Dr. Axel Schneider is awarded the VDI 2011 Ehrenring

A new year crowned by two successes for the Bielefeld scientist: The VDI 2011 Ehrenring and extended funding for his research group "Mechatronics of Biomimetic Actuators.

Dr. Axel Schneider (39) is head of the research group "Mechatronics and Biomimetic Actuators" at Bielefeld University and a member of the Bielefeld Centre of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology. The group was set up at the beginning of 2008 in Bielefeld University's Faculty of Technology and currently contains four postgraduate students. Within his ELAN project funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), Dr. Axel Schneider is developing neurobionically controlled elastic joint drives with muscle-like behaviour. These new joint drives are closely related to biological paragons and adapt their advantages in construction and control. The functional spectrum of these new joints ranges from classic, inelastic, but precise positioning abilities to dynamically adjustable elastic behaviour. Particular attention is paid to biologically inspired control approaches.

His successful work on this future-oriented research topic extends his doctoral dissertation on "Local positive speed feedback to control elastic limbs in closed kinematic chains" at the Faculty of Biology. It is now to be honoured with the VDI Ehrenring 2011.
The high scientific quality of the BMBF Junior Research Group Mechatronics and Biomimetic Actuators (MBA) headed by Dr. Axel Schneider also convinced the  ELAN project sponsor the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). Their interim evaluation at the end of 2010 has led to an extension of BMPF funding until 2013. This increases total funding to about 1.5 million Euro.

The research group's goal is to develop new and highly integrated drives for use in robotics and prosthetics. Electronics, sensors, computer, and control are already integrated into the drive as self-containing systems. The group is developing drives based on piezoelectric motors for particularly delicate movements and drives based on electric motors for more powerful applications.
Alongside standard abilities such as precise positioning or generating simple compliance, particular attention is being paid to the integration of elastic behaviour modelled on biological muscles. All drive variants also possess the ability to control these "technological muscles" on the basis of neurobiological principles. Dr. Schneider's team is also studying which tricks nature applies to generate what are simultaneously both highly precise and highly dynamic motions with just one type of drive: namely, muscles. Because the drives built by the MBA research group understand "muscle language", they are highly suitable for direct control by biosignals. This aspect is particularly important for future applications in prosthetics. At present, the drives are being used as a basis for developing forward-planning mobile robots within the Bielefeld Centre of Excellence CITEC.

The Ehrenring of the Association of German Engineers (VDI) is a prize for engineers up to the age of 40 years for exceptionally excellent technological and scientific work. The ring-giving ceremony will be held as part of the 2011 executive committee meeting. The award to Dr. Axel Schneider was accompanied by the following statement:

In his doctoral dissertation, Axel Schneider has developed a modern, bionic control concept for multi-legged walking machines with a decentralized design that makes it possible to apply it to a range of different robotics systems. The concept transfers research findings on positive feedback in animals when controlling the position of joints to technological systems, thus making it truly bionic. The elegance of Axel Schneider's approach is that it requires practically no prior knowledge about the geometry of the manipulator or robot. This can facilitate the control of multiply segmented bodies without explicitly having to solve the redundancy problem. Moreover, it improves the transferability and adjustment to a novel body geometry.