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At Hannover Messe, KUKA Focuses on Their Innovation Award

At Hannover Messe, KUKA Focuses on Their Innovation Award
KUKA is back in Hannover Messe and they are holding their Innovation Award 2024, "Robots for the People". (Credit: KUKA)

KUKA is back in Hannover Messe and they are holding their Innovation Award 2024, “Robots for the People”. We contacted Volker Schmirgel, Vice President Technology & Innovation Center at KUKA to learn more about this award.

KUKA is back in Hannover. According to Volker Schmirgel Vice President Technology & Innovation Center at KUKA,

“We are delighted to be back at the Hannover Messe, albeit on a smaller scale.”

Indeed, this year, KUKA’s focus is on innovation, research and young talents. They are exclusively represented at the fair with the finalists of the KUKA Innovation Award 2024, an AI showcase at Microsoft and the “Follow the Twin” challenge of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance.

If for this year’s edition of Hannover Messe, the group only focuses on their Innovation Award, last month, at the French Global Industrie tradeshow, they showcased their new AMR, KMP 1500P.


We contacted Volker Schmirgel, Vice President Technology & Innovation Center at KUKA to get his insights on their award and the role of AI in robotics.

What is the focus of the KUKA Innovation Award 2024?

Volker Schmirgel: “The motto of the current round of the KUKA Innovation Award is “Robots for the People”. It calls for creativity in the field of robotics for craft and SMEs. Participants were invited to submit creative and innovative ideas relating to collaborative robotics for small and medium-sized enterprises. And the ideas of the three final teams, which revolved around robotics for bakeries, bending processes and clothing companies, convinced the jury.” 

How does AI play a role in the robotics sector?

Volker Schmirgel: AI is playing an increasingly important role in robotics and robotics research, and therefore naturally also in the Innovation Award. Last year, for example, an Italian research team won with an innovative concept for intuitive automation with robotics using AI. The concept enabled unskilled operators to instruct the robot for a new task and generalize it to unknown situations.”

What problems should proposed solutions address?

Volker Schmirgel: “The Innovation Award 2024 focuses on the questions of what challenges robots can solve in craft businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises. What new interactive applications are possible? How can robotics and automation contribute to the transformation of these areas and help solve challenges such as the shortage of skilled workers and rising costs? The participants took a closer look at these questions.“

What hardware and software resources are provided to participants?

Volker Schmirgel: “KUKA provides the finalists with a KUKA robot and optional additional hardware, such as a vision system from Roboception, free of charge for the duration of the competition. For the Innovation Award 2024, the final teams have received a sensitive KUKA Cobot LBR iisy.  In addition, the finalists receive free training and coaching throughout the competition.”

For the Innovation Award 2024, the final teams have received a sensitive KUKA Cobot LBR iisy. (Credit: KUKA)

What recognition and rewards are offered to winners?

Volker Schmirgel: “The finalists present their concepts at a major international trade fair to an international audience, directly at the KUKA booth. In the past, these fairs have been the Hannover Messe, MEDICA or automatica. The finalists of the Innovation Award 2024 will present their concepts at the Hannover Messe. KUKA covers the costs and the professional design of the trade fair appearance, as well as all marketing measures and accompanies the presentation of the finalists during the fair. On the penultimate day, the jury will then announce the winner of the competition directly at the booth and the winning team receives €20,000. The jury consists of renowned professors from the field of robotics, experts from the industry and an editor from one of the world’s leading magazines for engineers. This exchange and contact are often a springboard for further projects or a start-up.”

Is commercialization a consideration for system concepts?

Volker Schmirgel: “A possible commercialization is an important requirement for the concepts submitted. Concepts should be broadly applicable and by no means limited to a purely engineering approach to solving a specific use case. Participants from science, research and industry are invited to present concepts that could lead to commercialization or are already on the verge of commercialization.”

How does the KUKA Innovation Award contribute to the advancement of robotics research?

Volker Schmirgel: “As a global leader in the field of robot-based automation, KUKA maintains close cooperation with universities and R&D partners worldwide on various scientific and technical topics. To intensify this collaboration, KUKA launched the Innovation Award in 2014. The competition aims to accelerate the pace of innovation in the field of robot-based automation and to improve the transfer of technology from research to industry. Thanks to the KUKA hardware available to the teams, as well as the coaching and intensive exchange with our experts, the award participants can turn theoretical ideas into innovative and practical concepts and discuss them with a broad specialist audience at the trade fair.”

Are there any success stories from previous KUKA Innovation Award winners?

Volker Schmirgel: “Yes, there are several success stories, for example: a team from Denmark won the Robotics in Healthcare Challenge in 2022. The team, the Danish medical device developer ROPCA ApS, a spin-off from the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), has now brought the robot-based medical device ARTHUR into use in hospitals in collaboration with KUKA. It is based on the KUKA lightweight robot LBR Med and supports the early diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.”

KUKA will be present at Hannover Messe, Hall 5, Stand D12.