Germany’s robotics centers establish RIG, the Robotics Institute Germany

From left: Prof. Angela Schoellig from TUM, Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger, and Prof. Tamim Asfour from KIT at the presentation of the RIG in Berlin. Also present: ARMAR-7 robot from KIT. | Source: BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel

Germany’s leading robotics centers are coming together to establish the Robotics Institute Germany, or RIG. The Technical University of Munich, or TUM, was the leading organization. Participants said they want RIG to become the central contact point for robotics in Germany.

At the AI-Based Robotics 2024 conference in Berlin, Prof. Angela Schoellig from TUM and Prof. Tamin Asfour, a RIG spokesperson from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), presented the robotics and AI concept. In particular, RIG plans to build on innovations in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and automotive industries, which have established Germany as an industrialized nation in the past. 

“I am delighted that we have succeeded together in establishing a robotics network with such strong partners from universities and non-university institutions for this pioneering AI-based robotics concept,” Schoellig said. “The RIG is a historic initiative that comes at exactly the right time.”

“We are responding to current trends in the U.S., for example, where many well-known companies are investing heavily in AI-based robotics,” she added. “We are doing this with our program, which is geared towards cutting-edge research and talent.”

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) fund the project for the next four years. The RIG project will kick off on July 1, 2024. 

“Germany has the potential to play a pioneering role in embodied AI,” Schoellig said. “Intelligent robots could become the next big export hit ‘Made in Germany.’”

RIG sets five strategic goals

The backers of Robotics Institute Germany said they believe intelligent robotic systems will not only transform Germany’s economy, but also reshape the lives of Germans. The organization said it expects robotics to influence healthcare, education, mobility systems, and the environmental sectors equally.

RIG outlined five strategic goals:

Making research globally competitive: RIG said it aims to promote cooperation between locations and to establish research clusters for key technologies in Germany. These clusters will generate research for AI-based robotics with a clear focus on innovation. RIG intends to focus on addressing specific challenges within Germany and driving progress with goal-oriented research. 
Sharing infrastructure and resources: RIG partners can use the group’s infrastructure and resources for joint research. This can include physical and virtual laboratories, as well as software and research data that will be shared in a dynamic, open ecosystem. 
Promoting talent and offering education: RIG’s talent program will focus on finding and developing talent. This includes the development of a RIG curriculum for research-oriented teaching of AI-based robotics, a standardized introductory bachelor’s course, a new English-language master’s program, and a RIG doctoral program for robotics. RIG will also work to attract talent by creating robotics and AI courses for upper secondary schools. 
Making robotics research competitive through benchmarking and competitions: RIG plans to develop robotics benchmarks in its laboratories to allow standardized testing of skills. These skills include object manipulation, navigation in difficult terrain, or human-robot interactions. With these benchmarks, RIG said it will set new standards for evaluating robotic systems in areas like personal assistance, flexible production, and logistics. In addition, competitions like the Autonomous Racing Challenge, RoboCupHumanoid Soccer, or RoboCupRescue for search-and-rescue robots will play an even greater role, and RIG will develop a special RIG challenge.
Simplifying the transfer of research outcomes for industry: To turn research into competitive products, RIG said research and industry must cooperate closely. The RIG innovation program aims to identify the technical needs of industry and increase the technology readiness level. RIG wants to promote Germany’s startup culture and motivate researchers to develop new application fields for robotics. Every year, the organization will review the number and size of new start-ups in the country, the number of patents, and the amount of direct funding from industry.

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RIG brings together efforts from 10 German universities

In addition to TUM and KIT, eight other universities from all over Germany are involved in the Robotics Institute Germany. They include 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 and the Technical University of Nuremberg.

The German Aerospace Centre (DLR), the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, three Fraunhofer Institutes (IPA, IOSB, and IML), and the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), as well as 19 associated partners, are also participating in the initiative. The group said it is open to working with other German, international, and industry partners. 

RIG asserted that it’s entering the German robotics industry at a favorable time. It said Germany‘s roboticists are among the global leaders in AI-based robotics and have made significant contributions to the international robotics landscape. 

“Germany is already well positioned in both AI and robotics research,” said Bettina Stark-Watzinger, federal research minister for Germany. “So the time for AI-based robotics is right now.”

“To this end, we are expanding our new Robotics Institute Germany and bringing together the best talent,” she said. “This will create a decentralized network of cutting-edge research locations. In this way, we are creating the conditions to integrate the enormous potential of AI into robotic systems.”

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