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Inside the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge: How the Cyber-Human Lab augments our capabilities




For the latest in our series of articles exploring the Institute for Manufacturing - part of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering - we talk to Dr Thomas Bohné.

Dr Thomas Bohné, head of the Cyber-Human Lab at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Thomas Bohné, head of the Cyber-Human Lab at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Thomas Bohné might have the best business card in Cambridge.

Head of the Cyber-Human Lab at the IfM, he is exploring how technology can improve our capabilities.

“We are really interested in how we can augment human abilities and improve human performance in industry,” he says. “We are working with a range of different technologies. We are fascinated by augmented reality and virtual reality and how we can use these technologies to train people in new skills.

“We are also working with exoskeletons and with computer vision. We are fascinated by the range of opportunities out there in industry.

“These human-technology hybrid systems are what we call cyber-human systems. There are quite a range of tasks in industry which cannot be automated with robots or other technologies. So the big question is: How can we remain competitive? How can we be more productive?”

Among the key ways these systems can be used is in training apprentices on industrial processes.

“If you train someone in virtual reality, you may be able to do it at lower cost, particularly if very expensive material is involved or if there are dangerous situations,” explains Dr Bohné.

“Some of the machines people are trained on are really expensive, or are in production so it is difficult to use them until they have the skills.

Dr Thomas Bohné, head of the Cyber-Human Lab at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Thomas Bohné, head of the Cyber-Human Lab at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

“If you use virtual reality, you are completely immersed. We can create any form of environment. A team at the IfM has actually virtualised the entire building. We have also virtualised certain training scenarios. For example, we have created a virtual environment in which you learn to assemble a clutch.

“One big challenge in virtual reality still, from an engineering point of view, is how to enable users to interact with the virtual environment and enable them to feel virtual things, because physics doesn’t apply.”

The lab has worked with a prototype exoskeleton haptic glove to meet this challenge, creating resistance for the person using virtual reality, so it feels like an object has been grabbed.

Also in this series

Inside Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing with Tim Minshall and Sir Mike Gregory

Inside the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge: A revolution in space propulsion




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