Lithuanian robotics industry is ready for a growth spurt: from robots that think to smart things that save lives
The latest innovative products and solutions under development and already in application by Lithuanian business and science were presented at the press conference "Innovative Lithuania: Science and Business Solutions and a Look at 2019" dedicated to topicalities of robotics and digitalization. It was attended by numerous representatives of business and science who discussed today's robotic situation in Lithuania and in the world, the trends and forecasts in this area, and shared their experience and challenges in the application of innovations.
"We aim to focus attention on the potential of robotics and promote its development. Although the market demand is huge, Lithuanian companies do not have many robots. With decreasing labour resources this becomes especially relevant," said Kęstutis Šetkus, the Director of the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA). According to him in Lithuania the number of robots per 10,000 employees reaches as low as five, while the global average is 85 robots per 10,000 employees. Europe is well ahead of this average and features the largest robot density among other regions, 106 robots per 10,000 employees. However he also noticed that Lithuania's situation should be considered as both an opportunity and promising situation for robotics. Innovative products offered by Lithuanian developers keep up with the global trends and are able to keep pace with the fourth industrial revolution.
At the press conference, as many as nine Lithuanian companies presented various innovative solutions, technologies and products for industry, business and consumers. Many innovative novelties have been developed using scientific knowledge, and in cooperation with scientists aiming for their practical application and integration.
Robotics in industry
Robots presented by Proftools and Factobotics companies can be applied in various industries. These are robots can operate lathes, robots that can do painting and packing work, robots that are made to ease up difficult jobs for people (e.g. in bakeries to take baked products out of hot stoves, or in ice-cream shops to store, pack and stack boxes on pallets at - 22° C.), robots meant for the installation of heavy oversize glass sheets and for metal bending.
"As these examples demonstrate, robots can be tailored to specific manufacturing requirements with many possible tool choices," says Justinas Katkus, the CEO of Factobotiks. "We specialize in the development of industrial robotic solutions, turning them into standard products."
"We do not create robots that perform a single mechanical function. Our goal is to create integrative robotic systems that enable higher functionality and process efficiency. We analyse manufacturing and technological processes, and consult regarding system use and installation," says Rolandas Lepardinas, the CEO of Proftools.
These and other companies, Elinta, Rubedos, Neurotechnology, have also presented solutions that extend the robotic application capabilities, for instance, robotic applications expand if robots can see. "Smart eyes," a three-dimensional environmental perception technology for autonomous robots, the computer vision AI, meant for optical quality assessment of production, was presented during the press conference.
"Robots are blind, so sensory systems are needed for their wider applicability. The system created by Rubedos (the three-dimensional vision) helps the robot both see and "think," for instance, to choose another route when facing an obstacle," says Linas Vaitulevičius, the Business Development Manager of Rubedos.
When developing their products and solutions, Lithuanian companies use artificial intelligence elements, among others. Aurelijus Beleckis, the Director of Engineering at Elinta, spoke about this at the conference: "Optimum placing of products packed in packages of different sizes on a pallet is a complicated task sometimes, even to a human being. An artificial intelligence system evaluates the size of all packages and optimally stacks packages of different sizes on a pallet, although these packages are different every time. Moreover, robots operating in the loading and unloading of production lines can do more than autonomous loading, they can make boxes of the required size for packaging, pack products and label packages with stickers containing all the necessary information about the package."
Robots containing artificial intelligence elements are not programmed to perform repetitive motions only, they program their movements themselves, subject to the assigned task. According to Povilas Daniušis from Neurotechnology, who presented a robotics package consisting of a physical robot and algorithmic software, the algorithmic software part was the most complex one that enabled the robot to find an object in the environment, travel to it, grab and deliver it.
Robotics in services
According to Kęstutis Šetkus, the Director of MITA, the field of robotics applications exceeds just industry aiming to optimize manufacturing processes. The use of robots is rapidly growing in the services sector, as well, and increasing robot application solutions to meet customer needs are available. Specifically robots for services, customer service sectors or individual consumers at home become particularly desirable.
One such example of a robot helping companies to reach their customers and facilitating their customers' knowing and getting products from these companies, was presented by Roman Drokov, the Head of MIO Technologies, a start-up developing ideas for robot use in sales and marketing. Consumption habits change, especially among the young generation that tends to communicate through technologies, thus robots for marketing and sales may be a much more effective tool compared to traditional ones. In public places, shopping malls, airports, parks, MIO robots are customised to present company products, sell them, and serve people by serving snacks and drinks, create pleasant experience for people, and even blow soap bubbles for children. "Mobility, product distribution, safety and communication functions are key success criteria of these robots," says Roman Drokov.
During the event Lithuanian companies presented not only solutions relevant to industry or business, but also smart consumer products. They included the smart lock iLock and the smart collar Buddy, the Life-collar. These products are intended to protect people's property and life, and to inform about a faced threat.
Presenting the smart collar, Dr. Tadas Juknius, a co-founder and co-inventor of Smartmedic noted that the development of this product was driven by the number of children drowning in Europe, that is 5000 per year. The smart collar works similarly to an air bag: when a preson falls into water, a sensor activates the release system and inflates the collar that keeps the drowning person's head above the water.
Meanwhile, the smart lock will immediately send information to the owner's mobile phone if someone tries to unlock or damage with it. According to Eugenijus Gančiarovas, a co-founder of Inotechas, the lock may be used both by logistics businesses when moving goods need to be tracked, and by private customers to protect personal property. A dedicated internet platform has been developed for businesses using the product, where customers may track cargo information, and monitor where and when a lock is unlocked.
Another smart innovation is the interactive identity authentication with iDenfy. The software scans and recognizes the identity document by the document type and country, and verifies if the information contained in the document is fraudulent. It also verifies if a person's photo matches the photo in the document. "The procedure is short and simple, and the software may be used in various foreign countries," Gediminas Ratkevičius, the CEO of Identification projects said when presenting the software.
Digital solutions to help people diversify their leisure time were presented. Such a project was demonstrated by Andrius Paulauskas, representing the Faculty of Informatics of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU). It was a virtual skiing stimulator, the system designed for a balancing platform. This solution may be applied in health rehabilitation.
Science and business cooperation
Lithuanian science and business cooperation promotes the commercialization of scientific knowledge, and its adaptation to business needs. Moreover, research establishments are important in the education of robotics specialists.
Representatives of the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU) and Kaunas University of Technology were pleased with the growing demand for robotics studies and the increasing number of students. They also presented research and ongoing projects of their representative establishments. According to Prof. Dr. Vytautas Bučinskas, the Head of the Department of Mechatronics, Robotics and Digital Manufacturing of VGTU, the subject of staff and robot relations, which until now has had little interest, is distinct among other subjects. His colleague, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Raimundas Junevičius, the Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Transport Engineering of VGTU, introduced a project under development related to road surface monitoring and vehicle control in order for the vehicle to make autonomous safety decisions.
According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Gintaras Dervinis, the Head of Department of Automation of the Faculty of Electrical and Electronics Engineering of KTU, their area of interest is the design of robots and robotic systems, integration of computer vision systems, application of numerical intelligence, development of software robots, and mobile robot navigation.
Insights and Trends
Edgaras Leichteris, the CEO of Lithuanian Robotics Association noted that while robotics has long been relevant to industrial manufacturing and most products and solutions have been focused on it, the situation has been changing rapidly over the last few years. Technologies have been getting cheaper, their adaptation has been getting easier and thus it makes them more accessible to a larger number of businesses. "Over the last four or five years, we are observing a major breakthrough in robotics. The synergy of information technology and mechatronics, the areas where Lithuania has made major scientific inputs, is the prospect of our country in robotics. An impetus should be the fact that Lithuania ranks the first in Europe and the second in the world after China by productive investment attractiveness index, and Lithuanian companies invest both in production, development and innovation," he said.
According Aurelijus Beleckis, the Director of Engineering at Elinta, the situation related to corporate approach to robotics has radically changed comparing to the one faced several years ago: "Now companies need no convincing of the benefits of robotics, on the contrary, they are looking for innovative solutions themselves. Now we address the point of keeping up with the market needs. The global robotics industry is expected to grow by 114%, i.e. double over the next five years. The Lithuanian robotics sector is already growing two or more times. We need to get ready for further development."
This was supported by the CEO of Proftools Rolandas Lepardinas: "Scepticism is still there, but market changes, wage growth, and the lack of specialists increase the need for robotics. The increasing number of companies realise that there is no tomorrow without robotics, that without robotics they will be unable to compete with other market players."
Justinas Katkus, the CEO of Factobotics pointed out that a strong innovation culture has developed in Lithuania during the last decade. "It started with the basis, with people who can create, to the possibilities to find financing. Currently, Lithuania has nearly 20 funds that may potentially become investors in the technology business, which was absolutely impossible fifteen years ago. Lithuanian innovation policy has also made significant progress. I think that now is the "golden age" to create, a huge stimulus to all who want to do it," he says.
The Director of MITA Kęstutis Šetkus is also optimistic. Speaking about the development of robotics, he highlighted some of the key things that will affect the future of this sector. It is the training of highly skilled professionals, engineers, programmers, starting with technological education of pupils: developing design and programming skills by exciting curiosity and interest in technology. Digitization centres under development should ensure the improvement of digital competences of professionals. Generating the widest possible field of innovative ideas is also important, as well as and fostering science and business cooperation to adapt innovative ideas, introduce new technologies, digitalized and robotised solutions.