Politics, German Keyboards, Robots and Kindred Spirits (May 14)

We started off the morning at the University of Augsburg with an interesting lecture on German politics. At first, I will admit that I was skeptical, as I don’t care much for American politics. To my surprise though, our lecturer was able to explain each segment of the German political system in such a way that we understood its role and how it plays into the larger system. He also drew interesting comparisons between the American and German political systems to show strengths and weaknesses of both in terms of topics such as lawmaking and distribution of power among the sections. It seems that the majority of German students also have an understanding of American as well as world politics. This starkly contrasts American students, many of which barely know their own political system. This lecture definitely inspired me to seek to gain a greater understanding of politics on the global scale.

Following the lecture, I had my first opportunity to work on a German computer at the university. Having about an hour and a half before lunch, many of us chose to work on our blogs in the open computer labs. Sitting down at the computer, I realize that the sign-in screen is all in German! After a bit of trial and error, I was able to sign into the computer and find Microsoft Word. Upon opening the program, I am met with a very familiar Word screen, but all the commands are of course in German. Fumbling through the system for a bit with the students around me, I give up on trying to change the system to English and start to type. Within the first few words I recognize that the keys on their keyboard are a lot different than our English keyboards. I look for a bit at the keyboard trying to note the different letter placement but as a I begin to type things look ugly. Most notably, the ‘y’ and ‘z’ keys are switched which makes you realize just how often the letter is used! Plugging on through, every word I type is underlined indicating a misspelled word thanks to the German language default. All these red squiggles made it difficult to focus on typing!  After a bit of grumbling and getting used to the changed keyboard, I’m able to make some decent progress before we head to lunch at the university’s cafeteria, Mensa.

Lunch at the university was again delicious and soon we were on our way to KUKA. Behind BMW, KUKA was the site visit I was most excited about. Automation is clearly the future of factories, and KUKA robots have been leading this charge. In each of our other site visits thus far, KUKA robots have been present and are used around the world. We were taken by a tour guide through the factories and were able to see the assembling of a robot. From an engineering point of view, these robots are awesome to see, especially how they seek to imitate the motion of a human arm. I really enjoyed seeing the stress testing of a variety of robot models. Essentially each robot model is rated for a certain weight and speed of arm movement. This testing involved the robot performing complex movements with max weight and speeds for prolonged periods of time. Though many would think of the larger version of these robots that perform tasks such as moving heavy objects, KUKA also makes a wide range of sizes to fulfill various needs. I was intrigued to find out that there is research being done regarding the collaboration between surgeons and KUKA robots in the medical field. It’s crazy to think that one day these robots may be advanced enough to perform surgery! I enjoyed both the tour and talk afterwards but was somehow shocked that we didn’t see one robot building another.

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What goes best with politics, German keyboarding and robots? According to Jeremy, it’s Chinese food, and I was happy to go along for the ride! Stephen, Alan and Jess joined. Following the KUKA tour and a streetcar ride which brought us back to the side of town nearer to the hotel, five kindred spirits located a little ‘hole in the wall’ Chinese restaurant which Jeremy had earlier spotted. Ordering was a struggle as the man who owned the restaurant didn’t speak English and none of us spoke German. Finally, with the help of a large metal rod, we were able to point to the dish we each wanted and soon had our food. Though a little sketchy looking from the outside, the food turned out to be very good and cheap, which harkens back to my day two theme – of seeing the beauty within. We topped off the evening by stopping for some ice cream at a shop near the hotel since the group of five dinner companions held three kindred spirits (i.e., me, Jess and Stephen) where ice cream was concerned. It was of course creamy and delicious as all the German ice cream seems to be. What a great way to end the day!

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