Friday Fun Video: Santa’s Toy Factory Gets an Automation Upgrade

December 21, 2012

Maybe a rise in good girls and boys required Santa to increase his efficiency — time to get those toys out!

Happy holidays from everyone at the RIA! Our offices will be closed starting Monday, Dec. 24, through Tuesday, Jan. 1. We will reopen again on Wednesday, Jan. 2.

But registration for Automate 2013 will still be open! Get your free pass to North America’s largest solutions-based showcase of automation technologies. Find your automation solution at the Automate Show, Jan. 21-24 in Chicago.


New Robots Test the Robot Safety Standards

December 19, 2012

Industrial robots are a great tool for manufacturers, but it’s a tool that comes with strict safety guidelines. The robotics industry has spent a great deal of time and resources to create standards that will provide employees with a safe working environment.

Now, with robots designed specifically to work and interact with humans, a whole range of new opportunities for robot applications has appeared. Companies like Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots have designed their new robots with particular care concerning worker safety, but they are embarking on a new horizon. With the potential for direct human-robot interaction, how will we develop safety standards?

Setting the Safety Standard for Cage-Free Robots
by Travis Hessman

From their easy programming and expanded flexibility to their comparably low cost and decreased footprint, Mitch Rosenberg, vice president of Marketing and Product Management at Rethink Robotics — Baxter’s Boston-based manufacturer — has an endless list of features that have made these robots so notable in the industry of late.

But the key feature holding them all together and driving this emerging market, he said, is safety.

“We are seeing increased interest in robots that can work safely alongside humans without safety barriers,” Rosenberg explained. The appeal, of course, is that “robots working shoulder to shoulder with people don’t require manufacturers to completely rework their workspaces or manufacturing processes.”

Unlike traditional caged robots, he said, these robots can simply be added to the existing manufacturing line with very little process redesign. This increases the overall flexibility of the robot while reducing risks as compared to accommodating traditional robotic tools.

Add to that the low investment costs they carry and that “inherently safe” label Rosenberg uses to describe them and these new machines seem destined for a record fast market takeover.

However, very few companies — most notably Rethink Robots and Universal Robots — have yet ventured into this ripe field. The rest in the industry are all stymied by that same prickly issue that makes the technology so attractive for U.S. users. Safety.

Read the full article at IndustryWeek. What do you see as the challenges — and solutions — to the issues of safety with this new model of robotics?

You can see robots from Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots, as well as many other companies, at the 2013 Automate Show in Chicago, Jan. 21-24. Automate offers you live demonstrations of automation technologies and systems across a broad range of industry sectors and applications, as well as the knowledge to successfully apply them. Register for your free show pass at the Automate website.

When is a robot really a robot?

December 17, 2012

Say the word “robot” and two very different pictures will immediately come to mind. One is of the industrial robot, remembered clips of car commercials filmed in manufacturing plants, sparks flying or paint misting as robot arms complete their tasks behind safety cages. The other is of Hollywood robot, the humanoid butler who zips around the house bringing us snacks and answering the door.

But as technology develops and new applications are engineered, the “traditional” picture of robotics is changing. With new roles in healthcare and at home, under the sea and on other planets, how do we define what is and isn’t a robot?

Is It Really a Robot?
by Jennifer Hicks

Steve Cousin’s, CEO of Willow Garage told Forbes he believes that robotics is still in the early stages and there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“Over the next five years, we will see more robotic platforms come out of the cage in the industrial space, like Baxter, and begin to move into hospitals, our homes and work environments,” said Cousins. “We will build more mobile platforms that will only become autonomous when it becomes more affordable.”

But ask people what a robot is and they will tell you different things.

Read the full article at Forbes. What would your definition of a robot be?

Pulley System Gives Robot Real Muscle

December 12, 2012

A working human body requires more than just hooking up muscles and nerves, as poor Doctor Frankenstein found out. But researchers of humanoid robots are finding that sometimes the original design is the best. Swapping out muscles and arteries for pulleys and motors, they’ve come up with a robot that’s not afraid to flex its muscles.

Kenshiro Robot Gets New Muscles and Bones
by Angelica Lim

Why try and mimic the human body? It turns out that getting a robot’s weight right is a tricky problem. Yuto Nakanishi, the head of the project, spoke about the weight problems of Kenzoh, Kenshiro’s tendon-driven upper-body robot ancestor. Kenzoh was a hearty 45 kg, just for the upper body. Scaling up, they projected that a full-body Kenzoh could weigh as much as 100kg!

That was a lot of weight for a relatively small robot. So they decided to design a robot with the same weight ratios of a human. For example, a 55 kg boy would have about a 5 kg thigh and 2.5 kg calf. Kenshiro copies that ratio, with a 4 kg thigh and 2.76 kg calf. Balance is key.

Weight was one thing, but the researchers also tried to mimic the muscle torque and joint speeds. Kenshiro’s total power output is 5 times greater than Kojiro’s, allowing it to do things like the gymnastics-like leg lift in the video above. Kenshiro can get almost the same amount of joint torque as a human, with joint angular speed not quite at human level, at 70-100 degrees per second. It’s a trade-off in weight and power: bigger and stronger motors are often heavier.

Read the full article at IEEE Spectrum. What are some industrial applications that could benefit from a humanoid robot’s flexibility? On the other hand, what are some applications that robots are better at because they don’t have to adhere to a human-like design?

Friday Fun Video: Pixar Lamp Comes to Life

December 7, 2012

Pixar movies hold an amazing record of being powerful and charming, but they first captured our hearts with the lovable lamp that’s part of their logo. Some university students created their own playful lamp for one of their courses. He may not be much for lighting their textbooks, but he would make for a good study-break distraction.


Robots and Vision for Semiconductors and Electronics Manufacturing

December 5, 2012

In the newest article on Robotics Online, Bennett Brumson looks at robotics in the semiconductor and electronics industry, taking special note of the trends and unique requirements for automation systems there.

Robots and Vision for Semiconductors and Electronics Manufacturing
by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor 

Delta robot performing connector assembly tasks, courtesy FANUC Robotics America Corp.Robotics have long been a staple in the electronics and semiconductor industry. Complex assemblies and a plethora of tiny parts make flexible robotics the ideal solution for the rapidly-changing electronics and semiconductor market.

Robotics for the electronics and semiconductor sector will be a component of Automate 2013, the trade show and conference covering a wide array of automation technologies.

“Kawasaki’s customers, the Semiconductor Equipment suppliers, use robots to manufacture wafers before those wafers are sliced and diced into microchips. As microchips get smaller and smaller, they require less power to function which is why smart phones are thinner and able to do so many things,” says Barney Huang, Director of Sales and Marketing at Kawasaki Robotics USA Inc. (Wixom, Michigan). “Microchips are more densely packed onto electronic devices.” Robotics play a key role in facilitating production of electronics and semiconductors, Huang says.

Need for Speed
Electronics embodies the essence of the fickle consumer market. Manufacturers need speed and flexibility to profitably tap into a market segment before consumer tastes change. “I see a trend in the need for smaller and faster robots. Using small robots makes sense for manufacturers to handle small parts. Production lines need to move very fast in the electronics and semiconductor industry,” says Chris Blanchette, Account Manager with FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan).

Continuing, Blanchette says, “Robot makers build different types of robots to meet the needs of the electronics and semiconductor market. These types of robots include very fast delta-style robots. Also, six-axis articulation is a necessary requirement to orient small parts in more than one plane or off axis.” Six-axis articulation in conjunction with high speed is an important trend in the small part electronics industry, says Blanchette.

Blanchette goes on to say, “Robotic assembly of connectors is a growing trend. This application requires precision and tolerance because of so many small parts. Component assembly on circuit boards requires finesse during the assembly process which cannot be done with high-speed chip shooters.” Blanchette adds robots provide a very cost-effective solution to populate components onto circuit boards. “After the assembly of electronic circuit boards, the boards must be assembled into a package. Robots are a great tool for assembling those packages into electronic modules.”

Moving silicon wafers at high speeds without causing damage is a fundamental task robots are increasingly called on to perform. As wafer sizes become progressively larger, that task becomes more demanding. Robotics are more than capable of meeting throughput requirements without causing damage to delicate components.

Read the full article at Robotics Online. Interested in seeing robotic systems for the electronics and semiconductor industry at work? Come to the 2013 Automate Show, where companies will have working exhibits and full solutions for your automation needs.

Personal Robot Closer to Doing Your Laundry

December 3, 2012

Robots used in industrial settings often perform dull, dangerous, or repetitive functions — if only they could take over similar tasks in people’s homes! While the price of personal robots is still prohibitive and the technology is still developing, a robotic housekeeper isn’t the science fiction it was 50 years ago. Researchers are working hard to open up a whole new consumer market in personal robots.

Personal robots moving closer to reality
Reported by John Blackstone

While fantasies of robotic maids may still be a dream, the field of robotics is progressing rapidly and the PR2 is at the center of that progress. “We created this open source software platform that is what Windows is to the PC,” Cousins explained. “Everybody’s sharing software and we can make progress to this future where we see robots.”

Until Willow Garage created the PR2, each robotics researcher had to build their own robot from scratch before they could even begin experimenting. Pieter Abbeel, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “You spent so much time building and maintaining that contraption that your research would be really slowed down.”

Abbeel got one of 11 PR2s that Willow Garage gave to university researchers who agreed to share their work to speed the evolution of artificial intelligence.

Abbeel decided to teach his robot to fold laundry — not as mundane a task as you might think. Abbeel explained, “The big challenge in robotics right now is how to make robots deal with variability. Whenever things change around the robot, it needs to understand what it is that has changed and how to act on it. Any time you present a pile of laundry, it’s going to be different. You’re manipulating this towels, T-shirts, and so forth. The more variability, the harder the task is going to be.”

To be of practical use in the home, robots need to figure out a changing world around them. To do that, the PR2 is loaded with sensors that reveal its surroundings in 3D. It knows when someone is in a room with it and sees the person in detail. But while seeing is one step, understanding is another.

Read the full article at CBS News. Where do you see the biggest application for personal, in-home robots? What chores would you gladly pass off to a helping robotic hand?