Professor (emeritius), D.Sc.(Tech.) Aarne Halme
With deep sadness, GIM Robotics is announcing that its spiritual father, mentor, and co-founder, Professor (emeritius) Aarne Halme passed away on Tuesday February 7th, 2023 at the age of 79. Aarne was committed to GIM Robotics and to robotics in general all the way till the end. Last Thursday, less than a week before his death, Aarne participated in a face-to-face board meeting at the office, and was filled with plans for GIM’s next steps. Some of us have been travelling our robotics journey together with Aarne since the beginning of 1990’s, that is more than 30 years already. We are sure that everybody understands how big a loss Aarne’s departure is for the company and for us all personally. We will miss him dearly.
Professor (emeritius) Aarne Halme got his Doctor of Technology in 1972 from Helsinki University of Technology. He was a professor in three different universities (Tampere University of Technology 1972-1977, Oulu University 1977-1985, Helsinki University of Techonology 1985-2013). Helsinki University of Technology, later Aalto University, is the place where he truly left his mark on the history of mobile robotics. He started the Automation Technology Lab in 1985 and went straight into robotics. To try to list even a half of the projects Aarne has led or to describe the areas (e.g., home, factories, mining, forestry, underwater, space) where he has worked in the field of mobile robotics is not doable in a short posting. Maybe it is enough to state that Aarne was involved in outdoor autonomous mobile robotics projects (domestic and European funded) during the era, when very few people even know that there was something other than track or strip following logistics Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) working inside factories. Together with VTT Automation and others, Aarne was moving big working machines autonomously. Aarne was the father of a huge six-legged MECANT walking machine, which made its first outdoor walks in early 1990’s. Later Plustech created a walking harvester inspired by the results. Aarne was very active for example in ball-shaped robotics, multi-robot systems, underwater robotics research, bipeds, and whatnot else. Robotic prototypes were introduced with breathtaking speed.
LEARNING BY DOING
The idea of creating robots, which could help normal people in their everyday tasks, was one of Aarne’s key themes. He studied for example how home automation and mobile robots could help elderly and physically impaired people live full lives in their own homes or how outdoor mobile field & service robots could interact more naturally with their operators. Unlike the common practices in the Academy, which have been buying commercial robots for their studies, Aarne always considered building mobile robots as a value itself; only by building robots from bits and pieces, students and researchers could really understand the challenges and opportunities they possess.
One special robot, which deserves to be mentioned separately is WorkPartner. This unique four-legged centauroid type robot was capable of walking, using wheels and rolking (combination movement using both legs and wheels). Almost ten Doctoral Dissertations and numerous Master Thesis were conducted with that robot. WorkPartner retired into the Museum of Technology, where it greets the visitors for years to come. It will act as a great monument to honour Aarne’s extensive career at Helsinki University of Technology.
TIGHT INDUSTRY CONNECTION
Throughout his career, Aarne always emphasised the importance of having tight cooperation with Finnish flagship companies. He had a razor-sharp vision about the role of Teknillinen Korkeakoulu (Helsinki University of Technology) in developing new innovations directly with those companies and at the same time training the next generation of professionals our country so desperately needs. This tight industry-research collaboration has resulted in hundreds of professionals currently continuing in Aarne’s footsteps in the industry. The impact of his life-long work in this context is unmeasurable and without peer in Finland.
CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE TIME
To conclude his Academic career with a real triumph, Aarne’s Automation Technology Laboratory got together with Tampere University of Technology’s Institute of Hydraulics and Automation (IHA) the coveted Academy of Finland funded Centre of Excellence status for 2008-2013. The unit was called, Centre of Excellence in Generic Intelligent Machine (CoE-GIM) and it concentrated on basic research in the field of intelligent mobile machines.
After the CoE time ended, Aarne saw the need and opportunity to transfer the results of academic work to the industry, and that took shape through a new company, GIM Robotics, he founded in 2014 together with Dr. Jussi Suomela, Dr. Jari Saarinen and Dr. Jose Luis Peralta. All of them were Aarne’s former students with long experiences in autonomous mobile robotics. The company started to grow without any external investments and currently employs around 40 robotics engineers from all over the world. Later, in 2017, Sensible 4 was spun out to handle mainly road-based autonomous driving aiming to achieve Level 4 autonomy. Aarne’s heritage was doing well and applied to several different industries.
THE LAST HURRAH - THE ROBOGUIDE
Aarne was always thinking that robots should be used to benefit mankind. In that sense it is very appropriate that his final big project, which he created with an old friend from Germany, was to develop a guide robot for visually impaired people. In November 2018, GIM Robotics managed to get funding from the EU’s Eurostars program and the RoboGuide project was officially initiated. After completing the actual project with successful testing with the help of a group of visually impaired people, Aarne was actively looking for external investments for the productization of the RoboGuide robot. He did that till the last days of his life.
OUR CONDOLENCES TO AARNE'S FAMILY
Although we are all hurting very much due to our tight connections to Aarne, we can only imagine how tough this must be for his wife, children and grandchildren. We can only say that although Aarne is now gone, he will not be forgotten.
GIM Robotics is his living legacy in the field of robotics – the Legacy of a Giant.