Swiss Robotics Industry Day 2017
Our impressions of the Swiss Robotics Industry Day in Lausanne, Switzerland
Santiago Tenorio is a Venture Partner at Rewired.
When we arrived at the SwissTech Convention Center in the EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), we were greeted by an astronaut legend and his lunar rover. This opening scene set the tone for the rest of our visit.
During the following eight hours, we had the privilege of meeting and speaking to some of the top minds globally in robotics and artificial intelligence. These individuals are pushing the envelope in areas such as wearable robotics, locomotion, machine perception, educational robots, human-machine interface, and autonomous navigation. They’re also creating dozens of spin-offs commercializing applications of these technologies.
It was a diverse exhibition with participants from the top research centers in Switzerland including EPFL, ETH Zurich, University of Zurich and IDSIA ( Istituto Dalle Molle di Studi sull’Intelligenza Artificial) in Lugano.
An interesting trend throughout the exhibition was the distinct focus on the humanitarian benefits of robotics.
Faithful to the founding ethos of NCCR Robotics, which lays out the “objective of developing new, human-oriented robotic technology for improving our quality of life,” presenters were sure to highlight how their respective technologies are having a positive impact on humanity. Notably, there was not a single weapons system or defense robot, a sharp contrast with conferences in other parts of the world where research is heavily funded by defense budgets.
The exhibition was truly a playground of exciting innovation, but one area that particularly piqued my interest was rehabilitation robotics.
EMG-controlled hand exoskeletons, soft exoskeletons for gravity assistance, prosthetic technologies that have shown to reverse paralysis, and groundbreaking spinal cord stimulation therapies were all present. At Rewired, we’re especially excited about this space given the advances coming out of the Swiss ecosystem where specialized talent is densely concentrated.
Prof. Robert Riener from the Sensory-Motor Systems Lab at ETHZ discussed the positive social impact of robotics entering the physical therapy industry. Prior to robotic-assisted therapy, a nurse working to rehabilitate arm movements, for example, would work with patients by physically helping them perform upper limb routines. This kind of manual rehabilitation work is tiring to perform for sprints longer than 20 minutes.
With a robot assistant, therapists can focus on directing the sessions without exerting themselves, allowing for far greater endurance and repetition in the rehab training. This matters because the brain requires a lot of training to learn a new skill or recover from a lesion through plasticity – in fact, babies perform almost 500,000 steps per month when they are learning to walk.
Robots are making therapies more effective and efficient and will become indispensable tools in this $107 billion market globally.
Here at Rewired, we are driven by a more humanitarian application of robotics. As evidenced by our time at the Swiss Robotics Industry Day, we are hopeful that these technologies will help fundamentally change the world for good.