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Greater Zurich Area – the Silicon Valley of Robotics

Switzerland is happy to be known as the Silicon Valley of Robotics. The Zurich economic area contributes considerably to this peak position: Its universities and technology companies belong among the world’s leaders in information science, computer vision, sensor technology and artificial intelligence. Switzerland’s traditional strengths in the fields of mechanical engineering and precision goods, known among others from the watch industry, contribute to this standing. What success story about your robotics company do you want to write from the Greater Zurich Area?

What was once known only in science fiction films is today’s reality. The talk is about artificial intelligence and robots that study habits, help with urban challenges and show the possibilities of digital transformation. There is a revolution at the door in all sectors that is at least just as important as the invention of the steam engine, electricity and the car. In the Greater Zurich Area, robots and artificial intelligence are advancing. Industrial robots are already changing the economy and business for good: It’s now possible to stand up from the sofa using an exoskeleton or to hang clothes using an arm prosthetic. Mobile robots support people in rescue efforts, simulate human-robot interactions, let wishes and even dreams become real like flying with a drone. Even portable robots are flexible and useable exactly when needed. In robotics, machines are autonomous today in the assembly of small parts, tomorrow somewhere else as the assistant to a coworker. In Greater Zurich, robots from F&P Robotics already support personnel in nursing homes and care facilities. It’s possible that Switzerland is driving the fourth socioeconomic revolution of the world.

Robotics are deeply rooted in Swiss tradition

Machine construction, micro technology, optics and watchmaking are long traditions and strengths of Switzerland. That’s why robotics is deeply rooted in the Greater Zurich Area. The tradition for precision work is receiving a modern fresh look in robotics. Robotics research is even a state affair: Since 2010, robotics has been a national research focal point of the Swiss National Research Fund and for years, Switzerland and the Zurich economic region have held spots in international rankings with regard to ability to recruit talent, innovative force and competitiveness.

Start-ups in the area of robotics research find the ideal foundation in the Zurich economic region where robotics is concerned: While other countries are still researching, Zurich is already involved in action. Among those involved are ANYbotics, FemtoTools, Ophthorobotics, Magnetbotix, Fotokite, Distran, Aerotain, Wingtra Verity Studios, Reha-Stim Medtec, QualySense, Nomoko, and embotech.

Greater Zurich – the Silicon Valley of Robotics

Swiss universities are leaders in robotic research. The tech giants are aware of this. Multinational corporations like Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook battle for the best talent from the Swiss Confederation Technical Universities ETHZ and EPFL in Zurich and Lausanne. Robotics was always native here, because the construction of motors, gear wheels and watches were at home here. That was the beginning of robotics. Nowadays, ETH is educating as many students and doctoral candidates in robotics as the top colleges in the Bay Area of California based on estimates by Roland Siegward, Director of the Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL) at ETH. ASL develops machines, robots and drones that can see and learn to remember. This allows them to move independently and freely in the world. For example, a walking robot was developed at ETHZ for extreme conditions. This robot goes where it is too dangerous for people or where the work conditions are very uncomfortable. The Computer Vision research team at ETH, under Professor Marc Pollefeys, developed software and sensors for robots and cameras that then work together with the team on computer graphics. Due to these closely intertwined professorships, dozens graduate from the university every year as robotic and computer vision experts or doctorates thus coming available to the market as experts. A win for all involved: In Zurich, companies find technical experts and ETH students know that they no longer have to emigrate to the USA to apply their knowledge. And students from all over the world apply to ETH because they know that Facebook, Google and Co. are in Zurich and finance doctoral candidates.

In addition, Google is a founding member of digitalswitzerland, an organization that wants to position Switzerland as the international digital hub. The tech giants know to appreciate the advantages of Switzerland. At the Zurich office, Google is developing the technology platform Tango, which allows devices like Smartphones to find their way in areas without GPS, and the Disney Research Lab is developing numerous animation methods that will then be used on the silver screen.
 

ETH as the lynchpin of robotics

ETH is becoming the lynchpin of the Zurich robotics cluster: The start-up Aerotain is working on a project named Skye airship drones for Disney and has developed it further for the entertainment sector. These can fly over a stadium and take live pictures of the audience. Other multinational companies are researching associated fields in the Zurich economic region: In addition to Disney and Google, there are Amazon, Samsung, Bosch and Oracle.

Under the concept of “Connecting man and technology” ETH is researching barrier-free assistance robots that should simplify everyday life for people with physical disabilities. With this backdrop, ETH Zurich, under the direction of Robert Riener, Professor of sensomotory systems, has brought to life a non-profit project that promotes both research and barrier-free living: Cybathlon. Cybathlon is a competition in which people with handicaps compete against each other to complete everyday tasks using modern technical assistance systems. The first worldwide Cybathlon under the management of EHT in 2016 launched as sold out; teams from 25 countries came and received awesome feedback. The organizational team at ETH decided to hold another Cybathlon in 2020. Visitors can look forward to muscle stimulation, an arm prosthetic par course, leg prosthetic par course, exoskeleton par course, virtual races with thought control as well as a wheelchair par course.

In addition to the two Swiss technical universities, under the guidance of Dr. Honegger, ZHAW is making a name for itself with the “Competence Center for Robotics & Automation”. Focal points here are “Cobots,” “Embedded robotics software", and “autonomous systems”.

Optimal financing options 

Another bonus point for companies in the Greater Zurich Area is the pragmatic regulation of the association, innovative researchers and a good network of multinational companies. The outstanding conditions for financing options for high-tech companies with initiatives such as Innosuisse, Venture Kick or ZKB Funds are appealing. One example from robotics is the company SCEWO. SCEWO is developing smart technologies using futuristic design and foolproof operation like in the SCEWO Bro, a wheelchair that can climb and descend stairs. Thanks to the financing and support from the ETH Foundation and others, a product is being developed at a rapid pace that places customer needs at the forefront and provides many users with an awesome attitude toward life.

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