Robots Rock Out

August 31, 2012

Here at the RIA, we’re preparing for a long weekend. In celebration for having Monday off to relax and enjoy the last of summer, we’ve brought you a little robotic entertainment for this week’s Friday Fun Video.

Of course, while a four-arm performer might have some advantages over a human counterpart, we think we still prefer non-robotic musicians.

Check out the article and comparison video at Singularity Hub.

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The Small Business Robot

August 29, 2012

Robots are sometimes thought of as viable avenue only for large, wealthy companies, and just a pipe dream for small and medium sized businesses. But here at the RIA we believe every size business can reap the benefits of automation because we’ve seen it, and we’re so committed to spreading the word that we’ve designed the 2013 Automate Show to have a special focus on small and medium  sized businesses. Show floor admission is free, giving you access to dozens of automation companies demonstrating their solutions.

One of those exhibitors will be Rethink Robotics, introducing their new robot that’s specifically designed for smaller applications. Reporter Thomas Friedman got a sneak peek at the new tech.

Robots will revolutionize the economy as PCs did
by Thomas Friedman

And therein lie the seeds of a potential revolution. Rethink’s goal is simple: that its cheap, easy-to-use, safe robot will be to industrial robots what the personal computer was to the mainframe computer, or the iPhone was to the traditional phone. That is, it will bring robots to the small business and even home and enable people to write apps for them the way they do with PCs and iPhones — to make your robot conduct an orchestra, clean the house or, most important, do multiple tasks for small manufacturers, who could not afford big traditional robots, thus speeding innovation and enabling more manufacturing in America.

”If you see pictures of robots welding or painting” in a factory, “you will not see humans nearby because it is not safe” being around swinging robot arms, explains Rethink’s founder, Rodney Brooks, the Australian-born former director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the co-founder of iRobot, which invented the Roomba vacuum-cleaning robot. Traditional industrial robots are fixed and not flexible, and they take a long time — and a skilled engineer — to program them to do one repeatable task.

”Our robot is low-cost, easily programmable, not fixed and not dangerous,” says Brooks. “We were in a small plastics company the other day, and the owner said he is using the robot for two hours to do one task and then rolling it over to do another. With our robots, you teach them about the specific task you want done, and when you are done with that, you program another one.” And if your hand gets in the way, the robot just stops.

You can read the full article here. Not only will Rethink Robotics be at the 2013 Automate Show, but Rodney Brooks, founder and chairman, will be one of our featured speakers at the 20th Annual RIA Robotics Industry Forum. We’re excited to hear the unique perspective he’ll offer on the industry!


Model-Based Engineering and Automation

August 27, 2012

Not only are advances in automation pushing the boundaries of the end technology we put produce, but they are also revolutionizing the conception stages of technology. When engineers once used documents as the data source for a product, model-based engineering has come to take a prominent spot on the stage.

Why You Need to Understand Model-Based Engineering
by

In the context of manufacturing, model data drives production and quality processes. A product model used in manufacturing is a container not only of the nominal geometry, but also of any additional information needed for production and support. This additional data, known as Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), may include geometric dimensions and tolerances (GD&T), material specifications, component lists, process specifications, and inspection requirements.

Two critical factors give MBE significant advantages over drawing-based or document-based engineering: 1) computer interpretability and 2) data associativity. The primary reason to use a data model in engineering and manufacturing is that a model can be processed directly by engineering software applications. In a document-based environment, humans must interpret the engineering documents and then enter the information into the specific user interface of each engineering application. Whether it is finite element analysis (FEA) or computer aided manufacturing (CAM), each application creates its own internal model. In the past, the only access to this model was through the application’s user interface (keyboard and screen). With MBE, the applications read and write the models directly. This results in fewer errors and a drastic reduction in processing time.

Read the full article here at 3D CAD Tips. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages in model-based engineering?


Soft Robot Learns Camouflage Trick

August 24, 2012

In the ever evolving world of robotics, researchers have taken another cue from nature. Scientists at Harvard have added a layer of skin to their soft robot, threaded with micro channels that they can pump dye through it. The robot can blend in with the color of its surroundings or even the temperature, masking it to thermal sensors.

Harvard scientists develop soft robots that can camouflage themselves
By David Szondy

The robots are constructed using a 3D printer to create the molds used in their manufacture. These molds have networks of microchannels impressed in them. One set of channels carry the air that makes the robot squirm about in a frighteningly lifelike manner and the other carries colored fluid. When the robot walks over a surface, the appropriate pre-selected fluid is pumped in to match the surface and break up the pattern of the robot, making it less visible. The whole process takes less than 30 seconds and the silicone molds make the cost of each soft-bot only about US$100.

But the soft-bots’ camouflage isn’t confined to color. The fluid can be heated or cooled to match whatever surface the robot is walking on, making it all but invisible to infrared detectors. In addition, the robot can aid search and rescue missions by making itself more visible rather than less by filling itself with brightly colored, fluorescent or even bioluminescent fluids.

Needless to say, such abilities makes camouflaged soft-bots very attractive to DARPA, which sees important defense applications for a cheap, soft robot that is resilient, able to squeeze into small spaces and hide like a chameleon. However, it also envisions medical applications for the technology, such as artificial muscles or prosthetics.

Read the full article at Gizmag. Soft robotics is clearly in its infancy, but the things it has already accomplished are quite interesting. What do you see happening next in the field of soft robotics?


Government Initiative to Fund Additive Manufacturing R&D

August 22, 2012

In a season of a lot of political talk, it’s refreshing to see some action. President Obama recently announced the start of a government initiative that will partner with businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations to fund research and development in additive manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing Initiative Brings New Shine to the Rust Belt

by Travis Hessman

In the once-thriving industrial center of Youngstown, Ohio today, news of a $30 million public-private advanced manufacturing partnership is turning conversations of the failing “rust belt” into that of a new and thriving “tech belt.”

The change comes with the announcement from President Obama that a consortium of regional businesses, universities and nonprofit organizations has been awarded $30 million by the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce to establish the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

The NAMII will be composed of a core group of manufacturers, research universities, community colleges and non-profit organizations throughout Northeast Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which will contribute an additional $40 million to the partnership.

“I’m pleased that we are taking steps to strengthen American manufacturing by launching a new manufacturing institute in Ohio,” president Obama said. “This institute will help make sure that the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow take root not in places like China or India, but right here in the United States of America.”

Read the full article here at Industry Week, as well as another take by the Science Insider.

Staying at the fore front of technological development isn’t just about the spirit of innovation. Adoption of new technology is imperative for businesses to stay relevant in the automation industry. Where do you see additive manufacturing leading? What other innovations do you see becoming a necessity for the industry?


A Critical Time to Bring Manufacturing — and Jobs — Back to the US

August 20, 2012

We’ve been seeing a lot of great news about reshoring, sharing it here on our blog, on our Twitter account, and on our website. While this is great news, it’s an interesting time for this shift to happen. With the advances in robotics and other automation technology, as well as other factors, it’s become more cost-efficient to invest in domestic manufacturing. As factories all over the world are experiencing a technology upgrade, this also appears to be a critical time to move manufacturing back home. The New York Times explores what it means to move factories back home and equip them with cutting edge automation technology.

Skilled Work, Without the Worker
by John Markoff

The Obama administration says this technological shift presents a historic opportunity for the nation to stay competitive. “The only way we are going to maintain manufacturing in the U.S. is if we have higher productivity,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Government officials and industry executives argue that even if factories are automated, they still are a valuable source of jobs. If the United States does not compete for advanced manufacturing in industries like consumer electronics, it could lose product engineering and design as well. Moreover, robotics executives argue that even though blue-collar jobs will be lost, more efficient manufacturing will create skilled jobs in designing, operating and servicing the assembly lines, as well as significant numbers of other kinds of jobs in the communities where factories are.

And robot makers point out that their industry itself creates jobs. A report commissioned by the International Federation of Robotics last year found that 150,000 people are already employed by robotics manufacturers worldwide in engineering and assembly jobs.

But American and European dominance in the next generation of manufacturing is far from certain.

“What I see is that the Chinese are going to apply robots too,” said Frans van Houten, Philips’s chief executive. “The window of opportunity to bring manufacturing back is before that happens.”

Read the full article at The New York Times.

We at the Robotic Industries Association of course see this expansion in our industry as a good thing. We’ve seen member companies grow and expand, we’ve seen companies saved from closure by automation, and now we’re seeing the potential of reshoring, in part due to advances in automation technology.

But we like to keep an open discussion. What sort of answers do you have for the questions raised in the article?


Meshworm – A Soft Robot Inspired by Earthworms

August 17, 2012

We’ve featured soft robotics before, but here’s something new — Unlike previous soft robots that were controlled with air pressure, this new “Meshworm” from MIT moves by contracting a wire coil around different segments of the robot’s body. Researchers were inspired by the muscle structures of earthworms and see many applications for this sort of robotic peristalsis, from maintenance to search and rescue to medical to automotive.

Read the full article from MIT News here.