Goodbye, NCCR Robotics: dtwelve full years in the service of Switzerland

Tribute to the achievements and experience of the National Competence Center for Robotics Research, officially concluded on November 30, 2022

Robotics: ANYmal rescue robots are a great achievement
Rescue ANYmal robots are a big breakthrough (Photo: NCCR Robotics)

However distrustful one may be towards the progress of innovation in the robotics field, there are realities such as the Swiss one which testify how robots, if programmed "for a good purpose", can improve people's lives. A thought that obviously remains questionable, but "enabled" to arouse debate.
Meanwhile, in the field of robotization, unlike Italy and other countries, for example, the Swiss Confederation is certainly one of the most advanced countries, thanks to universities, federal and cantonal agencies and first-rate research centres, and to a lively ecosystem of start-ups and companies, which allow us to innovate and achieve important goals.

On 4 November in Lausanne the "Swiss Robotics Day"

Robotics: walking again thanks to robotics
Getting back to walking thanks to robotics (Photo: NCCR Robotics)

The National Competence Center for Robotics Research (NCCR): what it is and what it does

From 2010 to 2022, the National Competence Center for Robotics Research (NCCR) played a key role in the development of the Swiss robotics scene.
In particular, he has created a new generation of automatons, able to work in synergy with human beings, to reduce disabilities and deal with emergencies.
After 12 years of activity, the experience of NCCR Robotics it officially ended on November 30, 2022.
The center was headquartered in Ecublens, in the Canton of Vaud, within a campus of the Federal Polytechnic University of Lausanne.

A silicone raspberry to teach robots how to pick them

Robotics: Drones are a great achievement in robotics
Drones are a major breakthrough in robotics (Photo: NCCR Robotics)

Rescue Robotics Grand Challenge, created flying robots with self-learning capabilities

One of the great objectives to be recognized to the researchers of the National Center is that of having developed and employed light and flying robots with self-learning capabilities, used for disaster mitigation and for civil and industrial inspections.
Therefore, while Italy in some ways remains far behind in this sector, NCCR Robotics has had a real transformation effect on the national scene.
It has strengthened the existing synergies between start-ups and established companies, “adding a unique signature”, as stated on the Center's website, “which made Switzerland internationally prominent and attractive”.

Award to ProteusDrone, the soft robot with mutant shapes

Robotics: Swiss researchers present their prototypes
Swiss researchers present their prototypes (Photo: NCCR Robotics)

NCCR robotics has invested in training and research: strengths in the university field

Investing in training has guaranteed the institution to achieve various admirable results that are worthy of mention:
innovation in wearable, rescue and educational robotics; wearable, rescue and educational robotics; creation of new master's and doctoral programs that will train future generations of robotics engineers; graduation of more than 200 PhD students and 100 postdocs, with more than 1.000 expert publications; transformation of numerous projects into companies, many of which have become international leaders and have generated more than 400 jobs; launch of large awareness programmes, such as "Cybathlon", "Swiss Drone Days" and "Swiss Robotics", the "Swiss Robotics Days", which bring the public closer to robotics, programmed for a good purpose.

Thus in Switzerland robots “learn” the secrets of trekking

Robotics: robotic prostheses to improve quality of life
Robotic prosthetics to improve quality of life (Photo: NCCR Robotics)

The three big challenges for future intelligent robots: improve the quality of life of every person

The NCCR Robotics research program is structured around three major challenges for the intelligent robots of tomorrow, capable of improving the quality of life.
These are in particular wearable robotics, rescue robotics and educational robotics.
The Swiss Center has developed a wide range of prosthetic and orthotic robots, implantable sensors and artificial intelligence algorithms capable of restoring the abilities of people with disabilities and neurological disorders.
They seem like news of a still very distant future, instead they already belong to our closest past.
It is surprising to think that there are machines capable of working in contact with people and of filling any deficits they may have.
It can be frightening, because it would almost seem that there is a desire to completely eliminate "human error", the concept of humanity in the strict sense, but perhaps the panorama presented to us is not so tragic.
Also because, who said machines aren't wrong?

Switzerland leads the DARPA robotics competition

Robotics: Collaboration between robots and drones in Switzerland
Collaboration between robots and drones in Switzerland (Photo: NCCR Robotics)

Even robots can make mistakes, but the important thing is that their contribution is not all-encompassing

Robots can make mistakes, they're not perfect. So their work, perhaps, should be seen differently: not all-encompassing, but an "integral part" of the human one.
Another goal achieved by the researchers of the NCCR Robotics was to have developed technologies that have allowed patients with completely paralyzed legs to walk again thanks to a combination of assistive systems (such as Rysen), implantable microdevices that read brain signals and stimulate nerves in the spinal cord, and intelligence artificial, which translates neural signals into gait patterns.
They have also created prosthetic hands with soft sensors and implantable neural stimulators that allow people to re-sense the haptic qualities of objects.
Along these lines, they also researched and developed prototypes of an additional arm and artificial intelligence that could allow humans to control the additional artificial limb in combination with their natural arms for situations that normally require more than one person.

Liquid robots like… cells to explore extreme environments

Robotics: Robotics also feeds on simulation and play
Robotics also feeds on simulation and play (Photo: NCCR Robotics)

Man interacts with drones and controls them as if they were an extension of his own body

Swiss scholars have also proposed new methods to allow inexperienced humans and rescue agents to interact with drones and easily control them as if they were an extension of their own bodies.
For example, as part of the Educational Robotics Grand Challenge, Thymio was created, a mobile robot for teaching programming and robotics elements, which was distributed in more than 80.000 units in classrooms throughout Switzerland.
There was also Cellulo, a smaller modular robot enabling richer forms of interaction with pupils, as well as a wide range of learning activities (physics, mathematics, geography, games) and training methods for teaching teachers how to integrate robots into their lessons.

Robot behind the wheel to test the most difficult conditions

Welcome to the new Swiss national program: "Innovation Booster Robotics"

“We want to thank all past and present members of NCCR Robotics, all from industry, education and civil society with whom we have collaborated. The Swiss National Science Foundation and the review committee and all of you, citizens and journalists, who have followed us in these twelve years", declare the Swiss researchers.
The work of the Swiss National Center for RoboticsHowever, it doesn't stop there.
The institution's partner institutions such as the Universities of Zurich, Bern, Basel, the University of Italian Switzerland and EMPA will continue to collaborate through the "Innovation Booster Robotics", a new national program aimed at developing the new transfer activities technological.
Time will tell.

A drill with an “intelligent” tip so as not to irritate human nerves

The Swiss robotics ecosystem thanks to NCCR Robotics

The teaser presentation of the NCCR Robotics program

Logistics activities in 2022 according to NCCR Robotics

Healthcare robotics in 2022 according to NCCR Robotics

Mobile robotics in 2022 according to NCCR Robotics

Educational robotics in 2022 according to NCCR Robotics

Robotics: robotic prostheses to improve quality of life
Robotic prosthetics to improve quality of life (Photo: NCCR Robotics)