Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Spotlight on... -

here is some­thing un­canny about the way this dog-like ro­bot moves – its skele­tal frame whirs loudly as it marches on the spot, then moves side to side, and around in a cir­cle in a strange dance. Built by a team in the Robotic Sys­tems Lab at the Swiss Fed­eral In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (ETH Zurich), as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Marco Hut­ter says the “ANY­mal” is his new­est cre­ation.

Not only can it run but climb, crouch and jump. “We wanted to make some­thing that was op­ti­mal from a ro­bot­ics point of view,” he says.“We put springs in all the joints so we can use it in all sorts of en­vi­ron­ments.”As part of a pilot project, the ANY­mal has been put to work on off­shore oil and gas plat­forms where it can go about in­spec­tion tasks (of­ten dan­ger­ous for hu­mans) com­pletely au­tonomously thanks to laser sen­sors and cam­eras.

I ask how it com­pares with the ro­bot that was sent to Mars.“In gen­eral, space tech­nol­ogy is very old,” says Hut­ter, walk­ing me down the cor­ri­dor and point­ing to a dusty old unit on cater­pil­lar tracks.“This was part of a study we were do­ing for the Eu­ro­pean Space Agency. But wheels are bor­ing – legs are the fu­ture.”


Founded in 1854, the ETH is Switzer­land’s an­swer to MIT. Ranked one of the best univer­si­ties in the world, more than 20 No­bel Prizes have been awarded to its alumni over the years, in­clud­ing Al­bert Ein­stein in 1921. To­day it has 20,000 stu­dents and an an­nual bud­get of Sfr 1.7 bil­lion (£1.4 bil­lion), funded by tax­pay­ers.“That is part of the rea­son the ETH is the best,” says pro­fes­sor Peter Seitz, a “sherpa” from its In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship Lab (IE Lab).

In a ware­house on the Science City cam­pus, a short drive north-west of the old town, ar­chi­tects are us­ing gi­ant me­chan­i­cal arms to ex­plore new con­struc­tion tech­niques that em­ploy noth­ing more than loops of yarn and peb­bles, for ex­am­ple, or 3D printed con­crete. Up­stairs is the Arch Tech Lab, a vast, light-filled space with an un­du­lat­ing roof of 48,000 wooden beams that was built en­tirely by a sin­gle gantry ro­bot. Alek­san­dra Anna Apoli­narska, an ar­chi­tect in the Gra­mazio Kohler Re­search Lab at the ETH Zurich, says the days of mass pro­duc­tion are be­hind us.“We think it is time for mass cus­tomi­sa­tion.”

From self-driv­ing cars to aug­mented re­al­ity, the ETH is forg­ing a new to­mor­row in myr­iad ways. And with the help of Seitz’s IE Lab, stu­dents have the op­por­tu­nity to take ideas from the re­search stage to mar­ket. Be­tween 1996 and 2016, 355 spinoff com­pa­nies have been founded at the ETH, a num­ber of which have been in the field of ro­bot­ics.

Ver­ity Stu­dios, for ex­am­ple, de­signs mag­i­cal quad­copter drones that are be­ing used in Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour show on Broad­way, while Wing­tra builds au­ton­o­mous fixed-wing planes that take off and land like he­li­copters, and can be used for any­thing from film­ing to wildlife pro­tec­tion. Close to the ETH, Dis­ney has a re­search lab that opened in 2010, and is putting its ef­forts into video of the fu­ture. In Oer­likon is the HQ of es­tab­lished in­dus­trial ro­bot­ics gi­ant ABB. It’s no won­der that Chris An­der­son, CEO of 3D Ro­bot­ics and for­mer editor-in-chief of Wired, has dubbed Zurich “the Sil­i­con Val­ley of Ro­bot­ics”.


In 2016, Switzer­land was ranked first in Cor­nell Univer­sity’s Global In­no­va­tion In­dex, and Zurich came se­cond in the Mercer Qual­ity of Liv­ing sur­vey, sig­nif­i­cantly ahead of San Fran­cisco (28th po­si­tion).

Un­sur­pris­ingly, over the decades, the ETH has pro­vided a com­pelling rea­son for big com­pa­nies to

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