Lithuanian Education, Innovation Are Roots of Robotics Appeal

In the News
September 15, 2016

The Lithuanian education system turns out an impressive number of engineers, helping to make the Baltic nation attractive to outside investment. Lithuania’s business environment has also helped it nurture robotics startups and international partnerships.

Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) is the center of Santaka Valley, one of five “research valleys” for Lithuanian education and research. It specializes in engineering and manufacturing, including robotics. Vilnius, the capital, is better known for financial technology.

KTU’s Electrical and Engineering department offers bachelor’s degrees in automation and control and in robotics. The university also has eight laboratories for research and development sponsored by multinationals including Siemens AG, Texas Instruments Inc., and Rockwell Automation Inc.

Seventy percent of KTU’s R&D is tied to business contracts, said Robertas Armonaitis, head of the cluster at the National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre at KTU. Areas of research include materials testing, 3D printing, lasers, and microelectromechanical systems.

These technologies are directly applicable to security, smart homes and smart cities, and the Internet of Things, Armonaitis told Robotics Business Review. One bachelor’s project involved a 3D-printed car.

Successful local startups include automation and electric vehicle maker Elinta Cos. and automated guided vehicle (AGV) supplier Rubedo Sistemos UAB.

European egg-handling experts

The Lithuanian education system has led to competitive success. This week, three graduate students from KTU won the final Team Design award in the European BEST Engineering Competition. The Board of European Students of Technology (BEST) runs the annual contest.

The competition required teams to design a system to convey and pack fragile goods, in this case an egg.

“This was a really challenging task,” said Dainius Stankevičius, a graduating student and employee at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. “Only three teams out of 15 could pack at least one box, and only one of those boxes has survived a free-falling test saving the egg.”

The team also had to build a device to dig up a mine, move it, and destroy it. Adding to the challenge was a limit on resources, both in (virtual) price and in off-the-shelf components.

Among the robots in KTU’s labs are a YuMi collaborative robot from ABB AG and a humanoid Nao from SoftBank Robotics Corp. (formerly Aldebaran SA).

The university is developing six devices for osteopathic training and has also developed piezomechanical systems and real-time data analytics and controls.

One reason for the focus of Lithuanian education is that it was the biggest center for research in the Soviet Union, said Vytautas Ostaševičius, director of the Institute of Mechatronics at KTU. Since then, the country has received help in the form of structural support from the EU, as well as Horizon 2020 scientific funding.

Now, Lithuanians are working on projects such as the EU’s Framework 7 research into nanosurfaces and digital fingerprinting with partners in Ireland and France.

In other international partnerships, KTU last year signed a scientific agreement with Japan. It is also working with Polish researchers in materials science.

Lithuanian education and industry are still catching up, Ostaševičius acknowledged. But because the country a latecomer, it doesn’t have the legacy infrastructure, and its graduates are cutting-edge, he said.

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