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Knowledge transfer from the North Sea to the nursing home

The Top Research Centre Mechatronics wants to transfer technology from the oil industry to new areas. This may boost everything from construction to healthcare in the years to come.

Mechatronics is a term that may sound unfamiliar, but it is actually just a contraction of the words ‘mechanics’ and ‘electronics.’ It includes disciplines like machine design, industrial IT, intelligent machine monitoring and robotics.

The intersection of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and automation has been called the new industrial revolution. Through extensive cooperation with industry, UiA has been a trailblazer for mechatronics in Norway. The research carried out by the university in partnership with the oil industry has caught international attention. 

These are the uses of the research

  • Welfare technology: Systems which allows older people or people in need of care or assistance to live at home for longer. This may be anything from smarthomes with voice-activated assistants, robots and smart appliances doing chores, to active prosthetics and wheelchairs.
  • Recycling: It is both environmentally sound and cost-effective to recycle cobalt and lithium from electric car batteries. So far little has been done to automate these processes.
  • Flexible production: In the future the industry needs to adopt flexible and tailored manufacturing. Automation will demand everything from intelligent robots to systems to monitor and correct mistakes.
  • Construction: The global trend tends towards digitalisation and robotic automation, and the centre wants to make Norway a leader in the field.
  • Offshore mechatronics: There is increased interest in offshore industries such as wind power, ocean farming and underwater mining. These industries have many of the same challenges as the oil and gas industry, and the centre will contribute with knowledge transfer. 

“Mechatronics is independent of sectors. We want to use what we have developed in partnership with the offshore oil and gas industry to boost industry on land. Both industry and public sector can benefit from the use of mechatronics”, Professor Kjell G. Robbersmyr, head of UiA’s Top Research Centre Mechatronics says.

UiA was the first educational institution in Norway to offer bachelor and master programmes in mechatronics. Now, the university also offers PhD degrees in the field.

From hoisting cranes to prosthetic legs

“The transfer value from offshore mechatronics to the healthcare industry, for example, is great. The whole point is to make this technology useful in broader areas,” Robbersmyr says. 

Motion lab is one of three laboratories at the new top research centre. The two others are the Mechatronics lab and the Condition Monitoring lab. The Motion lab contains platform robots, among other things, which simulate a movable surface. These are normally used to simulate ships in rough seas.

Priority research centres at UiA

Since 2019, UiA has six priority research centres:

  • Centre for Coastal Research (CCR)
  • Centre for eHealth
  • The Mathematics Education Research Group Agder (MERGA)
  • Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR)
  • Centre for Lifecourse Nutrition
  • Top Research Centre Mechatronics

They are prioritised by the university based on past results and their ambitions for further development.

The centres should have national and international ambitions and work in accordance with the university’s strategy. When awarding priority research centre status, the university also emphasises external funding and gender balance.

Sondre Sanden Tørdal took a PhD in mechatronics at UiA in 2018. He had developed a technology for cranes on ships to enable stable handling of cargo even in bad weather conditions. Motion lab in the new top research centre will also be used to develop and test equipment of a completely different kind, for example aids and appliances for people who have impaired mobility. 

“This is a good example of research in cooperation with UiA being used as new products in the industry”, Tørdal says.

Research-driven innovation

Robbersmyr and his colleagues have developed software that allows them to remotely monitor machine operations. In such a way, research in intelligent machine monitoring can lead to safer operation of offshore wind turbines, among other things.

What makes the centre special, is that we have a range spanning from machine design to robotics and artificial intelligence. South Norway will be a beacon in mechatronics, both nationally and internationally”, Robbersmyr says.