Friday Fun Video: Automate at a Glance

January 25, 2013

The 2013 Automate Show closed yesterday, with preliminary reports of a 40% increase in attendance from the 2011 show and good feelings from exhibitors all around. The Automate Show also allowed the robotic and automation industries to voice their success stories to the press, who’ve recently been focused on a negative portrayal of robotics.

Here’s a glimpse of several live demos at the Automate Show from the New York Times.

And who’s faster? Man or machine? An Automate attendee has a little fun at the Adept Technology booth.

Thanks to the staff of A3, the exhibitors, and everyone who worked hard to make this year’s Automate Show a success. We’ll see you all again in 2015!

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The Automate Show Opens Soon — Get Your Free Show Pass Today!

January 2, 2013

We are just weeks away from the opening of the 2013 Automate Show in Chicago! If you’re considering automation to improve and grow your company this year, come to Automate to see live demos, talk with industry professionals, and find the solution that’s perfect for you! Read the press release below for more information or register for your free show pass here.

(Ann Arbor, Michigan) Conference registration is now open for Automate 2013, North America’s leading automation event that takes place January 21-24 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

“The 2013 Conference is the strongest we’ve ever put together,” says Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation, the main organizer of Automate 2013.

“We’re gearing many sessions to small and medium sized companies who are new users or considering using robotics, vision, motion control, and other automation technologies,” Burnstein asserts. One of the featured sessions highlights small company executives who have successfully automated in order to become stronger global competitors. Speakers include Drew Greenblatt, President, Marlin Steel, Torben Christensen, President, Wiscon Products and Matt Tyler, President & CEO, Vickers Engineering.

“I think companies considering automating will find this session fascinating because it will provide real-world examples of companies who would have had to either go out of business or send manufacturing offshore but instead succeeded by automating,” Burnstein said.

Other key topics covered in the conference include the fundamentals of robotics and the fundamentals of vision, new developments in industrial robot safety, new motor and drive technologies, robotics system integration, motion control technology for increasing throughput, and practical applications using vision guided robots.

More than 75 industry experts from around the world will give presentations at the five-day conference (ending January 25). Keynote speakers include Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media and Henrik Christensen, Director of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Professionals in the vision industry can take special classes that are required to earn the highly-coveted Certified Vision Professional (CVP) designation. The CVP is offered at both the Basic and Advanced Levels, with testing also offered at Automate 2013.

The Automate conference is accompanied by a four-day trade show featuring exhibits from some 150 leading automation companies. It offers a broad-range of automation solutions for packaging, welding, assembly, material removal, inspection, painting & coating, and other leading applications.

Burnstein said the front of the show is dedicated to exhibits from system integrators, the ideal starting point for users just beginning to investigate automation or those looking for new ideas. “The integrators are the ones who put successful solutions together, so they are extremely important to the user community,” he noted.

Another show-floor highlight will be Expert Huddles, small group discussions on key topics of interest to users. “These huddles will feature industry experts leading the discussion – among the topics will be return on investment, the best first tasks for automation, and how to select a system integrator. We expect to have more than 75 huddles throughout the show and all of them are free to show and conference attendees.”

Trade show attendance is free (16 and over required). Fees are required for the Automate 2013 conference. Full details can be found at www.automate2013.com. Automate 2013 is collocated with ProMat (sponsored by the Material Handling Industry of America). ProMat is North America’s premier material handling and logistics show. “Having both of these shows together gives attendees a chance to explore the state of the art in automation solutions as well as seeing what’s coming next for both the automation and material handling industries,” Burnstein noted.

About the Organizer
Automate is organized by the Association for Advancing Automation, the not-for-profit umbrella corporation of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, and the Motion Control Association (MCA). Together these associations represent nearly 700 member companies from 32 nations. Members include suppliers, system integrators, end users, universities, consulting firms and others involved in automation.

For more information on RIA, visit www.robotics.org. For AIA, visit www.visiononline.org. For MCA, visitwww.motioncontrolonline.org. Automate show and conference information can be found at www.automate2013.com. To reach Association Headquarters, call 734/994-6088.


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?


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?


Sensitive Robot Hears What Humans Cannot

November 19, 2012

In the effort to make robots more competent to complete tasks humans can do, researchers have focused on developing robotic senses. Tactile and vision systems have made robots even more sensitive than human senses alone could be, and now researchers in Japan have introduced a system to help robots hear better. Researchers aim to teach the robot how to determine not only what sounds it can hear but which ones are important.

HEARBO Robot Has Superhearing
by Angelica Lim

The beamforming approach is widely used, but HEARBO takes the beamforming approach a step further. What about when the TV is on, the kids are playing on one side of the room, and the doorbell rings? Can our robot butler detect that? HEARBO researchers say it can, using their own 3-step paradigm: localization, separation, and recognition. This system, called HARK, lets you recover the original sounds from a mixture based on where the sounds are coming from. Their reasoning is that “noise” shouldn’t just be suppressed, but be separated out and then analyzed afterwards, since the definition of noise is highly dependent on the situation. For example, a crying baby may be considered noise, or it may convey very important information.

At IROS 2012, Keisuke Nakamura of HRI-JP presented his new super-resolution sound source localization algorithm, which allows sounds to be detected to within 1-degree of accuracy. For example, it could precisely detect the location of a human calling for help in a disaster situation.

Using the methods developed by Kazuhiro Nakadai’s team at HRI-JP, up to four different simultaneous sounds or voices can be detected and recognized in practice. Theoretically, with eight microphones, up to seven different sound sources can be separated and recognized at once, something that humans with two ears cannot do.

Read the full article at IEEE Spectrum. What applications could you see for a super-hearing robot? Will researchers ever find a reason to develop a sense of taste?


Service Robot Scales Wind Towers Vertically

June 28, 2012

The robotics industry is full of futuristic-minded people who realize the benefits of using technology to do jobs that are tedious, dangerous, or otherwise difficult for people. Helical Robotics has coupled the technology of robotics with another forward-thinking industry, wind power, to come up with a new tool in the maintaining of alternative energy solutions.

Robots ready for outside, up-tower work
by Paul Dvorak

Access to a wind tower has traditionally required the use of cranes, bucket trucks, or rappelling teams. Engineers at Wisconsin-based Helical Robotics have designed another way and one, they say, streamlines the work. It uses remote-controlled, robotic devices that can scale a wind tower. These robotic platforms can be fitted with a wide range of devices from cameras and non-destructive testing equipment, to robotic arms and lifts.

By using a service robot, the wind power industry can not only save money on expensive maintenance equipment and procedures, but they can also eliminate some of the need to for people to complete tasks at dangerous heights. Click here to read the full article on Helical’s new robot on Windpower Engineering & Development. What other applications can you see for a vertically-gliding robot? Go to Helical Robotics’ website for more information, including the video below.


New Applications for Mobile Robots

April 6, 2012

by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor
Robotic Industries Association
Originally posted 04/05/2012

Mobility promises to be the next frontier in flexible robotics. While fixed robots will always have a place in manufacturing, augmenting traditional robots with mobile robots promises additional flexibility to end-users in new applications. These applications include medical and surgical uses, personal assistance, security, warehouse and distribution applications, as well as ocean and space exploration.

“We see increased interest in mobile robotics across all industries. The ability of one mobile robot to service several locations and perform a greatly expanded range of tasks offers a great appeal for specialized applications,” says Corey Ryan, Medical Account Manager at KUKA Robotics Corp. (Shelby Township, Michigan).

Autonomous mobile robot on the job, courtesy Adept Technology Inc.Mobile Apps
Mobile robots are proliferating says Rush LaSelle, Vice President and General Manager with Adept Technology Inc. (Pleasanton, California). “In the industrial space, mobile robots are redefining the playing field for autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) in that modern mobile platforms are capable of operating in areas without requiring alterations or investment into existing infrastructure. Mobile robots overcome a historical impediment of AGVs, their inability to dynamically reroute themselves. Mobile robots are outfitted with advanced sensory and enhanced intelligence systems.”

Reduced costs enable deploying both large and small fleets of vehicles in warehouse distribution and line-side logistics applications, LaSelle adds.

Mobile robots can be particularly useful in painting and de-painting applications, says Erik Nieves, Director of Technology in the Motoman Robotics Division of Yaskawa America Inc. (Miamisburg, Ohio). “Mobility is a force multiplier for robots and I see that in de-painting very large structures such as C-130 aircraft. Two fixed robots cannot de-paint an entire aircraft between them because they cannot reach everywhere.” More than two fixed robots constitutes too much hardware with very little throughput. “Each robot is painting a little piece then sit idle, parked more than moving,” says Nieves.

Nieves suggests that rather than adding additional fixed robots around the aircraft, end-users needs a way to have two robots deal with an entire aircraft. “To de-paint an entire aircraft with two robots, those two robots need to move.” Putting the robots on servo tracks or a gantry is unfeasible due to aircraft’s geometry. “Putting two seven-axis robots on mobile platforms and driving them around the aircraft” is a better solution, Nieves says.

Mobile robot working on aircraft wing, courtesy Southwest Research InstituteLikewise, Paul Hvass, Senior Research Engineer with the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI, San Antonio, Texas) says mobile robots facilitate cost-effective paint removal from large aircraft. “The motivation behind the development of our Metrology-Referenced Roving Accurate Manipulator (MR ROAM) was to demonstrate high-accuracy, industrial-grade mobile manipulation for very large workspaces, an enabling capability for applications like aircraft paint stripping. SwRI has a 25-year history of developing, deploying, and supporting custom robots for fighter jet paint stripping and other large scale applications.”

Hvass goes on to say, “To economically strip paint from larger planes, mobile automation is needed. In the future, we envision mobile robots developed for large-scale tasks including aerospace, off-shore, and road, bridge, and building construction. These robots will initially undertake light-duty tasks such as painting, cleaning, and inspection before moving on to heavier-duty tasks as mobile robotic technology matures,” Hvass concludes.

Medical/Surgical Applications
Corey Ryan talks about potential uses of mobile robotics in medical and other life sciences applications. “Medical applications are always a growing field with huge untapped applications like drug delivery, or the development of mobile treatment systems for specialized equipment.”

People and mobile robots working collaboratively, courtesy RMT Robotics Ltd.Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) can play a role in assisting doctors in surgical procedures, says, Bill Torrens, Director of Sales and Marketing with RMT Robotics Ltd. (Grimsby, Ontario, Canada). “AMR technology is applied in surgical applications. Based on inputs, the robot arm assists the surgeon to perform a task. Path-planning algorithms move the robot autonomously.”

Sean Thompson, Applications Engineer at MICROMO (Clearwater, Florida) sees an increase use of robotics for automated prosthesis fabrication. “Minimizing motor size helps make prostheses more related to the natural human form. That comes down to applying power to build prostheses that more closely emulates the body’s natural capabilities.”

Danger Seeker
Mobile robots can access areas dangerous to humans, says, Andrew Goldenberg, President of Engineering Services Inc. (ESI, Toronto, Ontario, Canada). “Mobile robots are used to reach inaccessible areas such as nuclear power plants. Mobile robotics are very useful in nuclear environments with high levels of radiation, particularly during a disaster or threat of a disaster.”

Goldenberg goes on to say, “Some companies are using robotics underwater while others want to develop robotics for military applications, shoreline exploration of mines, and for repairing a ship’s structure.” ESI is involved with mobile robots for space exploration, such as rovers remotely moving on Mars.

Mobile robot bristling with sensors on tracks, courtesy Engineering Services Inc.As a caveat, Goldenberg says, “Current robotics are not quite sufficiently designed to withstand high radiation affecting their electronic circuitry. Some attempts to design mobile robotics specifically for use in this environment have been made.”

Wireless communication with mobile robots is still a challenge, says Goldenberg. “If mobile robots go underground or in areas of low connectivity like subway tunnels, control of the robot could be lost.”

Hvass also talks about communication to and from mobile robots. “If the robot communicates with infrastructure over a wireless link, that link is vulnerable due to bandwidth sharing, variable distances between radios, obstructions, and non-deterministic protocols.”

Mobile robots for use in inaccessible areas is also on the mind of Sean Thompson. “We see more interest in undersea robotics with smaller non-tethered robots used by research facilities. Aerial robotics tends to go either way, smaller platforms and larger platforms, depending on the mission. Camera packages have gotten smaller which allow aerial robots to roam at lower altitudes in shorter distances on smaller aircraft. These remote-controlled aircraft are collecting highly-detailed and accurate video.”

Thompson speaks of other military applications of mobile robotics. “Troopers could carry heavier loads with robotic pack dogs and exoskeletons. This technology is different from replacing a service dog but will be commonplace in five to 10 years.”

LaSelle also sees mobile robotics utilized for patrol and monitoring applications. “Another key expansion of mobile robotics has been in monitoring, security and patrolling. Patrolling applications provide users with the ability to monitor intrusion, thermal and other environmental conditions. A key area of activity has been the monitoring and patrol of vacant properties as well as warehousing spaces.” This increased ability is due to the reliability and low costs attributed to autonomous vehicle patrol capabilities, LaSelle says.

Thermal monitoring is of special interest to Internet server farms and other sensitive electronic or mechatronic systems. Water ingress is also commonly monitored by way of mobile robotics, LaSelle notes.

Mobile robots are finding their way into other non-industrial applications. “The reduced cost of deployment and ownership mobile robots have extended their reach into non-factory applications. The current generation of smart vehicles is leading hospitals, laboratories, and some offices to employ mobile robots to alleviate the use of skilled labor for mundane transport tasks.”

Continuing, LaSelle adds, “Mobility is already the norm in service applications and this sector is primed for tremendous growth. Service robotics is expected to overshadow the industrial robot sector in a matter of a few years. Adept believes mobile robots will be an exciting area in coming years,” reports LaSelle.

Mobility=Lean
The vision of truly lean manufacturing is being realized through mobile robotics says Torrens. “Mobile robotics connect islands of automation. The last frontier of lean manufacturing facilitates the connection between manufacturing work cells. Mobile robots are now used for transporting materials from donation areas and taking these raw materials to a work cell.”

Torrens says mobile robotics provides a much higher level of flexibility for manufacturers. “For example, a manufacturing facility normally delivers a bin of 100 parts for a machine to work on. This is an example of batch processing, not lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing embraces a piece-work philosophy, or a smaller batch philosophy. If taking one piece at a time to a machine, manufacturers have more flexibility with robotic transport between manufacturing cells. That approach is lean manufacturing as originally intended.”

Torrens believes “mobile robots have finally achieved the goals of what the factory of the future was supposed to look like. The machines were in place but the transport logistic was not.” Mobile robotics provides that logistical support, argues Torrens. “To realize lean manufacturing, robots must be highly intelligent and able to autonomously deliver parts from any random origin to any random destination. Mobile robot technology up to this point has been unable to deliver materials in a just-in-time way.”

LaSelle anticipates mobile robotics serving the ends of lean manufacturing through processing of optimal batch sizes in warehouse and palletizing applications. “Adept sees the combination of mobility and manipulation as a powerful combination as evident in the increasing demand for case-picking applications. Companies want to move smaller batch sizes throughout their facilities.” End-users want to move less than a full pallet from a warehouse to a production line, concludes LaSelle.

“Companies look for solutions to pick cases or parts individually within a warehouse as compared to pulling a full rack. As this trend continues, expect to see more demand for systems encompassing mobility, manipulation, and vision. Given the rate of technological advancement and drive for smaller batch sizes in manufacturing, we will see mobile robots become a staple in a large cross section of manufacturing within the next six to seven years,” foresees LaSelle.

Autonomous Locomotion
Genuine independent mobility is necessary for robotics to add significant value to manufacturing says Erik Nieves. “Mobility moves robots from being machines to production partners. The robot has to move to the work but if the robot is bolted to the floor and has no work before that robot, the robot is adding zero value to the production process.” Bringing a mobile robot to where production is rather than bringing production to a fixed robot is the philosophical underpinning of mobile robotics, Nieves says.

Any mobile platform must address issues relating to power, navigation, and calibration, says Nieves. “Instead of mobile robots tethered to a source of power through an umbilical, the robot will dock to a power source when reaching a point of interest, to recharge while working.” On-board power simply keeps the robot mobile during transit.

Nieves turns his attention to navigation, or “How the robot gets from A to B autonomously. Using simultaneous localization and mapping, the mobile robot can go from one station to the next largely on its own with without many changes to the facility. To change the mobile robot’s path, [a number of guidance] labels are put somewhere else,” describes Nieves.

Calibration, the final element in Nieves’ approach, is a measure of how close the robot gets to it intended destination. “The robot must calibrate itself to the machine in front of it every time it arrives at one. Calibration is done by some means, such as touching off on three points or using a vision sensor to allow the robot to determine its location.”

Kiva Systems’ (North Reading, Massachusetts) automated warehouse system is an example of mobile robots quickly and efficiently fulfilling customers’ orders. The robot-based system impressed on-line retail giant Amazon.com (Seattle, Washington) enough to acquire Kiva in March 2012.

Going Mobile
As with any new, cutting-edge technology, mobile robotics has yet to become the norm in manufacturing. “In heavy or unusual payload applications, mobile robotic platforms are becoming increasingly common along with a great deal of interest in small mobile platforms. Given the current level of technology already used in mobile platforms, these products will likely become very common within the next five to 10 years,” says Corey Ryan.

To do so, the robotics industry will need to continue educating end-users on the potential of mobile robotics. For more information on service robots, check out the 2011 feature article on Robotics Online: Service Robots and their Rapid Rise in Multiple Markets.

To read the original posting, click here.