State-of-the-art robotics technology has essentially been stagnating over the past decades. It offers solutions that are remote to humans, extremely expensive and non-flexible; suitable only for precise positioning (e.g. setting spot welds), programmed to predefined paths (e.g., painting) and behind safety fences. Technically speaking, advanced industrial robots are positioning machines far away from the idea of what a robot can and cannot do. To unleash the original purpose of robots, along with safely supporting humans, serving their needs and desires, and relieving them from laborious and possibly dangerous work, the traditional concepts had to be overthrown.
At Franka Emika, the team’s ultimate goal was to develop the first system of a completely new robot generation – affordable, safe, intelligent, and an actively supporting tool for humans. It was initially designed as a factory assistant, evolving into a service robot for supporting elderly and sick persons, and, finally, a helper in the user’s daily life.
Next Generation Robots for Sophisticated Human Life
Franka Emika’s vision is to create ‘robotics technology for everyone’, with a goal to overcome one of the biggest challenges of modern society, relieving an entire generation of tedious, potentially dangerous, vastly time-consuming, and monotonous labor. Franka Emika’s approach places the human and its needs in the center of development. The approach to excel in all disciplines that may be tangent to robotics from mechatronic component development to high-level interaction is quite unique.
The company’s first industrial robotic arm “Panda” has been designed to be accessible for everybody; it is a capable power tool, affordable also for small businesses, operable within minutes and made for human interaction. The robot incorporates various novel possibilities as a human-like sense of touch, complete Industry 4.0 capability, multimodal interaction, and unprecedented flexibility and performance, just to name a few. From the series production plant in Bavaria, Germany; Panda is already being shipped worldwide to all types of users and is currently the fastest selling robot system in the world.
Although, Franka Emika targets for a broad field of application, the European SME market and the global 3C market (computers, communication devices, and consumer electronics) as some of the biggest yet hardly automated markets in the world, currently shape the focus. This again is unusual, as most robot suppliers try to incrementally improve automation, whereas Franka Emika goes for completely new fields.
About the Leader
Dr. Simon Haddadin is the CEO and Co-founder of Franka Emika. Simon is a 33 years old innovative entrepreneur who earned his doctorate in safe physical human-robot interaction. Simon received the Deutsche Zukunftspreis by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in November 2017 and the Manager of the Year 2018 award from Markt&Technik. Also, his efforts let Franka Emika become the only German Company to be highlighted on the cover of the iconic TIME Magazine’s “Best Inventions 2018” edition. Besides that, he has more than 30 national and international publications in journals and conference talks and a multitude of national and international patents.
Simon has an outstanding educational and work experience background including Military service with Air Transport Squadron 62 in session 2005-06. In 2006, he did Mathematics and physics studies at Leibniz University Hanover, followed by medical studies at the University of Debrecen and completed a dissertation to become a medical doctor with excellence at the Institute of Pathology and Neuropathology. From 2010 to 2013, he worked as a research scientist at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, and later, from 2012 to 2016, he was a Ph.D. student at the Technical University Munich (TUM), Graduate School of Bioengineering.
The Inception Story and Challenges
As a research group ‘human-centered robotics’ under the leadership of Prof. Sami Haddadin one of the world’s most renown scientists in robotics and AI at DLR (German Aerospace Center), Simon and the founding team were able to engage in the most advanced robotics research. One of the topics was the development of the first compliant space robot LBR III (light-weight robot III), a project that began by the end of 80’s of the XX century. After solving many of the fundamental problems as a research team, in 2012 they decided to try it on their own. One of the main drivers was that there was no robotic system commercially available that fulfilled even closely the ambitions of the founding team. Although, being a rather young group of people, they were among the most experienced ones in this new field of technology.
“In my opinion, it is rather easy to work on something you love and that has a clear purpose. I don’t think there is a list of toughest difficulties, but rather challenges that can be solved with patience and hard work,” asserts Simon on how to tackle the difficulties and challenges.
“I have learned that challenges are opportunities and that is how we should approach them. With increasingly “smart machines” we are able to overcome some of the biggest challenges of our society as demographic change, distribution of wealth or planetary pollution. However, we should always keep the human in control, especially in real-world AI which is robotics, and that is what we stand for,” added Simon.
Extraordinary Robotics Solutions for Supporting Human Beings
The main motto of Franka Emika is to create ‘robotics for everyone.’ This demands the system that should be accessible – easy-to-use and affordable, flexible – ready for various applications as well as quickly adaptable to new tasks, and scalable – easy to be manufactured, allowing for solution deployment on multiple robots – whereas at the same time that system should avoid humans from any exposure to danger in addition to its support and service. These concepts could not be implemented with existing robotic components, therefore the Franka Emika team designed and developed full stack robotics technology including mechatronics, control, low-level and high-level software, manufacturing and many more, setting a new benchmark. “We firmly believe our team is composed of the best robotics specialists in the world. Their knowledge and experience ensured a goal-oriented development of the project with phenomenal results”, says Simon about his team.
Major Benefits for customers
The current user base of Franka Emika is highly diverse including worldwide researchers, service and health care providers, as well as almost all branches of industrial manufacturing. Consequently, Panda had become the fastest selling industrial robotic system with around 2,000 robots shipped within the first year. The possible user group of robotic systems had become multitudes bigger, as before users were dependent on having in-house robotic know-how. This is a similar trend, as the company saw it in the IT market, where it became a commodity once the group of possible beneficiaries was extensive enough. The results represent unprecedented opportunities for added value, as robot solutions can be developed by start-ups, students or hobbyists with almost no investment, creating new commercial and non-commercial applications. Above all, small and medium-sized enterprises can also benefit greatly from access to such systems and even increase their national and international competitiveness.
In future, the company would like to witness how its dream ‘robotics for everyone’ becomes a reality where robotic systems become an inseparable part of human lives in all social dimensions – from hospitals and schools to factory plants and even the less-charted Space.
Simon’s advice to the new entrants in the Robotics sphere – “Real robotics is hard. Don’t underestimate it and be patient.”