Cyril Jacquelin : Welcome to LABio

Photography : Photokiff - Text : Lucas Delattre
Cyril Jacquelin - BAT

Cyril Jacquelin (30 years old) is what you would call today a « maker ». In a workshop resembling that of Gyro Gearloose, in Senlis, he works on several projects at a time. On a table there is an artificial hand being built from an « open source » robot project, drawing from dozens of contributors in France and across the world. But putting aside for a while his passion for humanoid robotics, Cyril has also embarked on a much more mundane endeavour : creating an automated distributor of cat food. Since his wife, who is a veterinarian, told him about the need to better regulate pets’ food intake, he has been looking at ways to « optimize the distibution of food by working on the precise measurement of portions and weights ». Even a seemingly trivial subject like this one requires « a lot of preliminary thinking and it takes time ».

The workshop is also home to other « makers », for instance a 12 year old boy who comes here with his father to carry out an astonishing experiment : atop of a wooden structure, a little toy train is poised to ride down a steep slope on an inclined plane outfitted with pulleys and wheels. « Given the inclination of the slope, he aims to quantify the mass embarked on the mobile, measure the time needed to ride down from the high point to the low point, and therefore calculate the drag of the object on the surface ». Dozens of similar projects are being conducted in this space located in a former military facility within the « Quartier Ordener », equipped with tools of all sorts : saws, drills, grinders, 3D printers … but also electronics equipments (Raspberry cards, Arduino cards, oscilloscopes, UV platesetters, baths and ovens for electronic cards, soldering irons), as well as a dozen of computer stations.

Welcome to LABio, the Co-operative Laboratory of Biomimicry, which Cyril Jacquelin co-founded with three other engineers at the end of 2015. The organisation aims to « provide a workspace and common resources in order for members to realise personal or cooperative projects », but also to « develop and encourage bio-inspired design and engineering », all the while « contributing to the promotion of science and technology to the broader public ». It is hosted by CEEBIOS (the European Center of Excellence in Biomimicry of Senlis) for a low rent, in exchange for various collaborations.

In accordance with its siting within the CEEBIOS, LABio prioritises research work related to biomimicry, of which the artificial hand project is an example. To that extent, it may be called a « bio-hackerspace ». But actually « you can work on all sorts of things here ». In other words, it is a « fablab », a workshop open to all, allowing everybody to undertake the realisation of scientific endeavours with a collaborative spirit. The space is well-equipped for micro-experimentation in mechanics and electronics ; chemistry, however, requires more stringent safety precautions which cannot be enforced in a space that is open to the public.

Harbouring a passion for robotics since his senior highschool year, Cyril Jacquelin found his calling thanks to cinema and literature, from watching Terminator 2 to reading Jules Verne or even Isaac Asimov. What keeps him interested in robotics, beyond the technical aspects, is « the link with humans, the interaction between man and machine, the risks and opportunities for humanity, the future of work ».

With a double diploma obtained in 2011 (a master of science in robotics research and a degree in engineering from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers), he carried out his first research work on « re-conceiving an ankle for a humanoid robot with anthropomorphic proportions ». He then joined the CETIM (the Technical Engineering Center of Mechanical Industries) in Senlis, where he still works as a project manager in robotics, with the mission of leading research and development projects across CETIM’s various laboratories. « I’m doing development more than research, with close links to the industries », he explains. His two specialties are robotised processes (machining, tool-workpiece interactions) and collaborative robotics (social impact, acceptability, assistance to operators on the factory floor, enhancement of human work).

If he had to find a common thread across all his activities ? « I am working at the meeting point between science and industry, research and market, theory and practice. In France, we are ahead of the curve in conceptual terms, but in practice German robots are walking while ours are limping along. »

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