Enhanced Robot ‘Vision’ Enables More Natural Interaction With Humans

TROY, N.Y. — The wide-eyed, soft-spoken robot named Pepper motors around the Intelligent Systems Lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. One of the researchers tests Pepper, making various gestures as the robot accurately describes what he’s doing. When he crosses his arms, the robot identifies from his body language that something is off.

“Hey, be friendly to me,” Pepper says. Pepper’s ability to pick up on non-verbal cues is a result of the enhanced “vision” the lab’s researchers are developing. Using advanced computer vision and AI, the team is enhancing the ability of robots like this one to more naturally interact with humans.

“What we have been doing so far is adding visual understanding capabilities to the robot, so it can perceive human action and can naturally interact with humans through these non-verbal behaviors, like body gestures, facial expressions, and body pose,” said Qiang Ji, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, and the director of the Intelligent Systems Lab.
Detecting non-verbal clues and emotion
With the support of government funding over the years, researchers at Rensselaer have mapped the human face and body so that computers, with the help of cameras built into the robots and machine-learning technologies, can perceive non-verbal cues and identify human action and emotion.

Among other things, Pepper can count how many people are in a room, scan an area to look for a particular person, estimate an individual’s age, recognize facial expressions, and maintain eye contact during an interaction.

Another robot, named Zeno, looks more like a person and has motors in its face making it capable of closely mirroring human expression. The research team has been honing Zeno’s ability to mimic human facial communication in real time right down to eyebrow – and even eyeball – movement.

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Ji sees computer vision as the next step in developing technologies that people interact within their homes every day. Currently, most popular AI-enabled virtual assistants rely almost entirely on vocal interactions.

“There’s no vision component. Basically, it’s an audio component only,” Ji said. “In the future, we think it’s going to be multimodal, with both verbal and nonverbal interaction with the robot.”
Other applications of research
The team is also working on other vision-centered developments, like technology that would be able to track eye movement. Tools like that could be applied to smartphones and tablets.

Ji said the research being done in his lab is currently being supported by the National Science Foundation and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In addition, the Intelligent Systems Lab has received funding over the years from public and private sources including the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Honda.

What Ji’s team is developing could also be used to make roads safer, he said, by installing computer-vision systems into cars.

“We will be able to use this technology to ultimately detect if the driver is fatigued, or the driver is distracted,” he said. “The research that we’re doing is more human-centered AI. We want to develop AI, machine-learning technology, to extend not only humans’ physical capabilities, but also their cognitive capabilities.”

That’s where Pepper and Zeno come in. Ji envisions a time when robots could keep humans company and improve their lives. He said that is the ultimate goal.

“This robot could be a companion for humans in the future,” Ji said, pointing to Pepper. “It could listen to humans, understand human emotion, and respond through both verbal and non-verbal behaviors to meet humans’ needs.”
Enhanced Robot ‘Vision’ Enables More Natural Interaction With Humans

3 Ways AI and Machine Learning Are Keeping Construction Workers Safer

The secret is out: working in construction is dangerous. Construction workers are killed on the job five times more often than any other workers, with an average of 14 workers dying on the job every day.

About the author: Matt Man is co-founder and CEO of indus.ai, a construction intelligence platform. Contact him here on LinkedIn.

In addition, struck-by deaths have risen by 34% over the past decade, bringing more urgency to site managers and workers to find ways to limit workplace injuries and deaths. Artificial intelligence solutions are providing construction managers more control over their job sites to reduce workplace hazards.

Here are three ways that AI is helping to keep construction safer for workers:
1) Increased visibility to prevent surprises
Increased visibility is crucial to improving on-site safety. Surprise injuries, such as falls, account for nearly 40% of construction deaths. Granted, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of falling on a construction site, but increasing on-site visibility and awareness with AI software can help reduce these surprises.

AI-supported cameras provide real-time footage while also gathering and analyzing all inbound data concerning the job site. From the materials to the vehicles to the workers, everything on a job site is accounted for in real-time. The data gathered by the AI gives construction managers insights into the sites to anticipate anything that may prove dangerous via interactive dashboards, and allows them to make better decisions with regard to employee safety.

Construction managers can be proactive to better understand where to focus their planning, training, and instruction when they do their safety walk.

In a 2016 photo competition, humans were pitted against AI software to review photo submissions for potential job-site safety risks. The AI processed all 1,080 images in under five minutes, while the human experts took more than five hours to complete the same task.

2) AI can simplify tasks before the work begins
Construction sites are especially risky due to the number of variables involved. One way to mitigate the dangers on a construction site is to do as little as possible at the site – or move the construction site altogether. A combination of AI and robotics can produce prefabricated construction, which allows building elements to be built in a controlled factory and then transported to a construction site. This process controls many of the would-be hazards on a standard construction site, and completes the most dangerous tasks without risking human injury.

More on construction, AI:

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PrecisionHawk Expands Drone Tech Portfolio with Construction-Focused Acquisition
Market for Commercial Drones to Nearly Triple by 2024, Research Says
Drone Usage Grows to Get the Industrial Dirty Jobs Done (FREE report)

Thanks to AI and prefabricated construction, site managers can ensure the safest construction sites possible. Improvements in safety lead many to anticipate that there will be a 6% increase in modular construction by 2022.
3) Increased transparency and accountability
The introduction of AI-supported equipment on a construction site holds every stakeholder accountable in unprecedented ways. Lost paperwork, communication breakdowns, and misunderstandings are no longer acceptable excuses, with AI working to correct such mishaps. With AI software tracking and analyzing every piece of inbound data in real-time around-the-clock, all stakeholders are kept in the know regarding all progress or setbacks. Additionally, all stakeholders can see why problems arise and why workers are getting injured.

This level of workplace transparency goes a long way in keeping site managers accountable for the success of their job sites. With all stakeholders having an eye on the site, construction managers must go above and beyond to ensure that workers are kept safe.
Conclusion – going beyond ‘Be careful out there’
Construction sites are inherently dangerous, but construction managers and designers owe it to their workers to ensure the sites they work on are as safe as possible. “Being careful” is no longer an acceptable safety technique, and has proved to be woefully ineffective as the rate of workers hurt or killed on-site continues to skyrocket. AI can give construction managers the ability to protect their workers like never before, and ensure the sites are as safe as possible.
3 Ways AI and Machine Learning Are Keeping Construction Workers Safer

At ProMat 2019, Companies Pitch Efficiency for Warehouses

CHICAGO – Distribution centers and warehouses are at the center of e-commerce. Their ability to quickly and efficiently load, unload and move pallets and individual items is the key to maximize efficiencies that companies want, and the delivery times that customers demand. Finding those efficiencies was the basis of many of the robot and automation solutions on display at ProMat 2019 last week.
Honeywell
Honeywell was one of the companies that took center stage with a wide array of technologies to help with various aspects of distribution centers/warehouses.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts covering robot company meetings at Automate and ProMat. Click here to see Part One.

The company’s Connected Assets offering, part of The Connected Distribution Center from Honeywell Intelligrated, relies on sensors embedded at key points of a sortation system. The system can monitor equipment performance and trending insights, including the temperature and vibration of motor gearboxes, electricity consumed by control panels, and overall facility temperature and humidity.

The platform uses the collected data to develop trending information on performance and asset health, allowing distribution center managers and operators to use these real-time insights to preempt and predict equipment failures and drive process efficiencies, including specific details about the status of material handling equipment, such as sorting systems.

“Many distribution and fulfillment centers today struggle with repetitive issues inside their facilities. Too often, they are not capturing and properly analyzing equipment performance data, which makes it difficult to identify trends over an extended period and take corrective action,” said Eric Rice, principal product manager for IIoT applications with Honeywell Intelligrated. “With Connected Assets, companies can detect and predict risks and opportunities with asset-centric advanced analytics, which can help reduce downtime by identifying a potential issue before it becomes a problem.”

According to Rice, one Connected Assets customer was alerted to an increased motor vibration in their sorting system, enabling the customer to immediately service the equipment before it failed. Another customer was alerted to increasing no-read rates from scanners on their outbound system. This helped them identify a faulty label printer, which was quickly replaced.

The company used ProMat as a venue to discuss several other new systems designed for distribution centers/warehouses:
AI-enabled robotic unloader
A newly introduced artificial intelligence-enabled robotic unloader operates autonomously inside of a trailer, significantly cutting the ergonomically challenging manual labor and minimizing damage to packages.

“For distribution center workers, unloading packages is labor-intensive, physically demanding and injury-prone work that is often subject to extreme temperatures. These factors lead to low employee satisfaction and high turnover – as much as 36%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said Matt Wicks, Honeywell Integrated vice president of product development. “With our Robotic Unloader, we are using advanced machine learning to allow workers to remove themselves from the extreme environment and to oversee multiple unloading machines, increasing productivity and improving safety.”

Honeywell’s Robotic Unloader (see video, above) drives into a trailer or container and uses machine vision to identify various package shapes and sizes as well as the optimal approach to unloading. A robotic arm with a series of small suction cups conforms to the package shape to extract it from the stack. A conveyor below the arm can serve as a sweeper for packages to move them out of the trailer.

“In real-world applications, we are unloading a rate of up to 1,500 cases per hour and helping companies maximize throughput safely and efficiently,” said Wicks. “We’re working with Carnegie Mellon University to deploy advanced machine learning to expand the robotic capabilities with improved 3D vision, perception, processing power and gripping.”

The robot is designed to work within existing fleets to eliminate the need for modifications to trailers or standard shipping containers.

Honeywell Intelligrated also demonstrated a robotic sorter induction demo as well as item picking and mobile robotics demonstrations in collaboration with Soft Robotics and Fetch Robotics.
Voice software
The company is integrating its voice-directed software for distribution centers, Guided Work Solutions, by integrating it with the Microsoft Dynamics 365 warehousing platform.

Guided Work Solutions enables workers to receive and enter data via voice prompts, which Honeywell said reduces errors compared to manual entry.

“Too many small- and medium-sized distribution centers today still rely on error-prone, paper-based processes,” said Bill Birnie, general manager of voice solutions for Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions. “Guided Work Solutions for Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a tightly integrated, out-of-the-box offering that can be easily configured and deployed. By voice-enabling work in the warehouse, we are helping customers cut training time in half to get new workers onboarded quickly. This can help reduce labor costs in a challenging labor market.”

Reducing labor costs and increasing distribution center/warehouse efficiencies were at the heart of many of the other solutions displayed at ProMat. Among them were:
GreyOrange
The company’s Flexo modular sortation system, as well as upgraded versions of the company’s Butler and PickPal were featured.

GreyOrange’s Flexo modular sortation system is designed for retail, courier and express companies. Source: GreyOrange

Flexo adapts to existing layouts and can scale and handle versatile payloads. The system is designed to work around the clock, cutting cost per shipment and the need to hire additional workers during times of peak demand. Flexo components are designed to allow for fast implementation in as short as 15 days due to its modularity and standardization, and it can be easily scaled to handle large peaks.

Combined, these solutions are designed to provide flexibility so that companies can adapt to changes in customer demand and market strategies while controlling costs. Adaptability is important because holiday shopping, back-to-school shopping as well as seasonal products lead to peaks and valleys in distribution center/warehouse activity.
Raymond
The company displayed automation solutions featuring the Raymond Courier 3030, a 2,500-pound-capacity automated stacker. The Courier 3030 combines Seegrid’s guided vision technology with Raymond’s end-to-end warehouse solutions to automate end-of-line and pick-up and drop-off (P&D) applications. The company is marketing the vehicle primarily to transport and handle goods between connected manufacturing and warehouse facilities. The lift truck features reverse motion and auto-engagement functions and can reach heights up to six feet.

Raymond Courier 3030

“Because warehouses are constantly driven to deliver and improve, our goal at Raymond is to continually evolve our products and introduce new solutions to proactively address our customers’ challenges today while identifying opportunities to adapt to their needs of tomorrow,” said Raymond CEO Michael Field. “Our intralogistics solutions portfolio is a result of closely working with these customers.”

In addition to the lift truck, other technologies Raymond featured were a zoning-and-positioning solution, and an in-aisle detection system.

The zoning-and-positioning solution uses floor-embedded radio frequency identification reader (RFID) sensors that transmit instructions to a lift truck. The in-aisle detection system, used in conjunction with wire guidance in very narrow aisles, is designed as a training reinforcement tool to alert a lift truck to certain objects in its path, slowing the vehicle to a complete stop.
Kindred
Kindred showcased its AI-enabled picking robot, SORT, which features human-like grasping capabilities and separates multi-SKU batches into individual customer orders.

SORT picking robots use AutoGrasp, a robotics intelligence platform that uses machine learning to become smarter, faster, and more accurate over time. According to the company, SORT evaluates millions of data points to calculate and execute an optimal pick strategy for each task in real-time. The SORT platform combines vision, grasping and manipulation algorithms to integrate with any warehouse management software to evaluate items in real-time, picking and matching them to individual customer orders.

“Today’s e-commerce and distribution businesses face the critical roadblocks of staffing shortages and meeting throughput demands. There are simply not enough skilled workers to fill the void,” said Kindred CEO Jim Liefer. “Our SORT robots have achieved over eight million picks in production, helping our retail customers meet demand and create a dynamic workforce that marries automation with human skills.”

More on Automate, ProMat 2019:

Analysis: 5 Key Robotics Trends from ProMat and Automate 2019
At Automate 2019, Robot Vendors Tout Simplicity Across Products
ProMat and Automate Day 3 News and Notes: R2-D2 and 3 Tons of Fun!
ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts
News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase

The company offers SORT as a Robotics as a Service (RaaS) model, enabling companies to scale their usage and costs as their business needs dictate.
Dematic
ProMat is known for displaying picking robots, various lifting and sorting automation and other heavy machinery – as well as components and software for that machinery.

But some offerings are too big to display, so often videos are offered. But now technology is taking those video demonstrations a step further with virtual reality.

Dematic introduced Dematic iQ Virtual, a new emulation and simulation platform used to validate and visualize the operational aspects of automated intralogistics systems for the warehouse. Dematic iQ Virtual enables users to explore a proposed system configuration in a virtual environment and see how the system will perform in actual operation.

Dematic iQ Virtual provides an isolated, digital twin of the production environment, using graphic-rendering technology to accurately portray labor productivity, inventory flow and the efficiency of material handling automation.

The virtual emulation model uses a direct connection to Dematic iQ Optimize Warehouse Execution Software to verify efficient system operation, confirm functionality of the software integration and determine how the system will perform during a variety of operating conditions. Dematic iQ Virtual is ideal for evaluating various “what if” scenarios to determine the impact on system performance. This evaluation process drives engineering improvements to system design. The emulation modeling software is used to evaluate the designs of production and distribution intralogistics systems.

“Dematic iQ Virtual can corroborate that the intralogistics system, execution software and material handling automation will meet and exceed the performance expectations of the user,” said Scott Wahl, vice president of the Dematic Software Center of Excellence. “The emulation software allows users to be immersed into the automated warehouse environment with a three-dimensional perspective view or with a walk-through of the virtual warehouse using a virtual reality headset.”
At ProMat 2019, Companies Pitch Efficiency for Warehouses

Analysis: 5 Key Robotics Trends from ProMat and Automate 2019

CHICAGO – After three-plus days of seeing robots at last week’s ProMat and Automate trade show event — large, small, static, and mobile — it’s become clear that robotics and automation is more than just a “kick the tires” technology for many companies. Now that I’ve had some time to step back, check my notes, and reflect on news announcements and meetings with top robotics leaders, I’ve come away with five key robotics trends on the state of the industry in 2019 so far.
Trend #1: Collaboration that focuses on applications
At both shows, robotics companies weren’t just showing off their robots and telling customers, “Just buy this and everything will be fine.” Instead, they were displaying how their robots could perform certain tasks or how a complete system could solve a particular problem for a manufacturer. In other words, they were offering robotic applications instead of just robots or robot parts.

RightHand Robotics, for example, didn’t just display their very cool robot tool that combines a three-finger gripper with a vacuum gripper, which is impressive enough. Instead, they created the RightPick2 system, which shows off the gripper, the cobot arm (usually a Universal Robots cobot), the vision system (utilizing Intel RealSense cameras), and talking about the software and processors inside the RightPick2. Going beyond that, however, the company has done an outstanding job of also showing how the system can work with other partners, including Tompkins Robotics and Vecna Robotics, to name a few.

Universal Robots, as well, used the show to create zones of applications that the cobot arms could perform, including machine tending, packaging, assembly, and processing. The company did this to not only show that these processes could be handled by a cobot, but also to showcase partners, especially within its very large UR+ ecosystem of partners.

Jurgen von Hollen, Universal Robots

“If you’re only focused on the cobot and not on the complete application, you may believe you’re adding a lot of value to your customer,” Universal Robots President Jürgen von Hollen told me at the show. “But you actually don’t know. It might be some other part of the application that’s got nothing to do with a cobot that’s actually more of a problem. That’s why it was very critical for me, last year, that we started our applications team to really start understanding what does driving applications actually mean for the customer.”

It feels like more of the cobot and gripper/end-of-arm tool companies at Automate were doing the collaboration piece than those mobile robot companies that were displaying at ProMat, but several companies I spoke with are also seeing the value of automating more of the process beyond just having robots “move materials from Point A to Point B.”

For example, startup ROEQ was showing off its top roller mobile systems, which take materials to Point B and then moves it to a fixed conveyor system – Point C, D, etc. The top rollers that work with mobile robots from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) are also part of a similar ecosystem that MiR is setting up, replicating the UR+ model. This makes sense, since MiR and UR are both part of the Denmark robotics cluster, as well as both owned by Teradyne.
Trend #2: Adding pieces to the robot puzzle
On the ProMat side, I saw several cases where companies that launched with a single robot a few years ago are now adding additional pieces to create or extend a particular process or task. Not only does this give the company additional potential revenue on the hardware side, but it also creates more opportunities for them to create more automated processes or additional links in the supply chain.

For example, 6 River Systems talked about its new Mobile Sort system, which enables warehouse operators to fill batched orders with its existing 6 River mobile robots (aka “Chucks”).

The new Bolt robot from IAM Robotics. Source: Robotics Business Review

At the IAM Robotics booth, company officials were showing off Bolt, a new mobile robot that can take bins picked by its Swift mobile manipulator robot and then deliver the goods to an existing conveyor system.

GreyOrange, which has a fleet of its Butler mobile robots delivering in goods-to-person scenarios, was showing its Flexo mobile robots designed for modular sortation purposes.

Meanwhile, the folks at Brain Corp used the show to highlight its new concept robot for the grocery and in-store shelving market, to demonstrate how its BrainOS software could give autonomy to existing mobile carts and other devices beyond the commercial floor cleaning systems.

Whether these companies are creating new systems to generate more revenue on the hardware side, or to tell customers that they can create larger processes beyond the “move from A to B” basics, it’s clear they want to offer more options for customers.
Trend #3: Keeping it simple, stupid!
By most accounts, teaching or programming a robot how to perform a particular task is a complicated and difficult process. At the Yaskawa booth, for example, they had a “robotic bartender” pouring draft beer for attendees. One of the engineers at the booth told me it took a few weeks of programming to get the robot to accurately grab the cup and move it to the correct beer pouring spot (attendees could choose from at least two beer options).

Most companies showcasing robot arms touted either simpler software from existing options (such as improved interfaces for teaching pendants), or they touted new methods that enabled gesture-based approaches on teaching a cobot how to perform a simple task. At the Productive Robotics booth, for example, it didn’t take me (yes, me!) long to teach one of their OB7 cobots to pick up an object and move it to another location. Thankfully, the Productive Robotics team then also showed me other ways to expand beyond pick-and-place, such as opening a CNC machine door, or how it could see specific objects to grab in case the object was in the wrong location (or if a different object was on the table).

At the Ready Robotics booth, the company was showing its Forge suite of products, which aim to unify cross-robotic programming and control. The Forge suite includes a hardware controller called Forge/Ctrl running the Forge/OS software, which then “empowers anyone to intuitively control industrial and collaborative robots.” The Forge suite utilizes one interface across multiple robot brands, “creating a programming experience so far beyond easy it feels intuitive with no previous robotic experience required,” said Ready Robotics.

The company’s booth included 11 different robots and eight live robotic demonstrations that showcased its software – including having a UR-10e cobot putt a golf ball into a hole, or bowl a strike with a CR-15iA cobot from FANUC.

As more companies begin to deploy robots in their operations, especially as small and midsize companies buy or lease them, making sure the robots can be easily programmed will be key. Fortunately, most of the companies on the Automate and ProMat floors understood this.
Trend #4: Larger loads, bigger markets
While large industrial robots have been able to pick up large loads before, on the mobile side there have been limitations on the payloads. At this year’s show, those payloads are getting larger.

The MAV3K robot from Waypoint Robotics can support heavier loads for manufacturing environments. Source: Waypoint Robotics

MiR introduced its new MiR1000 that can move around goods that weigh up to 1 ton, and Waypoint Robotics showed off its MAV3K (pronounced “May-Vick”) mobile platform with a 3-ton capacity. Whoah.

For those mobile robot companies aiming their products at the manufacturing space, these payload numbers will matter more for larger parts or larger bundles, or for boxes/pallets that require these weights. Even on the robotic lift truck side of things, I saw larger vehicles with autonomous capabilities. The new robotic lift truck from Yale Materials Handling, for example, was loading and unloading pallets onto shelves three levels high and two pallets deep. Robotic lift truck veterans Seegrid and Vecna also displayed their latest autonomous vehicles for carrying heavier loads.

More on Automate, ProMat 2019:

At Automate 2019, Robot Vendors Tout Simplicity Across Products
ProMat and Automate Day 3 News and Notes: R2-D2 and 3 Tons of Fun!
ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts
News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019

For these companies, this opens up new markets and opportunities that they might not have had in the past – and companies that need those loads moved around the factory floor can now look at autonomous mobile robots as an option.
Trend #5: Deployments show robotics maturity
Even before the show began, I was noticing a general maturity in the mobile robotics space – company announcements about new partnerships, customers, and deployments all showed that companies within the supply chain space are going beyond the pilot phase into real-world usage (check out our free download titled “Mobile Robots Grow Up” for more details).

At the show, companies also announced further deployments and partnerships, including Brain Corp announcing that it would provide an additional 1,500 robotic floor cleaners to Walmart nationwide by the end of the year. Previously, the company had announced 360 robotic floor cleaners powered by the company’s BrainOS were working at the world’s largest retailer.

6 River Systems showcased its partnership with Office Depot and other companies, and also announced a new partnership with Sport Chek, Canada’s largest retailer of sports clothing and equipment. Locus Robotics also highlighted key partnerships and customers as well.

For newer robotics companies, proving that customers are finding value from their offerings is a key difference-maker for end users thinking about deploying robotics at their own locations. I would expect to see additional customer announcements and partnerships in this space as the year continues.
But wait, there’s more!
We’re not quite done yet with our ProMat and Automate coverage here at Robotics Business Review. In addition to some additional company news, we plan on publishing some Q&A interviews with key robotics leaders and showing off some videos we made while we were at the event. As always, stay tuned!
Analysis: 5 Key Robotics Trends from ProMat and Automate 2019

At Automate 2019, Robot Vendors Tout Simplicity Across Products

CHICAGO — The collocated Automate and ProMat trade shows last week provided manufacturers, software companies, and other robotic suppliers the chance to demonstrate some of their latest developments to aid customers with their business needs. One of the major themes of many of the displays and demonstrations was facilitating operations by making systems easier to use and simpler to deploy.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two parts covering robot company meetings at Automate and ProMat. Coming tomorrow, Phil Britt will highlight companies that displayed at ProMat 2019.

Among those were:
Energid
Energid demonstrated enhancements to its Actin 5 software development kit, which helps developers design, model, and control robotic systems. Among the enhancements:

Expanded support for Universal Robots’ e-Series and CB3 robots;
A Group Motion Manager that enables developers to queue up a group of motions and control the execution of those motions using a pre-defined state machine.

“The new features we have added make it even easier for robotic system developers to build advanced robotic applications,” said Neil Tardella, Energid CEO. “We’re making it so that anyone can use it without needing to know advanced programming.”

As companies seek to use robots for more complex tasks, with even command protocols, it’s increasingly important that companies be able to easily and quickly implement new command and controls, Tardella said.

The newest Actin updates enable users to develop controls and commands without some of the previous constraints, he added. “There are a lot of possibilities.”

The latest updates also help with real-time communications with robots, so there isn’t noticeable latency between a command and a robot’s reaction, Tardella said. Energid demonstrated at the show how the software adapts to a changing robot base position while performing a task. Once a system is modeled within Actin, the robot designer can focus on the end-of-arm application while no longer worrying about the base.

Tardella said he sees the Actin capability as useful for applications for mobile robots, mounted (for example, on rails) robots and underwater robots. Actin has already been used to help develop some of the controls for an autonomous rig drilling system.

Energid also demonstrated automated bin picking, using a tabletop demo to show how Actin can simplify the programing of picking parts under different scenarios. The demonstration also showed how the ability to use real-world input from collaborative robots in order to design collision-free motion environments.
Comau
Comau introduced its wearable exoskeleton, the Muscular Aiding Tech Exoskeleton (MATE), to help workers who move heavy equipment and perform repetitive tasks. The exoskeleton uses an advanced passive structure and delivers lightweight, breathable and highly effective postural support without batteries, motors or other devices.

The Comau MATE is an exoskeleton that helps workers move heavy equipment. Source: Comau

The MATE was developed in partnership with ÖSSUR (a non-invasive orthopedics company) and IUVO (a spin-off company of The BioRobotics Institute specialized in wearable technologies).

MATE is important for many companies where workers are moving heavy equipment, said Mark Anderson, head of robotics and automation products. He acknowledged that many robotics companies are seeking to use robots to take over the repetitive, heavy lifting in warehouses. But robots aren’t the answer in every situation, meaning humans still need to do some of this work.

MATE follows the movements of the upper limbs without resistance or misalignment, reducing shoulder muscle activity, helping workers perform the same tasks with less fatigue.

“MATE is another tool to help get the job done,” Anderson said. As such, the device is part of Comau’s “HUMANufacturing Tech” theme, which sees humans and robots as essential elements to increase productivity and quality within the evolving smart factory paradigm.

Though MATE is designed to help humans work with less physical stress in that smart factory, safe usage of the exoskeleton is an essential, Anderson said. “We work with users to train them on what they can and cannot do [with MATE]. It does not make someone Iron Man.”

MATE is already in use in automotive assembly, with significant demand indicated from companies across several industries, according to Anderson.

The Vir.GIL is a digital assistant for manual operations from Comau.

In addition to MATE, the company also displayed its in.Grid interactive IoT platform and Vir.GIL (Virtual Guidance Interactive Learning), the company’s digital assistant for manual operations.

The in.Grid platform combines digital and physical worlds through sensorization, data analysis and real-time monitoring of equipment and systems so operators can quickly verify production parameters at any stage of the manufacturing process, streamline maintenance operations and prevent problems before they occur.

Vir.GIL uses lights, sensors, speech and human-like gestures to guide workers. By putting Vir.GIL in machine-learning mode, the expert operator performs and confirms each position of an assembly process while Vir.GIL memorizes the hand positions and intervention points. Upon learning the sequence, the system can guide a non-experienced operator. The digital assistant also collects anonymous real-time data to verify technical parameters.
Acieta
Acieta used the event to launch its FastLOAD CR2000 standard machine tool cell. The new cells are designed with all components fully integrated for fast delivery and start-up as well.

Acieta’s booth at Automate 2019.

“Companies want to address their manufacturing problems quickly, and with our FastLOAD CR2000, we can deliver a high-quality system with an aggressive lead-time,” said Mark Sumner, Acieta’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Utilizing a FANUC collaborative robot in this system provides manufacturers a great way to drive increased productivity in a small footprint, a safe work environment, and at a high return on investment, so succeeding with robotics is easier and faster than ever before. It’s changing the way people think about robotics.”

The FastLOAD CR2000 can tend two machines simultaneously so an operator can load and unload parts while the robot is working on the other machine. It features a FANUC CR-15iA collaborative 6-axis robot, an intuitive touchscreen interface with easy in-shop Wi-Fi programming, and gripper fingers that allow for parts ranging from 5/8-inches to 5 ¾ inches in diameter.
Soft Robotics
The company’s mGrip modular automation kit enables uses to build soft, flexible gripping ends for robotic arms in order to grab a variety of consumer packaged goods and other products from an assembly line, such as foods and other soft goods that would be damaged by more rigid grippers or suction devices, according to Austin Harvey, senior product manager.

Each kit includes components needed to build tools with various configurations and spacing options.

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Harvey said manufacturers, particularly in the food industry, need a variety of soft gripper configurations offering human hand-like dexterity so they can work with various sizes of products, like snack cakes, produce, etc., which have different tolerances for gripping strength.

The company’s gripping platform is already in use at a number of companies in the food and beverage industry, including Just Born Quality Confections (maker of PEEPS), a popular inclusion in Easter baskets.
TM Robotics
The company displayed its THE600 SCARA robot, now offered in North America. The robot is twice as fast, with a 60% higher payload capacity, than the THE400, which the company launched last year.

Larger payloads were important elements of numerous introductions at both Automate and ProMat, as manufacturers, warehouse companies and others seek to fill increasing capacity demands.

Source: TM Robotics

TM Robotics also exhibited other robots from its extensive selection, including the TVM range of 6-axis robot models. The TVM range is a vertically articulated series available in three different sizes, lending itself to a multitude of industries.

“Combining high speed operation with a high payload capacity, the THE600 model has been developed to meet growing demand for fast-cycle automation,” said Nigel Smith, TM Robotics president. “Manufacturers are looking for machines to deliver improved precision and enhanced performance without breaking the bank, particularly in parts assembly, testing and transfer processes.”

TM Robotics also demonstrated several other SCARA machines as well as its robot control software, TSAssist, which is compatible with any Toshiba Machine SCARA, Cartesian or 6-axis robot.
LITE-ON Technology
As smart factories and smart warehouses continue along their evolutionary paths from concept to reality, an increasing number of sensors will be found on robots, machines, and related systems.

While these sensors offer a tremendous amount of data to aid efficiency, predict system failures and a variety of other uses, the data does little good if there isn’t an efficient way to collect and interpret information from different systems with different protocols a challenge that LITE-ON Technology offers to solve with its newly launched IIoT Gateway 2224-VGA.

The gateway includes a pair of two independent Gigabit Ethernet portals so it can work in LAN as well as WAN environments. The gateway incudes a programmable platform as well as the ability to sense data flows between HMI and PLC (Programmable Logic Controller).
Bosch Rexroth
Bosch Rexroth offered a number of technologies designed to aid companies in the smart factory, displaying them in a “Factory of the Future” showcase.

Rexroth’s Smart Assembly 4.0 Conveyor used Industry 4.0 compatibility of products from Rexroth’s linear motion, assembly, and automation technology portfolio.

Related technologies the company displayed in its Mechatronics@Work demo included:

The onboard IoT Gateway for the Smart Assembly 4.0 Conveyor, which displays any parameter on the system and can communicate with other devices and display their data.
The ActiveAssist Workstation, which offers intuitive worker guidance, enabling teams to easily visualize information.
The ActiveCockpit, an interactive data visualization and communications platform designed to support employees and management personnel.

 
At Automate 2019, Robot Vendors Tout Simplicity Across Products