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Robots as accelerators of inclusion: How technology can enable people with disabilities for more participation

Gütersloh, Germany – The use of the latest robot technology enables people with disabilities for more participation in working life: That is the goal of a joint project between wertkreis Gütersloh gGmbH, Rethink Robotics GmbH and the University of Duisburg-Essen. For the start of the project, Rethink Robotics handed over two Sawyer cobots to the vocational training department of the wertkreis Gütersloh and the chair for manufacturing technology at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The two collaborative robots (cobots) form the basis for the joint work in the area of "Inclusion 4.0 with collaborative systems". The use of robot technology and cobots is intended to open up better opportunities for people with disabilities in inclusion, education and participation by means of adapted work processes and new types of applications.

The cobots’ areas of application include the implementation of quality controls directly at the assembly workstation as well as the automated processing of production peaks. The aim of the cooperation is to develop systems that enable people with disabilities or people without the ability to express themselves to carry out complex work assignments independently. A prerequisite for using these systems is that they must be easy to program. Cobot Sawyer fulfills these requirements with its intuitive operation and programming as well as its flexibility in use and friendly design.

“The areas of application for collaborative robotics are very diverse,” explains Daniel Bunse, CEO of Rethink Robotics. “Cobots can take on supporting activities in the company that are repeated very often. The cobot thus assists people in the workflow and relieves them physically. "

Michael Buschsieweke, managing director of wertkreis Gütersloh gGmbH explains: “Exactly such digital forms of assistance are a future model for people with handicaps. Ideally, at some point they will be as natural as sight and walking aids. Simply a tool that enables people to participate in the labor market. We are pleased that with the Sawyer cobots we can introduce these techniques even better and strengthen competence and self-confidence in the context of use. "

"Using workshops for people with disabilities as incubators for new systems is an approach with which we have had good experiences in the past," says Holger Dander, project manager at the Department of Manufacturing Technology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. “In this environment, the focus must be placed on the human being so that the human-machine interaction works. Solutions that have proven themselves here can then be quickly and easily transferred to other areas of the working world."

The Gütersloh social service provider wertkreis has been committed to a paradigm shift in dealing with digital assistance technology in integration assistance for several years. For the development of the DIAZ system, the East Westphalian inclusion specialists were nominated for the inclusion award of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia this year.

The scientists at the Department of Manufacturing Technology at the University of Duisburg-Essen have been working for several years on the question of how collaborative robotics can be integrated into work processes. In 2018 they were awarded the inclusion price of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

From left to right:Volker Miegel (HAHN Group), Daniel Bunse (Rethink Robotics), Hannes Gruschinski (Rethink Robotics), Anja Große-Coosmann (wertkreis Gütersloh gGmbH), Carolin Reckmeyer (wertkreis Gütersloh gGmbH), Patrick Adler (Universität Duisburg-Essen), Rudolf Stüker (wertkreis Gütersloh gGmbH), Holger Dander (Universität Duisburg-Essen), Jannik Stach (Universität Duisburg-Essen)Photography by Lina Nikelowski