21 Nov 2013

NZ/German Collaboration in Robotics

From Our Changing World, 9:46 pm on 21 November 2013


This 3D fibre printer is used at the Faunhofer Institute for manufacturing, engineering and automation in Stuttgart.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of bilateral relationships between New Zealand and Germany, a connection which has resulted in many long-standing scientific collaborations. One of them, a joint effort between the University of Auckland's faculty of engineering and the Fraunhofer Institute for manufacturing, engineering and automation (Fraunhofer IPA), is focusing on advanced mechatronics and biomedical engineering.

The Auckland team, led by Peter Xu, has already developed robots that mimic the processes of chewing and swallowing. They are being used to develop and test new food textures and to measure changes during mastication. While a small start-up company is marketing the robot in New Zealand, the Fraunhofer Institute wants to extend its use to dentistry, applying the same machine to test dental implants and to monitor wear in artificial tooth material.

fraunhoferAlexander Verl is a director of the Fraunhofer IPA, which recently won the German future technology award for its flexible 'elephant-trunk' robotic arm and its application in the manufacturing industry. The low-cost technology is produced by 3D-printing, as demonstrated on the left by the Franhofer IPA's group manager for additive manufacturing Steve Rommel, and could also find a market niche in New Zealand as a fruit-picking robot.

The joint effort builds on the long-standing collaboration and exchange between the two team leaders. Professor Xu has worked in Germany as a Alexander von Humboldt Foundation fellow, and Professor Verl is the first engineer to have received the New Zealand Royal Society's Julius von Haast Fellowship Award.