Research & Technology
Since we are a spin-off from an academic institution (University of Stuttgart), our researchrs during last 15 years are involved in different multidisciplinary areas of microelectronics and micro-mechatronic systems: micro-robotics, hybrid bio-/chemo- mechatronics, collective and evolutionary robot systems, different environmental sensing systems. These works, and especially of last years, have been done in the conviction that future autonomous systems will involve different synthetic micro-systems; robotics will integrate micro-mechatronics, biotechnology with advanced biomolecular and chemical systems, and different branches of material science, biology will meet technology. The research agenda of the company, research projects and latest publications reflect this vision.
The research center targets following interdisciplinary areas and topics:
Collective robotics, collective phenomena in technical, biological
and hybrid systems. Research on mixed bio-technological collective systems
The high miniaturization degree of the robotic systems with increasing efficiency of the hardware and software represents an important trend in the area of collective systems. The subarea - swarm robotics - is an emerged research field focused on designing collective intelligent systems comprised by a large number of robots. Its fascination and theoretical foundations originate from studying and understanding a group behavior of animals and insects societies. It is expected that in a similar way a group of relatively simple and cheap robots can solve complex tasks that are beyond the capabilities of a single robot.
Natural physical and biological systems, being a metaphor for the phenomenon of self-organization, can organize themselves to emerge complex macroscopic behavior or spatiotemporal ordered structures and formations. There is no central element coordinating the system, a group behavior (macroscopic level) emerges from individual set of local rules (microscopic level) via interactions and cooperation. However, natural systems have multiple capabilities of interactions, perception and communication, which are significantly more complex than those in technical systems. Microrobots, due to a small size, are very restricted in locomotion, sensing and communication. Therefore a swarm-like behavior, expected from microrobotic systems, can "approach" a complexity of natural phenomena only when the robots are specifically developed, equipped and highly optimized for the desired collective activities.
Underwater autonomous systems.
Development of advanced AUV platform
Underwater exploration represents a very important economic, technologic and scientific challenge. This is closely related to Arctic and Antarctic offshore resources, pollution monitoring, general oceanographic data collection and, recently, to underwater actuation. Due to very large underwater areas and high damping properties of water, application of multiple Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) in cooperative missions seems very promising. For application of AUVs in networked or swarm mode, there is a number of crucial issues: underwater sensing and communication (S&C), cooperation and mission control, design of AUV platforms, autonomous behavior and several collective aspects of running multiple AUVs. In several past and running projects devoted to underwater swarms, a number of AUV platforms and sensing technologies have been developed. These works indicated two important issues: a successful AUV platform needs a dedicated combination of different S&C technologies, moreover capabilities of underwater cooperation depends on the level of embodiment of on-board S&C systems. In several cases, even a simple multi-modal signal system leads to advanced cooperation.
Underwater sensing and localization. Development of underwater sensing equipment
Underwater exploration became recently an important economic, ecologic and social concept, and includes such tasks as monitoring ecologically sensitive areas, exploration of the seabed, safety inspections, and finding objects of interest. The essential challenges of underwater systems, among other issues, related to the sensing and communication capabilities. Multiple research challenges concern the coordination between different AUV as well as the collective cognitive capabilities of the whole robot group. We use the following approach to deal with collective cognition in a group of AUVs. As is known from biological and physical systems, coupled oscillators as a common system are sensitive to each of the spatially distributed oscillators. The parameter changes of a single coupled oscillator can influence the common synchronization frequency, amplitude of signals or qualitative behavior, even in the case of a weak coupling. Individual robots, despite limited sensing capabilities, can become aware of the global environmental state by measuring the parameters of the local oscillations. For the physical coupling of oscillators we use a potential field, created by applying a voltage to the electrodes in the water. The field created is proportional to the applied voltage and the distance between the electrodes, and can be sensed in the range of several body lengths of the robot. This bio-inspired technique is based on behavior in weakly electric fish.
Impact of weak technological stressors (LED light, EM fileds) on plants. Development of advanced photonic devices.
As followed from the state of the art works, a low-frequency EM emission, modulation of EM and magnetic fields, modulated LED light emission in the area up to 100Hz are biologically active. The response of biological organisms on low-frequency modulation is specific and can be explained by several factors such as ion transfer processes on cell membranes, bio-chemical pathways, cellular metabolism, extracellular information exchanges and others. It is assumed that the mechanism of LED influence is based on a specific sensitivity of cellular metabolism, where photons with spectral-specific energy interact with biochemical pathways. Large number of experiments support this theory. However, several experiments demonstrated also a non-specific sensitivity of biological objects to some modulation frequencies of LED light. We perform experiments with different vegetable organisms and explore these properties of LED emission. There are already developed several generations of advanced photonic devices, capable of interactions with biological entities.
Sensing of environmental impact on biological objects. Development of sensing technologies based on EDL properties.
The electric double layer (EDL) appears on the surface of an object placed into a liquid. Electrokinetic phenomena are described by the Gouy-Chapman-Stern model. Corresponding to this model, EDL can be represented by two layers: internal Helmholtz (absorption) layer and outer Gouy-Chapman (diffuse) layer. In our research, the diffuse layer is of interest. In a number of works, dielectric behavior and properties of the Gouy-Chapman layer are investigated. In particular, the dielectric response of this layer depends among other factors on the temperature, ionic concentration and spatial polarization of water dipoles. Several works report sensitivity of biological EDL to laser and LED light, ultrasonic waves. As confirmed by a large number of different experiments, some modulated EM (RF, LED, laser) fields are capable of influencing a spatial polarization of dipoles and thus change dielectric properties of the Gouy-Chapman layer. As pointed out in the state-of-the-art, this influences different processes in cell membranes, signalling pathways, and thus leads to a number of biological effects on the organism level in plants. As one of the innovation, we propose to use deeply polarized electrodes to measure processes in Gouy-Chapman layer and so to calibrate corresponding devices, generating different EM fields. The produced effects appeared in changing a dielectric response and thus can be experimentally measured. For statistical significance the measurements are done by several sensors in parallel. This methodology was adapted in the performed experiments with biological objects. To counter the influence of EM fields and parasitic couplings, the developed device was shielded by several grounded metal boxes lined with rubber matting. The purpose of such multiple EM and temperature shields is to remove impacts of temperature variation and environmental EM fields.
Production process orients primarily on the in-house available technologies, such as CNC machinery, 3D printers with FFF (fused filament fabrication) additive technology, silicon-polyurethane vacuuum molding for small series production, multi-layer milling-based and atching-based PCB production, IR- and Vapour Phase soldering and others. Company has a number precision measurement devices and a large number of standard electronic equipment. Laboratories are equipped with several high-performance multi-core workstations for performing electrical and behavioural simulations. Embedded applications range from 8bit tiny Atmel and PSoC solutions up to 32 bits ARM, PSoC 5 and Blackfin MPUs.