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Robotics Institute Germany brings together top research

Leading robotics centres in Germany have joined forces to establish the new Robotics Institute Germany (RIG). It is to become the central point of contact for robotics in Germany. At the "AI-based Robotics 2024" conference in Berlin, Prof. Angela Schoellig from TUM, as the consortium coordinator, and RIG spokesperson Prof. Tamim Asfour from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) presented the concept for AI-based robotics. The project, which is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with 20 million euros over the next four years, will start on 1 July 2024. The University of Bonn is playing a key role.

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) is leading the consortium of the Robotics Institute Germany (RIG), which includes ten universities and four non-university research institutions. "I am delighted that we have been able to work together to establish a robotics network with such strong partners from universities and non-university institutions for this forward-looking concept in AI-based robotics," says RIG coordinator Prof. Angela Schoellig from TUM. The strategic objectives of the project include strengthening the international visibility of robotics in Germany, targeted talent promotion and the transfer of research results.

"The University of Bonn is an important partner in the Robotics Institute Germany due to its outstanding scientific expertise," says Prof. Dr. Sven Behnke, who coordinates the Bonn sub-project of the RIG. "There is a long tradition of research here on mobile robots that independently create environmental models from sensor data, navigate autonomously, handle objects and interact with people." The five robotics groups in Bonn that are involved in RIG already work closely together at the Center for Robotics.

The University of Bonn is leading the Benchmarking and Challenges work package in RIG, which is concerned with the evaluation of robotic systems. It will develop benchmarks for environmental perception and take part in competitions for humanoid football robots and household robots. In the field of science and technology of AI-based robotics, the researchers from Bonn would like to develop a science cluster for semantic 3D environment modelling and an application cluster on the topic of agricultural robotics. In the field of infrastructure for AI-based robotics, an agricultural robotics lab and an open-source humanoid football robot are to be developed. In the area of talent development, the teaching staff at the University of Bonn will offer a new master's programme in "Mobile Robotics" in the winter semester of 2025/26 and participate in the RIG doctoral programme for the training of highly qualified experts.

The starting conditions are good: roboticists in Germany are among the international leaders in AI-based robotics and have made significant contributions. "However, Germany has so far lacked a strategic approach that combines and synergistically uses the existing potential to secure Germany's long-term competitiveness and promote excellence and economic growth," explains RIG spokesperson Prof. Tamim Asfour from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). "We will establish the RIG as a nationally recognised and internationally unique institute that shapes cutting-edge research, education and innovation in AI-based robotics and aligns it with the needs of Germany."

Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger explains: "Germany is already very well positioned in both AI and robotics research. The moment for AI-based robotics is therefore now. To this end, we are expanding our new 'Robotics Institute Germany' (RIG) and bringing together the best talents. This will create a decentralised network of centres of excellence. In this way, we are creating the conditions for integrating the huge potential of AI into robotic systems."

Participating institutions:

In addition to TUM, the following institutions are involved in the RIG: the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the University of Bonn, the Technical University of Berlin, the Technical University of Darmstadt, the University of Bremen, the University of Stuttgart, RWTH Aachen University, the Technical University of Dresden, the Technical University of Nuremberg , the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, the Fraunhofer Institutes IPA, IOSB and IML, and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). The following universities are associated with the centre: Augsburg, Bayreuth, Bielefeld, TU Braunschweig, TU Chemnitz, Erlangen-Nuremberg, Freiburg, Hamburg, Hannover, Heidelberg, TU Ilmenau, Kaiserslautern-Landau, Lübeck, LMU Munich, Tübingen, Baiosphere, Cyber Valley GmbH, Hessisches Zentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz and Deutsches Rettungsrobotik-Zentrum e.V.

The five working groups at the University of Bonn involved in the project:

In total, the BMBF will provide more than 1.4 million euros in funding to the University of Bonn by 2028. Five working groups from the University of Bonn in the fields of computer science and engineering will contribute to the Robotics Institute Germany (RIG):

Autonomous Intelligent Systems (Prof. Dr. Sven Behnke): Researchers in the fields of cognitive robotics, computer vision and machine learning have extensive experience in the development of complex robot systems for a wide range of applications. The NimbRo robot competition team from the University of Bonn has already won numerous international competitions and challenges (RoboCup Humanoid Soccer, RoboCup@Home, MBZIRC 2017, ANA Avatar XPRIZE).

Photogrammetry and Robotics (Prof. Dr. Cyrill Stachniss): At the interface of robotics, photogrammetry and computer vision, the interdisciplinary team of engineers, geodesists and scientists is investigating learning techniques that enhance the performance of mobile robots and autonomous vehicles. The main areas of application are robots in agriculture, autonomous vehicles and service robotics.

Humanoid Robots (Prof. Dr. Maren Bennewitz): The working group is exploring innovative ways to integrate robots into human environments. To do this, the researchers are combining methods from artificial intelligence and robotics for active perception, navigation, manipulation and human-robot interaction. Applications include personalised robot services, sustainable agriculture and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Agricultural Robotics (Prof. Dr. Chris McCool): The team is conducting research in the fields of robotics and computer vision to enable robots and autonomous systems to work in difficult environments, particularly in agriculture. The methods include scalable, learning-based approaches, cross-domain work and the use of extensive spatial-temporal information for visual perception.

Geodesy (Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heiner Kuhlmann): The researchers are developing engineering geodesy, in particular with terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) and mobile mapping systems (MMS). In the field of TLS, the focus is on improving sensors and algorithms. In the case of MMS, research is focused on the quality of derived point clouds, system calibration and integration into higher-level coordinate systems.