ITMO University Partners Up With TRA Robotics


In mid-October, a project by Ivan Borisov, Oleg Borisov, Vladislav Gromov and under the supervision of Sergei Kolubin won the pitch session of Robotics & AI program which took place at Moscow’s Phystechpark as part of the annual GoTech forum. The PhD students presented a multipurpose gripping unit that remedies the key weaknesses ofexisting industrial robots and bested 80 other applicants with it. The British company TRA Robotics, a partner of the forum, got interested in the project and entered an agreement on a pilot project with ITMO University. Recently, the company and the university entered a new, long-term collaboration agreement.

TRA Robotics is a technological startup that designs flexible software-driven workflow. The company’s representatives believe that this new approach will considerably decrease the time spent on bringing products to the market, ease making changes to their design and functionality in real-time mode and cut down on the end products’ costs. TRA Robotics creates fully robotic factories that can be controlled and scaled automatically.

“It may seem that this task is most simple, and all the words we use when discussing technology are just software development methodology applied to the physical world, but we are now actually operating in a field that presents us with dozens, if not hundreds, of science-intensive challenges. This is why collaborating with universities is now a priority for us. What we’re talking about is not just collaborative research, but applied design, as well. Such collaboration allows us to involve people with an entirely different mindset. We place much hope on ITMO University, as we know many of its graduates, and we also know that world-class experts and scientists work here,” explains Rodion Shishkov, TRA Robotics CEO.

Rodion Shishkov

As of today, TRA Robotics focuses on developing a factory for the production of electric trucks. According to Rodion Shishkov, every modern production cycle starts with design, which is conducted regardless of the development of the technology and the operation’s infrastructure. Thus, the product’s creation cycle becomes long, and making changes to it is costly. TRA Robotics’ goal is to combine all these consecutive stages into a single cycle with minimal iteration, in which the design can be improved in a real-time mode, and the technology tested against real infrastructure.

ITMO and TRA Robotics decided to sign a framework agreement after collaborating on two projects, after which it became clear that the organizations have many mutual interests in the field of robotics and cyber-physical systems.  The first project is now conducted under the supervision of Sergei Kolubin, Head of ITMO’s Department of Mechatronics, and has to do with designing an adaptive gripping device for robots, i.e. a new kind of equipment that integrates mechanics, electronics and “smart” software in a unified platform. The other project is dedicated to soft (virtual) sensing – the replacement of expensive sensors that cost thousands of dollars with advanced software which enables the robots to interact with the environment. This project is headed by Anton Pyrkin, Dean of the Faculty of Control Systems and Industrial Robotics. Both projects were launched in early December and are now at their first stages, which are expected to last 3 to 4 months.

Anton Pyrkin

“After attending GoTech, we’ve understood that we have the expertise, and the company has the demand, and is highly interested in collaboration. Also, both organizations have the necessary resources – intellectual and material, which is why we have launched two projects and are now discussing further collaboration. On reflection, the company virtually effects a paradigm shift in how a production is organized. Surely, there are problems with issues such as production management and making this a 100% flexible production. On one hand, we understand that the company is ready to take the risk and do what no one has ever done before, but on the other, it’s most important that we aren’t talking theoretical research only. The company’s R&D centers are most active, and they have a wide pool of robots, both from third-party manufacturers and in-house projects, meaning we can now work both on our and the company’s equipment and thus move beyond theorems and formulas,” explains Sergei Kolubin.

Signing of the collaboration agreement

ITMO’s Rector Vladimir Vasilyev also commented on the recent agreement:

“We are very interested in having an industrial partner, so that we won’t break away from the real-life issues while working on our research. Far be it from us to believe that we already possess all the relevant competencies, which is why we are interested in academic exchange for the purpose of solving particular tasks. I believe that creating new ecosystems, as well as participating in them, is most important for the university.”

Despite TRA Robotics’ main office and factory being located in Oxfordshire (United Kingdom), the company also has an R&D center and laboratory in St. Petersburg. This allows them to test all the new designs, including those made at ITMO University, on the company’s robots.