A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand pictures – and an interactive simulation is worth a thousand videos. People need to see, experience, touch and learn things in order to understand them in the long term. To exaggerate, this is what is special and innovative about the concept of the Virtual Robotics Lab. Using high-quality visualizations and interactive simulations, it enables “hands-on experiments” for Industrie 4.0 technologies and systems in real time, interactively and yet safely, self-controlled at any time and any place, without special hardware and end devices. Here, the Virtual Robotics Lab covers a wide range of applications. Every student gets (virtually) his own sensor, his own production plant, his own car, his own service robot, his own house – or for additional inspiration – his own satellite or exploration rover. Digital twins and innovative simulation technology make this possible. The result motivates students to first learn individual aspects by means of “learning by doing” using concrete learning scenarios. These are then applied – often in parallel or directly afterwards – in complex systems, so that the interaction of individual approaches and solution modules also becomes comprehensible.
Issues and competence associated with Industry 4.0 represent a major challenge for students of electrical engineering and information technology. The field of electronics/electrical engineering itself is well covered by a wide range of specialist knowledge from different areas of study. In contrast, topics from mechanical engineering are often foreign and not very accessible. Tasks from computer science/information technology gain a special complexity due to the fact that they have to be applied to mechanical systems by means of suitable electrotechnical hardware.
The requirements of today’s systems can usually only be mapped by a combination of modern approaches of modern hardware combined with modeling, simulation and artificial intelligence (AI). This is particularly evident in robotics, which requires advanced expertise in areas such as kinematics/dynamics, sensors/actuators, manufacturing methods and processes, human-machine systems engineering, observation/control/networking of complex mechatronic systems, and Big Data and AI. Theoretical principles can be comprehended and skills in individual subject areas can be built up by performing calculations in the exercises. However, it quickly becomes clear that there is a lack of practical relevance and that the potential uses and application constraints remain unclear. Industry 4.0, and robotics in particular, has the great advantage that developers are “rewarded” with “visible and tangible” results.
This is precisely the starting point of the Virtual Robotics Lab, which is intended to provide master’s students in all six majors, as well as lecturers, with a virtual experimentation platform with which the diverse but often abstract technical aspects of Industry 4.0 can be (virtually) experienced, tried out and touched using practical examples. The basis for this are application-oriented example scenarios that are created by networking the highly detailed digital twins involved – the teaching/learning platform for Industrie 4.0 is thus implemented with Industrie 4.0 technologies. The platform is intended to promote understanding of both the fundamental aspects, the constraints and the possibilities of connecting solutions as well as the analysis, evaluation and optimization of the behavior of the overall system resulting from their interconnection.
The Virtual Robotics Lab is thus intended to increase individual academic success through purposeful, practical examples that promote the understanding of partial aspects and overall contexts. In addition, the Virtual Robotics Lab is intended to increase student motivation through a playful approach to complex topics via high-quality virtual learning scenarios, to increase the attractiveness of teaching and engineering, to enable faster and more robust achievement of learning objectives, and to contribute to greater student independence.