Visit by Chancellor Angela Merkel

After only a couple weeks into the 2019 summer semester, students from the Cybathlon course within MSRM were informed that the chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavarian minister president Markus Söder would be visiting MSRM on May 24, 2019 for a special demo day. The event was scheduled to showcase the latest developments in robotics and artificial intelligence at MSRM, including the CyberTUM team’s current work on the 2020 Cybathlon Powered Arm Prosthesis challenge.

In order to prepare for the demo, the team split into sub groups to divide up the tasks so that a functioning prototype could be demoed at the event. After many hours of hard work, the team was able to put together a first-generation prototype in a matter of three weeks. The prototype consisted of a two finger gripper with exchangeable quick-connect gripper jaws attached to a 1 DoF wrist joint and forearm extending up to a preliminary stump interface. The motors used for the demo were off the shelf parts and thus had very limited torque. That being said, the students were able to control the motor speed with an Arduino to show the gripper translation and wrist actuation. Within hours of the security check for the demo, the prototype was sprayed white and mounted on a table.

On the day of the event, chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavarian minister president Markus Söder along with a plethora of security and cameramen and -women came down the stairs to the intelligent prosthesis room first. Johannes Kühn, Alexander Tödtheide, and Edmundo Pozo Fortunic showcased their latest tendon-based intelligent prosthesis they are developing. After asking a few questions, Angela Merkel shook the hand of the prosthesis and Johannes introduced her to the CyberTUM arm prosthesis team. He highlighted that the team is a student initiative with the goal of competing in the Cybathlon competitions for years to come. The students briefly showed off the device and Angela Merkel then asked a few questions about the design. She also asked about the student’s academic backgrounds and wished the team luck in their studies and at the challenge with the hope that a German team will win the competition.

Afterward, the chancellor and Bavarian minister president continued on for the rest of the demo. The school showed off the latest advances in their robotics and machine intelligence research platforms. Following the demo, there was a Q&A session in which researchers and students asked questions regarding the future and importance of scientific research in Germany. At the conclusion of the event, the president of TUM, Wolfgang Herrmann, highlighted that MSRM represents an interdisciplinary approach to research within the new TUM initiative of human-centered engineering. This statement resonates well with the Cybathlon team as it consists of team members from many disciplines with the goal of developing assistive technologies putting the patient’s needs first.

This event was very memorable and beneficial to the student Cybathlon team. It forced the team to prototype early in the design process and learn from the failures to continue iterating design concepts. As the only student team at the demo day event, it gave the students the unique opportunity to meet the chancellor and Bavarian minister president, as well as showcase their hard work and achievements.

Nick Tacca