One of the key challenges in the field of Soft Tissue Robotics is the lack of experts that are capable of efficiently work in interdisciplinary teams towards innovative solutions for challenging topics. The IRTG’s qualification programme aims to train excellent students to become experts in their field, while exposing them to the challenges of their colleagues. For example, experts in Simulation Technology are able to understand a mechatronic engineer’s challenges in developing and implementing new methodologies and technologies (e. g. controlling robots interacting with highly deformable objects) and vice versa. We in the IRTG believe that the key to an effective and innovative environment is interdisciplinary training, direct communication skills, and efficient team work. Our IRTG’s qualification programme was designed and implemented with this challenge in mind.
Selected qualification measures
The task was to solve one predefined Soft Tissue Robotics challenge as a team. All IRTG doctoral researchers were subdivided into two groups: an industrial and biomedical robotics group. The first group tackled the fiddle-it-in-challenge and the second group aimed to drive a humanoid robot with EMG. Educational goals of the Demonstrator Week were how to communicate work and troubleshoot in an interdisciplinary research team, present the results to the research community and organise oneself.
- Instructors: Prof. P. Xu, Prof. Cheng, Prof. Röhrle, Prof. Verl
- 18.06.2018 - 22.06.2018
- Location: Stuttgart
As in the first Demonstrator Challenge (in Stuttgart), the doctoral researchers were subdivided into an industrial robotics group and a biomedical robotics group. The first group focused on the Draw-On-Balloons challenge and the second drove an in silico musculoskeletal system model by wirelessly measuring HD-EMG. The demonstrator challenge resulting in the publication of two peer-reviewed conference articles.
- Instructors: Prof. P. Xu, Prof. Cheng, Prof. Röhrle, Prof. Verl
- 11.03.2019 - 22.03.2019
- Location: Auckland
Resulted in publications:
- Comparative Study of a Biomechanical Model-based and Black-box Approach for Subject-Specific Movement Prediction [Conference article]
- Challenges in Robotic Soft Tissue Manipulation—Problem Identification Based on an Interdisciplinary Case Study of a Teleoperated Drawing Robot in Practice [Book chapter]
In addition to specific and technical qualification measures, members of the IRTG were provided with a range of soft-skill and general workshops. These workshops aim to, for example, provide a general technical knowledge for researchers of all disciplines (e.g. "Instrumentation and Design"), improve presentation and writing skills (e.g. 'Industry meets Academia'). These workshops include:
- Communication and Presentation Skills Workshop, Dr M. Schiller (06.07.2020), Online
- Instrumentation and Design, P. Roberts (01.04.2020-05.04.2020), Auckland
- Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship, D. Siew (TBD), Auckland
- Industry meets Academia, Prof. Röhrle (27.06.2018 - 29.06.2018), Stuttgart
- Patent Application Process, J. Terfurth (17.06.2019), Stuttgart
- DaRUS Workshop, Dr D. Iglezakis (25.06.2020), Stuttgart
Given the diverse range of disciplines in the IRTG, doctoral researchers were given an oppurtunity to share aspects of thier research which would be relevant for the remainder of the group. This not only fostered inter-disciplinary research collaborations, but was also an oppurtinity to improve soft-skills, including presentations and organisation of hands-on tutorials. The doctoral researcher led training workshops included:
- Franka Emika Panda running with C++, C. Hinze (08.07.2019)
- Introduction to Model Predictive Control, J. Köhler (01.10.2019)
- Hardware-in-the-loop Simulation of a 3-axis Milling machine, F. Jaensch (17.09.2019)
- Parallelization with OpenMP, B. Maier (22.10.2019)
- Abaqus User Materials, H. Saini (16.12.2019)
- Medical Ultrasound, A. Sahrmannn (16.01.2020)
- Skeletal Muscle Model Simulations, J. Water (16.02.2020)
- Introduction to Dynamics Animation and Robotics Toolbox (DART), M. Wnuk (11.03.2020)
The visiting researcher programme was set up to be a mixture of a research, education, and network components. But for all, the focus has been scientific exchange – in particular within the international context. Each of the visiting researchers gave a talk on their current research topic and engaged with a selection of IRTG doctoral researchers to provide an outside perspective on their research topic through in-depth scientific discussions. This way, they not only received new ideas but also received critical and highly qualified feedback to their work early on.
The Board, therefore, always strongly encouraged the doctoral researchers to invite people, with whom they wanted to get in contact, or from whom they were expecting additional knowledge not necessarily present at Stuttgart. While most of the invited researchers held academic positions at renowned international universities, we also made an effort to invite research-affiliated people from an industrial setting. These were particular valuable for networking and identifying missing aspects and the real-world challenges.
Further, as far as the specific measures of the qualification programme are concerned, we expect that each IRTG(-funded) spends significant amount of time at the partner institutions. We expect from each a long-term research stay (of about 3 to 6 months). Our belief is that this provides an invaluable contribution to the training of the doctoral researchers. The doctoral researchers not only receive new scientific stimuli within a new environment, but also learn much about the new system and the advantages and disadvantages of other academic systems, and in this way enhance their critical thinking abilities. Given the long flights between Stuttgart and New Zealand (and therefore the large CO2 emissions), we decided to combine, as long as it is possible and is sensible from an academic point of view, the long-term research stays with the summer schools and aim not to split these stays up into several shorter ones.
"During the research stay at the partner university in Auckland, a major milestone of the project was achieved." - M. Wnuk, ISW.
This worked out very well for the German doctoral researchers, who mainly spent their extended stays in New Zealand around the New Zealand Summer School in March 2019, but largely failed, so far, for the New Zealand students. Most of them were planning to attach their long-term stays to the Summer School 2020, which was planned to take place in July 2020 but had to be held online due to the COVID19 pandemic. As far as the German doctoral researchers are concerned, one person did not travel to the University of Auckland for an extended long-term stay due to (justifiable) personal reasons, and two people only stayed for relative short periods due to family and childcare commitments (and could not be convinced to use the gender equality budget to stay for longer).