~ How human senses are revolutionising industrial robots ~
As season two of the critically acclaimed TV show Westworld ended in summer 2018, the conversation around what the robot of the future will look like continues.
While many believe we will have human-like robots soon, such as those depicted in sci-fi blockbusters like Blade Runner, it will be functionality that dictates the appearance of these machines.
Here, John Young sales manager at industrial parts supplier EU Automation, explains how allowing manufacturing robots to see and feel is enabling them to step out of the cage.
When we think of robots, we often think of either clunky metal frames that complete menial tasks or something so human, it is almost indistinguishable to the person standing next to you.
Both appearances have their uses though, whether it’s for picking, packing and palatising in a manufacturing plant, or entertaining guests at an amusement park.
Traditionally, robots have been large and noisy pieces of equipment, often posing potential safety risks to the workforce. A new breed of collaborative robots has changed this though, allowing machines to work side-by-side with human employees.
This type of robot is now becoming increasingly commonplace on the plant floor, revolutionising the manufacturing process.
In a study carried out by the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville Global Supply Chain Institute, robotics was identified as one of the biggest supply chain disruptors.
Paul Dittmann, executive director of the Global Supply Chain Institute and author of the paper, said: “Robotics have been around for more than 50 years, but they have become dramatically more dynamic in the last five. They are no longer stationary, blind, expensive and unintelligent, but can work alongside people and learn as jobs change.”
The evolution of the humble robot
One of the biggest advances in robotics is the deployment of sensors that allow robots to both see and feel.
By integrating and retrofitting sensors to a manufacturing robot, it can undertake much more complicated tasks, which a human workforce may not. The
IDTechEx report, Sensors for Robotics: Technologies, markets and forecasts 2017-2027, predicts that the market for robotic vision and force sensing is expected to reach over $16.1 billion by 2027. These types of sensors are just the tip of the iceberg though.
Drive and control technologies company, Bosch Rexroth, has recently released a six-axis arm collaborative robot, which uses a capacitive sensor skin to avoid collisions, without making physical contact with an object.
Featuring more than 120 sensors, the skin allows the robot to stop automatically at a safe speed if it senses an employer has entered its operating zone. Using a capacitive electrical field to detect nearby obstacles, once it senses the person has moved to a safe zone, the robot will continue to work.
Scientists in Japan have also added the ability to smell to possible robot senses. Researchers at Kyushu University have developed a robot that can detect odors using a technique known as localised surface plasmon resonance (LSPR), which measures changes in light absorption by gold nanoparticles upon exposure to a gas.
LSPR is a collective oscillation of conduction band electrons in metal nanoparticles, excited by the electromagnetic waves of incident light. While there are robots available on the market that can detect airborne odors already, they are significantly slower at analyzing data.
Taking the next steps
Advancements in both software and hardware have enabled the creation of more advanced robots featuring an array of sensors and processing possibilities. While early robots were limited to performing more menial tasks, this new range of sensors is increasing decision making capabilities with more sophisticated analysis of data.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is taking this one step further, allowing robots to learn from experiences, providing them with a far greater level of dexterity. AI software enables robots to identify specific objects, studying how they behave when picked, pushed and even dropped. This in-turn impacts on how the robot will handle them in the future.
With developments in robotics showing no sign of slowing down, it doesn’t mean older models and technologies are obsolete, particularly as regularly replacing your industrial robots can be an expensive process.
Working with a supplier of obsolete parts, such as EU Automation can ensure your plant remains operational and that your robot workforce is as efficient as the day you brought it.
While we may be a few years off from robots running our theme parks, there is no doubt that they are becoming more advanced by the day.
With the global market for industrial robots predicted to reach $1.9 billion by 2022, robots continue to drive smart manufacturing lines, making production processes more efficient and profitable for investing industries.