During his summer tour of North Rhine-Westphalia, which focused among other things on collaboration between humans and AI, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) was also a port of call for Hubertus Heil.
Federal Minister of Labor Huber Heil is traveling through North Rhine-Westphalia. Topics such as occupational safety, shortage of skilled workers and the interaction of man, machine and AI (artificial intelligence) are in focus. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) in Dortmund was also a recent stop on his summer tour. There, he was interested in, as they say, "intelligent" future technologies.
Digital technologies, especially AI applications such as "ChatGPT," will change the work of many employees, according to Heil. However, he said, the use of AI in the world of work brings many opportunities to simplify the workflow in companies. "Looking for solutions, as is being done here at the Fraunhofer Institute, to further optimize this is, in my view as labor minister, also an important contribution to countering the shortage of skilled workers," he said. He said he was convinced that this technical development could make working life better. The prerequisite for this, however, is that this technology must be actively shaped, he said. Heil stated, "Our goal is for AI to serve people, not the other way around."
Collaboration between technology and humans must follow rules
In the near future, humans and AI will work together in partnership, according to the federal minister. AI will then not only provide information, but increasingly act actively. The question arises as to the maxims according to which this will happen. "We are heading for a caesura, the fundamental nature of which makes one think of a categorical imperative for AI, even if the comparison is still a bit limp," commented Hubert Heil. (Editor's note: The categorical imperative is based on a statement by Immanuel Kant, which reads: "Act in such a way that the maxim of your will could at the same time be considered the principle of a general law at any time." In short: There are no exceptions to the rule on a subject!)
It is our task, he said, to secure a framework for the collaboration of humans and AI according to our standards and benchmarks, but also to implement it technically. "We at Fraunhofer-IML are working on this at full speed with partners from science and industry," noted Prof. Michael ten Hompel, executive director of the institute.
Federal Minister of Labor tests smart logistics helpers
The minister even had numerous opportunities to interact with machines during his visit. Among other things, he was able to control a biointelligent swarm of 20 drones himself, which mimicked the behavior of a flock of birds. By testing AI algorithms in three-dimensional space and a highly dynamic system, for example, answers to complex logistical questions can be found and transferred to applications, according to reports.
The minister also tested an exoskeleton for various warehouse activities. These are electromechanical support structures worn on the body that reduce the overall load on the body and relieve specific areas of the body (such as the back). In the long term, this could help to counteract the high levels of sick leave caused by overloading of the musculoskeletal system that are typical in the logistics sector (and thus also the shortage of skilled workers).
Encounters with robotic systems for logistics
Another highlight of the presentations for Hubert Heil, they say, was the "evoBOT" developed at the IML. This is an autonomous mobile robot (AMR for short) which, with its two arms, establishes a new generation of transport robots, as the researchers emphasize. Due to its high agility and flexibility, the "evoBOT" is not limited to a logistical or industrial context, but could also become a real colleague in other application areas, they said. The researchers also presented the so-called "LoadRunner," a high-speed robot that can nimbly handle sorting and distribution processes. Heil learned that the robot system is currently being industrialized with the Kion Group and has already completed a practical test at the CEP service provider DPD.