Interview with Minna Lanz, coordinator of TRINITY project

Feb 28, 2022

We interviewed Minna Lanz, coordinator for TRINITY. The main objective of TRINITY is to create a network of multidisciplinary and synergistic local digital innovation hubs (DIHs) composed of research centers, companies, and university groups that cover a wide range of topics that can contribute to agile production: advanced robotics as the driving force and digital tools, data privacy and cyber security technologies to support the introduction of advanced robotic systems in the production processes.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I received a doctoral degree (D.Sc) in 2010 from mechanical engineering. Currently, I work as a full professor at Tampere University focusing on Production Systems and Technologies. My research interests are in Manufacturing ICT solutions, Semantic modeling of manufacturing systems, and industrial robotics, especially in Human-Robot collaboration. Aside from the research work, my interests have been in public-private partnerships, financial instruments for SMEs and collaboration in EC-funded projects. I am a member of the Finnish Robotics Association, EFFRA, ManuFuture, Vanguard Initiative and euRobotics, and actively contribute to Visions and Strategic Research and Innovation roadmaps originating from these networks. I have published over 100 scientific articles, coordinated over 15 national and international R&D projects and guided more than 150 MSc theses.

Which technology areas will have the biggest impact in the coming years? Why?

The human-robot collaboration will have rather good development potential. In short term topics such as 1) Intuitive and multi-modal programming environment: workers do not need prior in-depth knowledge of the system, 2) Zero-programming: ideally, the workers can work with the robots via gestures, voice commands, and other forms of natural input without the need of coding, 3) Immersive collaboration: with the help of different devices, e.g. screens, goggles, wearable displays, the worker scan collaborate with the robots with actively engaged senses and 4) Context/situation dependency: the system should be capable of interleaving autonomous human with robot decisions based on trustworthy inputs from on-site sensors and monitors inspecting both humans and robots.

Also, the utilization of Digital Twins for remote programming, virtual commissioning and remote operation is emerging.

What is the role of DIHs in the accelerating robotics innovations of the EU? How can this role be strengthened?

The DIHs should create a community of practices where the system developers and users would be able to meet and discuss relevant topics. The DIHs are sort of idea incubators as well offering neutral ground for different levels of interaction and in some cases innovation.

What are the key elements which robotics Digital Innovation Hubs should use to support the digitalization of their local ecosystems?

I believe that the key element to be used for the support of the digitalization of the local ecosystems is the support in finding funding for collaboration.

Which policies should the robotics DIHs pay attention to in the coming years?

In the coming years, the robotics DIHs should pay attention to Machine Directive and AI (especially when these are seemingly combined in the draft version in such a manner that it will be exceedingly difficult for system integrators to develop systems and highly expensive for companies, SMEs in particular, to implement such robotics systems.

What are some future funding opportunities for the robotics DIHs?

I think there will be bits and pieces from here and there.

Please, name a few challenges and opportunities of robotics DIHs in Europe?

As an example, funding is on a project basis and does not support continuous interaction and development.

What are the biggest challenges that your SMEs have (including COVID-19) and how do you help them to address it?

The collaboration is still between humans, as it is based on trust. The COVID situation is an extremely difficult environment to collaborate in. The current digital tools do not support interaction and innovation.

How do you support SMEs and your industry in general in the fight against COVID-19? 

We support SMEs and the industry in general by offering online education and technology updates. We also offer access to the laboratories for smaller groups. The funding from TRINITY was one tool of course.

Find out more about TRINITY here and on their social media platforms.