Ready Robots

ETH University, Zurich

Prof. Dr. Roland Siegwart, Head of the Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL) at world-renowned ETH Zürich, has a laboratory full of walking, running, swimming, climbing, flying, moving robots that will leave you bewitched and inspired.


This turtle-like robot provides first direct measurements on energy consumption for a flapping fin mechanism in robotics.

How can one describe the atmosphere and work at ETH’s ASL? The minute we walk through the door, a cabinet full of small robots and components catches our attention. Atop the other cabinets all throughout the hallway are more robots and pieces of robot in all shapes and sizes. Wheels, wings, metal bodies, wires, controllers, chargers and batteries are strewn throughout the laboratory. Where else can one meet more robots than humans? Flying, legged, urban, space and rescuing robots, service, swimming, inspection and edutainment robots are all alive and busy at ASL. We are even lucky enough to spot two robots, one affectionately called 'Tartaruga' (a turtle) and the other whose motion range replicates that of a cuttlefish and squid, and the famous YuMi, a two-armed robot given to ETH by ABB.


A quadrupedal robot designed for autonomous operation in challenging environments. Driven by special compliant and precisely torque controllable actuators, the system is capable of dynamic running and high-mobile climbing.

The applications and ramifications of ASL’s work are boundless, from a smartphone user motion application with Google Tango to autonomous parking and driving with Volkswagen, fixed wing flying platforms with Atlantic Solar and other industrial applications that bring improvements to daily life. Siegwart aims to create autonomous mobile robots that do the best job they can for specific application fields. Led by Roland Siegwart, Full Professor for Autonomous Systems at ETH since 2006 and Co-Director of the Wyss Translational Centre, Zürich, since 2015, (where he also held the position of Vice President Research and Corporate Relations from 2010 to 2014), ASL sits at an important crossroads in today’s international and innovative world. With a team of 40 talented and highly educated individuals pushing the envelope every day, diverse robots are born or built that will one day most certainly change our lives for the better.

Siegwart is a strong promoter of project-based learning in engineering education and sustainable industrial alliances for accelerating technology transfer and innovation. His research interests are in the design and control of robots and systems operating in complex and highly dynamic environments. Siegwart’s major goal is to find new ways to deal with uncertainties and enable the design of highly interactive and adaptive systems. Prominent examples are walking quadrupeds, personal and service robots, planetary exploration robots, autonomous micro-aircraft and driver assistant systems.


The omnidirectional and automonous drawing robot is able to play tictactoe with children. Thanks to its spherical wheels, it can move instantaneously all directions.

Each robot project has a perception, navigation and locomotion aspect. For perception with flying robots, ASL favours cameras, which act like eyes, over lasers, as they are cheaper and much lighter. The cameras are used to build a map of the environment that enables the robot to localise. Furthermore, a 3D representation of the local environment is used to calculate in real-time so that the robot can avoid collision and automatically plan its path. Planning an optimal path is, for a robot, quite complex and is itself an important research topic. In particular, the system’s design is key for applications: this is illustrated by the Wingtra flying robot, which combines helicopter movement for starting and landing with fixed-wing flying for efficiently travelling long distances.


A small (5.6 m) hand-launchable fixed-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that can stay airborne for up to 10 days continuously by employing solar-electric propulsion techniques and advanced flight control and navigation technology.

Siegwart is co-founder of multiple successful spinoff companies in robotics and related fields and has been (and remains) a board member of various Swiss institutions and foundations. This openness to diverse external partners and entities is fundamental to ASL’s research mentality and organisational structure. There are roughly 12 start-up offspring from the lab, in half of which Siegwart was a co-founder.


Fully autonomous operation for micro helicopters in cities or other dense environments requiring flying at low altitude or indoors (without GPS) to actively explore unknown environments while avoiding collisions and creating maps. The goal is the capabitlity of coordinated flight in small swarms.

ASL has partnerships with innovation leaders such as Google, Disney Research Zurich, Bosch, Volkswagen, ABB and Hexagon Leica. The spin-off companies affiliated with ASL include Aerotainment Labs, Bluebotics, SpotMe, GE Inspection Robotics, Wingtra and Skybotix, which was recently acquired by GoPro.


The butler robot made his debut in acting on stage with human beings, carrying a candle and for whom he served a drink. Showing off his functional and aesthetial design, Igor represents the services of industrial robots.

Siegwart stresses the importance of a long-term perspective and highly values collaboration with engineers, programmers and businesses who share that patience and an acceptance that seeing these robots in real-life applications can take ten years or more. He realises that the serious arrival of robots in our industrial and personal lives can be quite intimidating for some, but he is personally convinced that the longterm process behind the introduction of robots into our society, and the advantages they can bring, will help to ease any concern or resistance.


Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.