On the 2nd of November 2015, TUM Asia held a scientific talk titled “Realising Robotic Innovations From Neuroscience” at the Shangri-la hotel in Singapore. The speaker was Prof. Dr. Gordon Cheng, Professor and Chair of Cognitive Systems, Institute for Cognitive Systems (ICS) at Technische Universität München (TUM). He is also concurrently serving in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology.
Prof. Cheng has had many years of experience in the robotics industry, largely focusing on projects that create robots that are close to real humans, which is in turn very beneficial to let these robots study human behaviour. His research group provides him the support to execute such projects, whose members hail from different parts of the world. However, in order to attain successful inventions, engineering can learn from science to make engineering better. “The issue with research is that it will not be efficient. The possibilities are endless but it will take time”, said Prof. Cheng.
When humans and robots interact with one another, one main challenge that robots have is being able to simulate human behaviour. “I was happy that I could make a humanoid robot but at the same time, I felt something was lacking. The robot cannot feel. But the idea of touch to a human is part of our everyday lives as every interaction we do includes touch,” mentioned Prof. Cheng. This spurred him on the path of artificial skin, which has a lot of impact in our lives and the industry, such as in automation and entertainment. “I could not find any tactile skin that I was satisfied with enough to put on my robot as artificial skin, so I started researching on human skin and then started from scratch to build our own skin. Pre-touch and temperature are two components of skin and we wanted our artificial skin to be able to reflect that.”
The most famous project that Prof. Cheng has done to date – Walk Again Project – was started in 2008 convinced 156 people from 27 countries to join the project. The idea was to build a brain assistive machine which is human-like, that will allow a disabled person to walk again. The artificial skin is used to feel and then send feedback to the patient. The project was a huge success and allowed an exoskeleton to be built. This exoskeleton was demonstrated at the 2014 Fifa World Cup, which enabled a paralysed person to make the first kick off into the field.
The dinner talk was attended by reputable guests in the education and industry and meant to foster interaction as well as the academic transfer and exchange of knowledge between Germany and Singapore. The knowledge shared by Prof. Cheng was extremely insightful and showcased the possibilities and the growth potential of the robotics industry.