Festo Develops With Isaac Sim to Drive Its Industrial Automation

Company’s AI lab applies game development principles to robotics simulation.
by Scott Martin

Dionysios Satikidis was playing FIFA 19 when he realized the simulated soccer game’s realism offered a glimpse into the future for training robots.

An expert in AI and autonomous systems at Festo, a German industrial control and automation company, he believed the worlds of gaming and robotics would intersect.

“I’ve always been passionate about technology and gaming, and for me and my close colleagues it was clear that someday we will need the gaming tools to create autonomous robots,” said Satikidis, based in Esslingen Germany.

It was a view shared by teammate Jan Seyler, head of advanced control and analytics at Festo; and Dimitrios Lagamtzis, who worked with Festo at that time in 2019.

Satikidis and his colleagues had begun keeping close tabs on NVIDIA and grew increasingly curious about Isaac Sim, a robotics simulation application and synthetic data generation tool built on NVIDIA Omniverse, the 3D design and simulation platform.

Finally, watching from the sidelines of the field wasn’t enough.

“I set up a call with NVIDIA, and when Dieter Fox, senior director of robotics research at NVIDIA, came on the call, I just asked if they were willing to work with us,” he said.

And that’s when it really started.

Tackling Sim-to-Real Challenge

Today Satikidis and a small team at Festo are developing AI for robotics automation. As a player in hardware and pneumatics used in robotics, Festo is making a move into AI-driven simulation, aiming at future Festo products.

Festo uses Isaac Sim to develop skills for its collaborative robots, or cobots. That requires building an awareness of their environments, human partners and tasks.

The lab is focused on narrowing the sim-to-real gap for a robotic arm, developing simulation that improves perception for real robots.

For building perception, its AI models are trained on synthetic data generated by Omniverse Replicator.

“Festo is working on its own cobots, which they plan to ship in 2023 in Europe,” said Satikidis.

Applying Cortex for Automation 

Festo uses Isaac Cortex, a tool in Isaac Sim, to simplify programming for cobot skills. Cortex is a framework for coordinating the Isaac tools into a cohesive robotic system to control virtual robots in Omniverse and physical robots in the real world.

“Our goal is to make programming task-aware robots as easy as programming gaming AIs,” said Nathan Ratliff, director of systems software at NVIDIA, in a recent GTC presentation.

Isaac Sim is a simulation suite that provides a diverse set of tools for robotics simulation. It enables sensor simulation, synthetic data generation, world representation, robot modeling and other capabilities.

The Omniverse platform and its Isaac Sim tools have been a game changer for Festo.

“This is incredible because you can manifest a video game to a real robot,” said Satikidis.

To learn more, check out the GTC session Isaac Cortex: A Decision Framework for Virtual and Physical Robots