Press release #Industry 4.0

Robotics for people with disabilities

Research project conducted by Bosch, Fraunhofer, and ISAK promotes inclusion

  • Robots take on monotonous and arduous tasks
  • Human-machine collaboration without a safety barrier
  • Learning from severely disabled people
Dennis Christmann

Dennis Christmann >

Stuttgart, Germany – Robots are well on the way to becoming ubiquitous in manufacturing, where they are having an impact on the work environment and on jobs themselves. But what does this new world of work look like? How does it divide work up between humans and machines? And how might robots help create attractive jobs for people with disabilities so they can be participate in the workforce? AQUIAS, a project conducted by Robert Bosch GmbH, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Industrial Engineering IAO and for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, and ISAK GmbH offers some answers. The project’s name is derived from its full title in German: work quality through tailored work-sharing between service robots and manufacturing workers with or without severe disabilities. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

In the AQUIAS project, we want to learn from severely disabled workers how to improve human-machine interactions.

Wolfgang Pomrehn, product manager for APAS assistance systems at Bosch

Making work more attractive

The initiators of AQUIAS are taking a remarkable approach: they have deployed APAS, Bosch’s automated production assistant, at ISAK GmbH – a company that employs people with a variety of severe disabilities, some of whom have an extremely limited capacity for work. APAS is used in the assembly process for sanitary fixtures. Previously, a worker had to operate a hand-lever press up to 8,000 times a day to press intricate parts together, but now the robot has taken on this monotonous and physically demanding task. This eases the burden on workers and lets them focus on the final quality control.

One outcome of this project has been to improve the quality of work: with strenuous tasks falling away, there is more space for higher-quality tasks and for direct person-to-person communication. “What we’ve done is to have robots take on only those tasks that are physically demanding for people. All other work tasks, such as work-step preparation or quality control, are still performed by people, which ensures that their jobs are full of variety,” says David Kremer of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, who is coordinating the project. This gives disabled people job prospects and the opportunity to participate in modern manufacturing.

Tailoring robotics solutions to individual needs

To enable ISAK GmbH to implement this pioneering robotics technology, Bosch adjusted the workplace to suit the manufacturing environment and the various needs of the workforce. This called for a reconfiguration of the interfaces between humans and machines. Now the robot can flexibly adjust to different table heights and the sensor skin means there is no need for a safety barrier: if a worker comes too close, APAS automatically stops without any contact at all. This makes it possible to safely hand over workpieces and avoid collisions.

Learning from severely disabled workers

“In the AQUIAS project, we want to learn from severely disabled workers how to improve human-machine interactions. A production assistant needs to meet a wide variety of requirements that are often different than the norm. That’s why we develop tailored solutions and are constantly expanding the spectrum of situations and tasks that APAS can support,” says Wolfgang Pomrehn, product manager for APAS assistance systems at Bosch. Bosch takes the project results and derives measures from them for further improving the deployment of robots in production and logistics. The company plans to set up workplaces in its Blaichach (Allgäu) plant for workers with and without disabilities. There the focus will be on how to handle heavy aluminum blocks for automotive manufacturing that need to be moved around under the microscope for quality inspections.

About APAS

As part of Bosch’s Industry 4.0 concept, automated production assistants such as APAS allow humans and machines to work safely side by side. At present, some 20 Bosch plants have deployed the collaborative robot in shift work around the clock. Prominent companies in the automotive industry, electronics, and control and automation technology are also putting APAS to good use in their manufacturing.

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About Bosch

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 428,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2023). According to preliminary figures, the company generated sales of 91.6 billion euros in 2023. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. As a leading IoT provider, Bosch offers innovative solutions for smart homes, Industry 4.0, and connected mobility. Bosch is pursuing a vision of mobility that is sustainable, safe, and exciting. It uses its expertise in sensor technology, software, and services, as well as its own IoT cloud, to offer its customers connected, cross-domain solutions from a single source. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to facilitate connected living with products and solutions that either contain artificial intelligence (AI) or have been developed or manufactured with its help. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.” The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 470 subsidiary and regional companies in over 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing, engineering, and sales network covers nearly every country in the world. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. At 136 locations across the globe, Bosch employs some 90,000 associates in research and development, of which roughly 48,000 are software engineers.

The company was set up in Stuttgart in 1886 by Robert Bosch (1861–1942) as “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering.” The special ownership structure of Robert Bosch GmbH guarantees the entrepreneurial freedom of the Bosch Group, making it possible for the company to plan over the long term and to undertake significant upfront investments in the safeguarding of its future. Ninety-four percent of the share capital of Robert Bosch GmbH is held by Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, a charitable foundation. The remaining shares are held by Robert Bosch GmbH and by a corporation owned by the Bosch family. The majority of voting rights are held by Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG, an industrial trust. The entrepreneurial ownership functions are carried out by the trust.

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