Henrik Hautop Lund is a full professor at at the Technical University of Denmark and the director of the spin-off company, Entertainment Robotics. At the age of 30, he was selected as one of the country’s youngest full professors in 2000. Since then, he has won the world championship in robot soccer, presented his robot advancements to Japan’s Emperor, and had a significant worldwide effect with his revolutionary developments in both academics and industry for the benefit of society.
Henrik was granted a full professorship at a very young age and decided to put his efforts and those of his research group into creating a positive impact on society with scientific and engineering developments. He says, “If I were to be a professor for the next 40 years, it was important for me to have a vision of seeing our results creating a real impact on people’s lives—to create a strong core of unique research, which could then lead the way to providing impact in society around the globe.”
Lund’s research team develops playware in the form of intelligent hardware and software that provides play and fun experiences for users of all ages by utilizing robotics and modern artificial intelligence (AI). This emphasis on entertaining robotic technology is rather unusual, and over three decades of effort with this research focus has earned Professor Henrik Hautop Lund and his research group a world-leading position. “I am particularly proud to see many of my students and assistants growing to exploit what they have learned in many different sectors,” says Lund. “They have really taken the insight into creating user-friendly, small and simple robots to the next level”.
Professor Henrik Hautop Lund was honored by the international research community with the Award for Global Impact and Long-Term Service to the Artificial Life and Robotics Community at the 27th International Conference on Artificial Life and Robotics in January 2022, and he was named the Most Outstanding Healthcare Innovator in the World two years ago at the Global Awards.
Seeing Robotics as Next Disruption
Surprisingly, the continued emphasis on fun robotics research has resulted in an astounding influence on a wide range of societal areas. And it has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. A prominent example is Universal Robots, which manufactures industrial robots for manufacturing. Universal Robots, which began as a spin-off by three former students and research assistants from Lund’s research group, has grown to become one of the world’s largest robotics enterprises. “They started the Universal Robots company as a spin-off after we had a research project on developing flexible robots for the food industry,” says Professor Henrik Hautop Lund. “After I founded the RoboCluster industrial cluster for robotics, I initiated that project on flexible robots for the food industry to show how we could bring knowledge on adaptively from our previous research on playful, adaptive robots to the other area of industrial production in the food industry.” In their work on fun robots, for example, in conjunction with the LEGO business on the creation of the LEGO Mindstorms robots, Lund and his colleagues have focused on producing user-friendly and simple robots. “It is clear that our work over years together with the LEGO Company allowed us to understand better how to create simple robotic systems that anybody could understand how to program and guide to exhibit desired, task-fulfilling behaviors.”
The three assistants took this further in their spin-off company by using this knowledge to create robots for industrial production.
“The brilliance of them was to exploit their knowledge to create an industrial robot that was simple, safe, user-friendly, and easy to instruct. These were the principles we had learned through years of experimentation with LEGO robots and other simple robots for children in real life implementations with the children. In Universal Robots, they exploited this to the full extent and thereby created a novel type of robotic arm that would revolutionize the global market. Before, industrial robots were big, unsafe, hard to program and needed engineers to program, while the Universal Robots showed that industrial robots could be small, safe, user-friendly and easy for anybody to instruct.”
A few years ago, the Universal Robots was sold to Teradyne for around $300 million USD.
Another example of the exploitation of playful robotics research is the Shape Roboticscompany, which produces the Fable modular robot kits for schools. “In this case, my assistants and Ph.D. students used the development in our Modular Playware project to develop a revolutionary modular robotic system for the educational sector. The Fable modular robotic system is fantastic in allowing school pupils to easily assemble and program any kind of robot simply by clicking the robotic modules together,” says Professor Henrik Hautop Lund. The Shape Robotics Company is currently the main provider for the first of 1175 SmartLabs valued at 64 million USD in Romania as part of the EU funded project, PNRR – “Recovery and Resilience Plan”.
Professor Henrik Hautop Lund is well-known in the medical field for inventing and developing the award-winning Moto Tiles (www.moto-tiles.com). These are yet another fantastic example of a spin-off from playware research. Like the Fable robots, this is a modular system, but the Moto Tiles are focused on mediating physical play in the health sector.
Doctors, therapists, and caregivers are creating an alternative form of physical training with Professor Henrik Hautop Lund’s ingenious Moto Tiles, allowing patients and seniors to break away from monotonous training programs and participate in an exercise that is fun and exciting, and thus more motivating. As Professor Henrik Hautop Lund explains, “as a playware technology, the Moto Tiles act as a play force which inspires and motivates people to enter into a play dynamic in which they enjoy themselves, forget about time and place, and simultaneously increase their skills – cognitive, physical, and social skills.”
Indeed, Moto Tiles are having a profound impact on people’s lives all across the world. After only a few weeks of enjoyable training on the Moto Tiles, seniors are physically tossing aside their walkers and canes, while patients recover faster from strokes and heart difficulties. Furthermore, Lund’s playware creation ensures that they are all smiling and having a great time while playing with the Moto Tiles during their recuperation.
The Moto Tiles kit includes 10 pressure-sensitive tiles as well as a tablet pre-loaded with games and physical workouts. These tiles, like modern LEGO bricks, are meant to fit together quickly and innovatively, and to be conveniently packed up and transported elsewhere. These tiles are ideal for younger children, since they come in a variety of colours and have an unchanging capacity to detect pressure. The 10 Moto Tiles are not limited to a single configuration. They might be organized in the shape of a horseshoe, a straight line, or a rectangular shape, depending on what works best for the user and the therapist. Moto Tiles, a spin-off from Lund’s playware research and development, is sold all over the world, including Senoh Mizuno in Japan, Kerry Medical in Hong Kong, and Yukin in Singapore.
He asserts, “You have to be courageous and bold to set out the visions for new science and engineering frontiers. At the same time, the real strength is in the persistency in believing and working on such a vision despite whatever challenges the local and global working environment may present you with. In the academic world, there is always fierce competition and local political agendas that may lure and distract leaders from the chosen core research direction, and this presents a real danger to creating and fostering a unique research and development direction. The unique, global research positions are achieved with a strong persistency in working on the chosen core research. That is the way to create a unique, global stronghold.”
Creating New Opportunities
As a result, Professor Henrik Hautop Lund conducts research using Moto Tiles with users all around the world, including Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. This can occur in unexpected areas, such as collaboration with children’s hospitals in Africa for children with cerebral palsy who are handicapped, or collaboration with home training in Colombia for the elderly who are challenged in their mobility. Professor Lund’s research helps patients and the elderly live better lives by presenting them with new options brought about by his technological research and development.
“It provides me with immense pleasure whenever I hear about the profound, positive impact that our invention has on people’s lives around the globe. When unfortunate children and patients can enjoy themselves and gain new physical and cognitive skills, and when seniors can stand up, walk, and perform their activities of daily living by themselves after playful training on our Moto Tiles, I realize that we have a responsibility to make our technology useful and used in society”, says Professor Henrik Hautop Lund. “In this way, we can help society in a positive way”.
Professor Henrik Hautop Lund is a true innovation leader to follow, and he concludes, “With the positive results we have obtained, we have an obligation to bring these kinds of research inventions into society in order to bring good to the people around the globe. We want to bring happiness to life.”