Industrially intelligent human-robot cooperation is being prepared for the real world in the Smart Production Lab – with people playing the leading roles.
In the labs of the brand new Volkswagen Group IT City in Wolfsburg, a young and dynamic team of 35 specialists led by Wolfgang Hackenberg is developing intelligent human-machine interaction in the industrial field, ushering in a new phase in robotics. The main goal is to digitalize production processes, which will become more complex but at the same time easier to understand and implement.
A single unit consisting of the physical world and the digital network
Digitalization and artificial intelligence (AI) are the two key terms that are being brought to life in the Smart Production Lab – designed exactly to meet the needs of production workers. To perform the work, the team has to conduct a continuous dialogue with the production department and receive feedback from it. “Production and IT are growing together in a VW-specific manner”, Hackenberg says. He is talking about a scenario in which the physical world of robots, forklifts and other machinery will form a unit with the large digital network that Volkswagen already has and that is continuously growing – as intelligent human-robot collaboration.
The new production ecosystem
“The software we are developing will fundamentally change robotics in the next two to three years”, continues Hackenberg. The IT team is bundling all of its activities into its “Future Production Ecosystem.” In this ecosystem, they are digitalizing sub-steps of production and drawing on Volkswagen production data as a way of optimizing them. This work also involves mobile wearable devices. The sensors built into watches, glasses or work clothing will provide workers with information. For instance, the system will let people know if they have assumed an ergonomically incorrect position.
Software development in sequences of sprints
The motto of IT City is: “We agilely advance in sequences of three-month sprints. When something works, we stick with it. If it doesn’t, we haven't wasted much money on it.” The basic job of the young team is to pursue agile software development from the pilot and prototype stages to the initial rollout on the production line, to set robotic benchmarks and create individualized networks.
Simplicity despite growing complexity
Systems of the future will become increasingly complex. “We software engineers must provide workers of the future with tools that will enable them to continue to control the systems and manage them”, Hackenberg says. And because people made of flesh and blood work in production and will continue to do so, the work performed by them should not just become easier with the help of digitalization. It should also become more varied and challenging – done with the assistance of their colleague the robot, an important, but subordinate associate who is working on the supervisor's behalf.
Source: Volkswagen AG