Robot soccer and airbag ideas: what are the benefits of science competitions?

Unusual ideas, exciting experiments: talented researchers compete in scientific contests around the world. Tournaments are not just entertaining, they also give a platform to technologies and talented people – and are great opportunities for companies and institutions, especially in robotics.

Whether it’s high-tech winter quarters for turtles, gliding drones or alternatives to lithium-ion batteries, the range of ideas at “Jugend forscht”, Europe’s largest and best-known science competition, is huge. The aim is to arouse and encourage interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) among young people. Participants can qualify for the international equivalent, namely the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Prizes and scholarships with a total value of around four million US dollars attract talented researchers from all over the world to the Intel Fair. This is a major investment that underscores the importance of research.

For institutions such as the German Aerospace Center, competitions create room for research, encourage young talents and thus ensure long-term quality. Technology companies like KUKA want to advance the transfer of research into industry and to promote innovations with competitions. Scientific contests are an exciting and very entertaining instrument for robotics in particular, with its constantly advancing technologies and countless possibilities.

An innovation competition for robotics

KUKA launched the Innovation Award in 2014. Each year, teams from institutions and universities worldwide compete on a specified theme with a wide range of concepts. A jury selects the best team. The finalists have six months to put their ideas into practice using KUKA hardware. At the end comes the acid test: the finalists present their projects at a major trade fair directly at the KUKA booth. An expert jury selects the winners of the 20,000 euro prize. Last year, an idea for an airbag system based on human-robot interaction won the contest.

According to Team Alberta, one of this year’s finalists, the trade fair is a huge challenge but also a great opportunity: “Hannover Messe is like a window onto the future, where you can see the things to come. For us it is an opportunity to make our research accessible to industry, which is normally very difficult.” And the competitors from Team DynaMaP are looking forward to showcasing their robotics concept to visitors and experts and to exchanging views with them at the world’s largest trade fair in late April 2018.
From industrial concepts to robot soccer

In addition to the Innovation Award, KUKA also provides support as team sponsor in other competitions. The EU-funded European Robotics Challenge (EuRoC) is coming to an end this summer after four years. The aim is to develop solutions for three major industrial challenges. In the categories “Hyperflexible Working Cell”, “Shop Floor Logistics and Manipulation” and “Plant Inspection and Serving”, participants work with partners such as the German Aerospace Center and the Fraunhofer Institute.

The RoboCup@Work challenge, a subdivision of the robot soccer competition RoboCup, has a different focus. The Robocup German Open is both the German offshoot and the forerunner of this competition. KUKA is a sponsor, which for Tim Friedrich, a developer at KUKA Corporate Research, is a great opportunity: “Our YouBot is used at the RoboCup. This gives us the chance to develop algorithms on a smaller platform. A great deal has already been achieved in this area and it is truly exciting to see the improvement in performance.” KUKA is also active in the European Robotics League, where international teams go head-to-head in the areas of industrial, emergency and service robotics. Local matches and large tournaments take place across Europe.

Exchanges, fresh ideas – and a great show

As different as the competitions are, they all have one thing in common: “We come into direct contact with new and interesting partners and customers,” says Dr. Daniel Braun, funded project manager in corporate research at KUKA. “We can also see how easy people find it to work with our software and what we can perhaps improve on. In general, science competitions are also a fantastic opportunity to exchange views and establish contacts. Institutions and companies come into contact not only with each other but also with partners, customers and potential young scientists with fresh ideas. Not to mention the amazing show you can put on there.”

Here you can find further information on current research events.

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