Vatrushkas, sausages and a nuclear fuel pool. What are other fields of application of robots from the Technopolis Moscow

February 23

Modern robots can complete different tasks. The special economic zone (SEZ) Technopolis Moscow hosts companies that created devices capable of repairing pools with nuclear fuel, fill up vatrushkas and help in the production of sausages.

The companies’ creative initiatives are different— some of them only believe in drawings and calculations, others prefer to hone ideas in practice. We will tell you how robots are manufactured, how long it takes and why we need them in the modern world.

Replacing a human in dangerous situations

At first glance, the Technopolis Moscow site in the Pechatniki District is no different from other production sites. But inside the interior resembles an exhibition center—it is a large, well-lighted space divided by little partitions. Behind one of them on the second floor the Special Design and Technology Bureau of Applied Robotics is situated. The company started as a student laboratory at the Moscow State Technical University named after N.E. Bauman in 1972. Throughout its history the bureau happened to take part in the elimination of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster consequences — it created mobile robots for cleaning the third power unit roof.

The company produces robotic systems for the nuclear industry and security agencies. Upon entering, visitors immediately see the models of robots. They look like arm manipulators placed on a caterpillar track. Using this grip robots can move loads weighing up to 20 kg.

‘Each robot is controlled from the control panel with operating range of up to one kilometer. The robot’s video cameras let the operator see the surrounding area in real time. There are two control modes — by cable or by radio. Sometimes radio frequencies are not available, for example, during explosive works, then the robot has to use cable for transmitting signals’ says Deputy General Director Ilya Laverychev.

In fact, robots risk themselves in dangerous environments and protect people. For example, in the nuclear industry they are used in places where a human cannot get to due to radiation. Last year the company made a robot for the Leningrad NPP-2. It can repair pools filled with nuclear fuel. This is the only robot of its kind in the world.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

As they say in the design bureau, almost every order is unique. Engineers adapt to each customer requirements. The production of a robot takes on average from six months to a year.

‘Almost every customer has specified requirements. Even if we have the typical design of a mobile robot it still has to be modernized. We study and improve our designs. This is impossible at a large serial production factory’ says Alexander Batanov. head of the bureau, chief designer and Candidate of Science Engineering.

The bureau is also developing a medical robot. The compact device can perform some operations in an automatic mode and become a assisting surgeon. The robot uses universal instruments that are available in each type of surgery. Several prototypes are going through the testing stage.

The bureau employs 27 people, mainly design personnel, programmers and electronics engineers. The only woman in the team is design engineer Olga Fedina. She is with the company for a little over a year and came here right after graduating from the university upon the recommendation of her Director of Diploma.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

‘I've been learning the design work all this time. Colleagues will always prompt, help and teach me. My friends and acquaintances sometimes tell me that this is not a woman's job, but I feel comfortable, and that is what really matters’ says Olga Fedina.

The company has been working in the SEZ Technopolis Moscow since 2014, right after the exhibition where the bureau presented its designs. It attracted the company’s attention by the cost of renting the premises and the convenient location — it is easily accessible by metro, commuter train or car. If necessary, for example when submitting projects, you can work here any time — on weekends and even at night.

The bureau outsources the production of circuit boards and various parts to its neighbors on the site — they say it is very convenient to work here. ‘There is a lot of enterprises in related industries that we can involve to solve our problems of supplying products. We are responsible for designing, but we don't need to have the machinery equipment. We cannot know in advance how many products and what kind of products will be ordered during the year’ says Ilya Laverychev.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

In addition, the Technopolis has a logistics center. ‘We have neither loaders nor lift truck on our staff. We call them, the stuff is loaded and brought to the destination’ adds Ilya Laverychev.

A new approach: practice is more important than just theory

In a nearby building engineers and designers of the same type produce completely different devices. Bitrobotics specializes in high-speed industrial robots that can unpack, pack and make some cooking operations.

The company employs 22 people and occupies only three office rooms. Experimental tests are underway in one of them. As the designers say, they do not devote much time to theory, drawings and elaboration. They have a fundamentally new approach far from endless approvals and paperwork. If there is a new idea, then they immediately try it out. The necessary parts are printed on a 3D printer and checked in operation.

 ‘For example, this sausage catcher was printed and made overnight. We need a little time to get from the idea stage to the prototype. Then we can make it in metal and provide it to the customer. The same idea is true for software. You can test the software here in the office, we do not need to go to a production plant for pre-commissioning. We bring to the customer a ready-made box which only needs to be assembled’ says software engineer Alexei Turlygin.

It is the comprehensive and interesting tasks, creativity and advanced technologies that attract the company's engineers. According to them, it is extremely interesting to observe how their ideas are realized in a matter of months in a particular production.

The employees are now developing a system for a sausage production line. The device cuts the line of sausages and sends them to the accelerating conveyor as fast as 10 pieces per second. Then the sausages get to the walking beam conveyor where the robot picks them up and sends further on. Usually the next stage is a thermoformer — a product packaging machine, but this is another design.

Replacing manual labor, simplifying and speeding up production is an important stage in the food industry. ‘We are the third company in the world to achieve the speed of10 sausages per second’ says Alexei Turlygin.

So far, only the system prototype was assembled. It is made of aluminum and parts printed on a 3D printer. The final version will be made of stainless steel as required for food production. This is not the first project of the company for food production — a robot has already been launched, which, using computer vision, makes a recess for the filling in vatrushkas, sprinkles it with melange and fills it with cottage cheese. Also, engineers are developing a system for arranging pancakes in packages.

In general, all of the company's devices are made of separate modules. The parts can be used for different robotic systems, it turns out to be a kind of construction kit. It can be changed depending on the needs of the customer. This allows one to reduce production time and cost. In addition, the customer can receive a robot and assemble it independently. But for now the designers are helping customers with this.

‘Western manufacturers also offer similar systems. But one of their main requirements is installation of the production line at the initial stage, when the factory is empty. This is practically inapplicable in Russia. Most manufacturers have an operating product line with different conveyors in place. They are often located in small premises. Therefore, Western robot manufacturers cannot enter the Russian market’ says Nikita Vostrikov, design engineer of the second category.

Employees assemble robots themselves and order relevant parts from other vendors. But it is planned to launch own production at a 1,700 sq m factory. It is also located in the Technopolis Moscow. Localization of production inside the SEZ gives the company a number of advantages, including a preferential tax rate for property and transport, reduced income tax and exemption from customs duties for goods and equipment imported into the SEZ.

Bitrobotics will be able to produce up to 100 robotic systems per year at this new factory. One robot will take six months to manufacture (the period from order approval to release). Pre-commissioning activities will take another two months.


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