Mechatronics is the utmost integration of mechanics, electronics, and information technology up to “intelligent mechanisms” and robots which interact with their environment. Here, the “integral” design optimization and 3D simulation of such systems and components before they are built plays a decisive role. Accordingly, research carried out in the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics is based on the interdisciplinary (virtual) design, computer-aided optimisation and simulation, as well as implementation of complex mechatronic systems and man-machine interfaces. The institute is regarded as one of the worldwide leading institutions in the field of robotics.
Especially in the field of astronautics the central aim is the development of innovative robot systems as far as future robonauts that should relieve the astronauts and in the long run also replace them. In 1993 the institute sent the first remote-controlled robot ROTEX into outer space with the space shuttle COLUMBIA, in 1999 it remotely programmed the Japanese ETS VII robot which was the first to fly freely in the universe and is now planning to test the joints of its latest lightweight robot generation on the space station by the end of 2004 and thus also demonstrate concepts of tele-presence. Together with the 4-finger artificial hands developed at the institute, the main components for the robonauts of the future likewise originate here.
In the field of aeronautics the institute (to some extent in close cooperation with the companies AIRBUS and LIEBHERR) concentrates on the design of flight controllers, e.g., for automatic landing, gust reduction, shimmy suppression, and increased comfort, but also on the optimisation of the energy consumption.
Vehicle technology in particular comprises the dynamic analyses of vehicle components and complete systems (e.g., for the prevention of skidding and tilting of commercial vehicles) but also the development of mechatronic components in the field of “drive-by-wire”. Thus the highly endowed HERMES Award, which was presented for the first time at the opening of the Hanover exhibition 2004, was awarded to the developers of the mechatronic DLR-Wedge Brake (innovative “brake-by-wire” concept).
Besides the mentioned aims “programmatically” anchored at the DLR the institute has also become known as a result of numerous job creating technology-transfers. The world-wide most popular 3D-man-machine-interface (Space Mouse/Space Ball), for instance, comes from the institute, and for the contribution towards the promotion of the leading German industrial robot manufacturer KUKA to third best in the world the European (EURON-) technology-transfer-award, announced for the first time, was awarded in 2004. Responsible for this were above all the results of the institute in the field of interdisciplinary dynamics modelling and optimisation as well as the so-called multi-target controller optimisation.
But the commitment of the institute has also gained much recognition in the field of medical technology. In 2003, for example, the “DLR-Heart” was awarded the “European Innovation Prize for Artificial Organs”, and because the first fully automatic laparascope (endosope) guidance for minimally invasive surgery succeeded already in 1995, the institute is now developing a minimally invasive surgery robotics system of the future on behalf of the medical technology industry.