term and significant impact that solves these problems, the new International Research Training Group (IRTG) established an interdisciplinary environment for enhancing basic research and training outstanding doctoral students.”
According to Professor Peter Hunter, director of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, this IRTG will “greatly benefit” from the synergies between both universities, in particular in the areas of simulation technology, cyber-physical engineering, robotics and biomedical technology.
“It will significantly improve our understanding of the interaction between next-generation robotic devices and soft human tissues,” he added.
The group will develop novel simulation technologies and sensors to estimate the deformations of materials that are subject to the interaction with the rigid robot.
In addition, it will also develop new automation and control strategies for robots interacting with easy-to-deform materials.
These new applications will improve the knowledge base for the design and the automation of industrial plants in general, and the knowledge and experiences will form a basis to enhance the exchange of information between the virtual and the physical world.
The new IRTG between Auckland and Stuttgart will train 20 PhD researchers for the first phase of four years (2017-2021), ten at each side, jointly supervised by academics from both universities.
At Auckland, ten professors and academics from the Faculty of Engineering and Auckland Bioengineering Institute will take part in the IRTG.