Author Archives: Android

#435731 Video Friday: NASA Is Sending This ...

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

MARSS 2019 – July 1-5, 2019 – Helsinki, Finland
ICRES 2019 – July 29-30, 2019 – London, UK
DARPA SubT Tunnel Circuit – August 15-22, 2019 – Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

The big news today is that NASA is sending a robot to Saturn’s moon Titan. A flying robot. The Dragonfly mission will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034, but you knew that already, because last January, we posted a detailed article about the concept from the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University. And now it’s not a concept anymore, yay!

Again, read all the details plus an interview in 2018 article.

[ NASA ]

A robotic gripping arm that uses engineered bacteria to “taste” for a specific chemical has been developed by engineers at the University of California, Davis, and Carnegie Mellon University. The gripper is a proof-of-concept for biologically-based soft robotics.

The new device uses a biosensing module based on E. coli bacteria engineered to respond to the chemical IPTG by producing a fluorescent protein. The bacterial cells reside in wells with a flexible, porous membrane that allows chemicals to enter but keeps the cells inside. This biosensing module is built into the surface of a flexible gripper on a robotic arm, so the gripper can “taste” the environment through its fingers.

When IPTG crosses the membrane into the chamber, the cells fluoresce and electronic circuits inside the module detect the light. The electrical signal travels to the gripper’s control unit, which can decide whether to pick something up or release it.

[ UC Davis ]

The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) is taking on the hard problems in manipulation research toward making human-assist robots reliable and robust. Dr. Russ Tedrake, TRI Vice President of Robotics Research, explains how we are exploring the challenges and addressing the reliability gap by using a robot loading dishes in a dishwasher as an example task.

[ TRI ]

The Tactile Telerobot is the world’s first haptic telerobotic system that transmits realistic touch feedback to an operator located anywhere in the world. It is the product of joint collaboration between Shadow Robot Company, HaptX, and SynTouch. All Nippon Airways funded the project’s initial research and development.

What’s really unique about this is the HaptX tactile feedback system, which is something we’ve been following for several years now. It’s one of the most magical tech experiences I’ve ever had, and you can read about it here and here.

[ HaptX ]

Thanks Andrew!

I love how snake robots can emulate some of the fanciest moves of real snakes, and then also do bonkers things that real snakes never do.

[ Matsuno Lab ]

Here are a couple interesting videos from the Human-Robot Interaction Lab at Tufts.

A robot is instructed to perform an action and cannot do it due to lack of sensors. But when another robot is placed nearby, it can execute the instruction by tacitly tapping into the other robot’s mind and using that robot’s sensors for its own actions. Yes, it’s automatic, and yes, it’s the BORG!

Two Nao robots are instructed to perform a dance and are able to do it right after instruction. Moreover, they can switch roles immediately, and even a third different PR2 robot can perform the dance right away, demonstrating the ability of our DIARC architecture to learn quickly and share the knowledge with any type of robot running the architecture.

Compared to Nao, PR2 just sounds… depressed.

[ HRI Lab ]

This work explores the problem of robot tool construction – creating tools from parts available in the environment. We advance the state-of-the-art in robotic tool construction by introducing an approach that enables the robot to construct a wider range of tools with greater computational efficiency. Specifically, given an action that the robot wishes to accomplish and a set of building parts available to the robot, our approach reasons about the shape of the parts and potential ways of attaching them, generating a ranking of part combinations that the robot then uses to construct and test the target tool. We validate our approach on the construction of five tools using a physical 7-DOF robot arm.

[ RAIL Lab ] via [ RSS ]

We like Magazino’s approach to warehouse picking- constrain the problem to something you can reliably solve, like shoeboxes.

Magazino has announced a new pricing model for their robots. You pay 55k euros for the robot itself, and then after that, all you pay to keep the robot working is 6 cents per pick, so the robot is only costing you money for the work that it actually does.

[ Magazino ]

Thanks Florin!

Human-Robot Collaborations are happening across factories worldwide, yet very few are using it for smaller businesses, due to high costs or the difficulty of customization. Elephant Robotics, a new player from Shenzhen, the Silicon Valley of Asia, has set its sight on helping smaller businesses gain access to smart robotics. They created a Catbot (a collaborative robotic arm) that will offer high efficiency and flexibility to various industries.

The Catbot is set to help from education projects, photography, massaging, to being a personal barista or co-playing a table game. The customizations are endless. To increase the flexibility of usage, the Catbot is extremely easy to program from a high precision task up to covering hefty ground projects.

[ Elephant Robotics ]

Thanks Johnson!

Dronistics, an EPFL spin-off, has been testing out their enclosed delivery drone in the Dominican Republic through a partnership with WeRobotics.

[ WeRobotics ]

QTrobot is an expressive humanoid robot designed to help children with autism spectrum disorder and children with special educational needs in learning new skills. QTrobot uses simple and exaggerated facial expressions combined by interactive games and stories, to help children improve their emotional skills. QTrobot helps children to learn about and better understand the emotions and teach them strategies to handle their emotions more effectively.

[ LuxAI ]

Here’s a typical day in the life of a Tertill solar-powered autonomous weed-destroying robot.

$300, now shipping from Franklin Robotics.

[ Tertill ]

PAL Robotics is excited to announce a new TIAGo with two arms, TIAGo++! After carefully listening to the robotics community needs, we used TIAGo’s modularity to integrate two 7-DoF arms to our mobile manipulator. TIAGo++ can help you swiftly accomplish your research goals, opening endless possibilities in mobile manipulation.

[ PAL Robotics ]

Thanks Jack!

You’ve definitely already met the Cobalt security robot, but Toyota AI Ventures just threw a pile of money at them and would therefore like you to experience this re-introduction:

[ Cobalt Robotics ] via [ Toyota AI ]

ROSIE is a mobile manipulator kit from HEBI Robotics. And if you don’t like ROSIE, the modular nature of HEBI’s hardware means that you can take her apart and make something more interesting.

[ HEBI Robotics ]

Learn about Kawasaki Robotics’ second addition to their line of duAro dual-arm collaborative robots, duAro2. This model offers an extended vertical reach (550 mm) and an increased payload capacity (3 kg/arm).

[ Kawasaki Robotics ]

Drone Delivery Canada has partnered with Peel Region Paramedics to pilot its proprietary drone delivery platform to enable rapid first responder technology via drone with the goal to reduce response time and potentially save lives.

[ Drone Delivery Canada ]

In this week’s episode of Robots in Depth, Per speaks with Harri Ketamo, from Headai.

Harri Ketamo talks about AI and how he aims to mimic human decision making with algorithms. Harri has done a lot of AI for computer games to create opponents that are entertaining to play against. It is easy to develop a very bad or a very good opponent, but designing an opponent that behaves like a human, is entertaining to play against and that you can beat is quite hard. He talks about how AI in computer games is a very important story telling tool and an important part of making a game entertaining to play.

This work led him into other parts of the AI field. Harri thinks that we sometimes have a problem separating what is real from what is the type of story telling he knows from gaming AI. He calls for critical analysis of AI and says that data has to be used to verify AI decisions and results.

[ Robots in Depth ]

Thanks Per! Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435726 This Is the Most Powerful Robot Arm Ever ...

Last month, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrapped up the installation of the Mars 2020 rover’s 2.1-meter-long robot arm. This is the most powerful arm ever installed on a Mars rover. Even though the Mars 2020 rover shares much of its design with Curiosity, the new arm was redesigned to be able to do much more complex science, drilling into rocks to collect samples that can be stored for later recovery.

JPL is well known for developing robots that do amazing work in incredibly distant and hostile environments. The Opportunity Mars rover, to name just one example, had a 90-day planned mission but remained operational for 5,498 days in a robot unfriendly place full of dust and wild temperature swings where even the most basic maintenance or repair is utterly impossible. (Its twin rover, Spirit, operated for 2,269 days.)

To learn more about the process behind designing robotic systems that are capable of feats like these, we talked with Matt Robinson, one of the engineers who designed the Mars 2020 rover’s new robot arm.

The Mars 2020 rover (which will be officially named through a public contest which opens this fall) is scheduled to launch in July of 2020, landing in Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. The overall design is similar to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, named Curiosity, which has been exploring Gale Crater on Mars since August 2012, except Mars 2020 will be a bit bigger and capable of doing even more amazing science. It will outweigh Curiosity by about 150 kilograms, but it’s otherwise about the same size, and uses the same type of radioisotope thermoelectric generator for power. Upgraded aluminum wheels will be more durable than Curiosity’s wheels, which have suffered significant wear. Mars 2020 will land on Mars in the same way that Curiosity did, with a mildly insane descent to the surface from a rocket-powered hovering “skycrane.”

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Last month, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory install the main robotic arm on the Mars 2020 rover. Measuring 2.1 meters long, the arm will allow the rover to work as a human geologist would: by holding and using science tools with its turret.

Mars 2020 really steps it up when it comes to science. The most interesting new capability (besides serving as the base station for a highly experimental autonomous helicopter) is that the rover will be able to take surface samples of rock and soil, put them into tubes, seal the tubes up, and then cache the tubes on the surface for later retrieval (and potentially return to Earth for analysis). Collecting the samples is the job of a drill on the end of the robot arm that can be equipped with a variety of interchangeable bits, but the arm holds a number of other instruments as well. A “turret” can swap between the drill, a mineral identification sensor suite called SHERLOC, and an X-ray spectrometer and camera called PIXL. Fundamentally, most of Mars 2020’s science work is going to depend on the arm and the hardware that it carries, both in terms of close-up surface investigations and collecting samples for caching.

Matt Robinson is the Deputy Delivery Manager for the Sample Caching System on the Mars 2020 rover, which covers the robotic arm itself, the drill at the end of the arm, and the sample caching system within the body of the rover that manages the samples. Robinson has been at JPL since 2001, and he’s worked on the Mars Phoenix Lander mission as the robotic arm flight software developer and robotic arm test and operations engineer, as well as on Curiosity as the robotic arm test and operations lead engineer.

We spoke with Robinson about how the Mars 2020 arm was designed, and what it’s like to be building robots for exploring other planets.

IEEE Spectrum: How’d you end up working on robots at JPL?

Matt Robinson: When I was a grad student, my focus was on vision-based robotics research, so the kinds of things they do at JPL, or that we do at JPL now, were right within my wheelhouse. One of my advisors in grad school had a former student who was out here at JPL, so that’s how I made the contact. But I was very excited to come to JPL—as a young grad student working in robotics, space robotics was where it’s at.

For a robotics engineer, working in space is kind of the gold standard. You’re working in a challenging environment and you have to be prepared for any time of eventuality that may occur. And when you send your robot out to space, there’s no getting it back.

Once the rover arrives on Mars and you receive pictures back from it operating, there’s no greater feeling. You’ve built something that is now working 200+ million miles away. It’s an awesome experience! I have to pinch myself sometimes with the job I do. Working at JPL on space robotics is the holy grail for a roboticist.

What’s different about designing an arm for a rover that will operate on Mars?

We spent over five years designing, manufacturing, assembling, and testing the arm. Scientists have defined the high-level goals for what the mission has to do—acquire core samples and process them for return, carry science instruments on the arm to help determine what rocks to sample, and so on. We, as engineers, define the next level of requirements that support those goals.

When you’re building a robotic arm for another planet, you want to design something that is robust to the environment as well as robust from fault-protection standpoint. On Mars, we’re talking about an environment where the temperature can vary 100 degrees Celsius over the course of the day, so it’s very challenging thermally. With force sensing for instance, that’s a major problem. Force sensors aren’t typically designed to operate or even survive in temperature ranges that we’re talking about. So a lot of effort has to go into force sensor design and testing.

And then there’s a do-no-harm aspect—you’re sending this piece of hardware 200 million miles away, and you can’t get it back, so you want to make sure your hardware and software are robust and cannot do any harm to the system. It’s definitely a change in mindset from a terrestrial robot, where if you make a mistake, you can repair it.

“Once the rover arrives on Mars and you receive pictures back from it, there’s no greater feeling . . . I have to pinch myself sometimes with the job I do.”
—Matt Robinson, NASA JPL

How do you decide how much redundancy is enough?

That’s always a big question. It comes down to a couple of things, typically: mass and volume. You have a certain amount of mass that’s allocated to the robotic arm and we have a volume that it has to fit within, so those are often the drivers of the amount of redundancy that you can fit. We also have a lot of experience with sending arms to other planets, and at the beginning of projects, we establish a number of requirements that the design has to meet, and that’s where the redundancy is captured.

How much is the design of the arm driven by this need for redundancy, as opposed to trying to pack in all of the instrumentation that you want to have on there to do as much science as possible?

The requirements were driven by a couple of things. We knew roughly how big the instruments on the end of the arm were going to be, so the arm design is partially driven by that, because as the instruments get bigger and heavier, the arm has to get bigger and stronger. We have our coring drill at the end of the arm, and coring requires a certain level of force, so the arm has to be strong enough to do that. Those all became requirements that drove the design of the arm. On top of that, there was also that this arm also has to operate within the Martian environment, so you have things like the temperature changes and thermal expansion—you have to design for that as well. It’s a combination of both, really.

You were a test engineer for the arm used on the MSL rover. What did you learn from Spirit and Opportunity that informed the design of the arm on Curiosity?

Spirit and Opportunity did not have any force-sensing on the robotic arm. We had contact sensors that were good enough. Spirit and Opportunity’s arms were used to place instruments, that’s all it had to do, primarily. When you’re talking about actually acquiring samples, it’s not a matter of just placing the tool—you also have to apply forces to the environment. And once you start doing that, you really need a force sensor to protect you, and also to determine how much load to apply. So that was a big theme, a big difference between MSL and Spirit and Opportunity.

The size grew a lot too. If you look at Spirit and Opportunity, they’re the size of a riding lawnmower. Curiosity and the Mars 2020 rovers are the size of a small car. The Spirit and Opportunity arm was under a meter long, and the 2020 arm is twice that, and it has to apply forces that are much higher than the Spirit and Opportunity arm. From Curiosity to 2020, the payload of the arm grew by 50 percent, but the mass of the arm did not grow a whole lot, because our mass budget was kind of tight. We had to design an arm that was stronger, that had more capability, without adding more mass. That was a big challenge. We were fairly efficient on Curiosity, but on 2020, we sharpened the pencil even more.

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Three generations of Mars rovers developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Front and center: Sojourner rover, which landed on Mars in 1997 as part of the Mars Pathfinder Project. Left: Mars Exploration Rover Project rover (Spirit and Opportunity), which landed on Mars in 2004. Right: Mars Science Laboratory rover (Curiosity), which landed on Mars in August 2012.

MSL used its arm to drill into rocks like Mars 2020 will—how has the experience of operating MSL on Mars changed your thinking on how to make that work?

On MSL, the force sensor was used primarily for fault protection, just to protect the arm from being overloaded. [When drilling] we used a stiffness model of the arm to apply the force. The force sensor was only used in case you overloaded, and that’s very different from doing active force control, where you’re actually using the force sensor in a control loop.

On Mars 2020, we’re taking it to the next step, using the force sensor to actually actively control the level of force, both for pushing on the ground and for doing bit exchange. That’s a key point because fault protection to prevent damage usually has larger error bars. When you’re trying to actually push on the environment to apply force, and you’re doing active force control, the force sensor has to be significantly more accurate.

So a big thing that we learned on MSL—it was the first time we’d actually flown a force sensor, and we learned a lot about how to design and test force sensors to be used on the surface of Mars.

How do you effectively test the Mars 2020 arm on Earth?

That’s a good question. The arm was designed to operate on either Earth or Mars. It’s strong enough to do both. We also have a stiffness model of the arm which includes allows us to compensate for differences in gravity. For testing, we make two copies of the robotic arm. We have our copy that we’re going to fly to Mars, which is what we call our flight model, and we have our engineering model. They’re effectively duplicates of each other. The engineering arm stays on earth, so even once we’ve sent the flight model to Mars, we can continue to test. And if something were to happen, if say a drill bit got stuck in the ground on Mars, we could try to replicate those conditions on Earth with our engineering model arm, and use that to test out different scenarios to overcome the problem.

How much autonomy will the arm have?

We have different models of autonomy. We have pretty high levels flight software and, for instance, we have a command that just says “dock,” that moves the arm does all the force control to the dock the arm with the carousel. For surface interaction, we have stereo cameras on the rover, and those cameras allow us to generate 3D terrain models. Using those 3D terrain models, scientists can select a target on that surface, and then we can position the arm on the target.

Scientists like to select the particular sample targets, because they have very specific types of rocks they’re looking for to sample from. On 2020, we’re providing the ability for the next level of autonomy for the rover to drive up to an area and at least do the initial surveying of that area, so the scientists can select the specific target. So the way that that would happen is, if there’s an area off in the distance that the scientists find potentially interesting, the rover will autonomously drive up to it, and deploy the arm and take all the pictures so that we can generate those 3D terrain models and then the next day the scientists can pick the specific target they want. It’s really cool.

JPL is famous for making robots that operate for far longer than NASA necessarily plans for. What’s it like designing hardware and software for a system that will (hopefully) become part of that legacy?

The way that I look at it is, when you’re building an arm that’s going to go to another planet, all the things that could go wrong… You have to build something that’s robust and that can survive all that. It’s not that we’re trying to overdesign arms so that they’ll end up lasting much, much longer, it’s that, given all the things that you can encounter within a fairly unknown environment, and the level of robustness of the design you have to apply, it just so happens we end up with designs that end up lasting a lot longer than they do. Which is great, but we’re not held to that, although we’re very excited when we see them last that long. Without any calibration, without any maintenance, exactly, it’s amazing. They show their wear over time, but they still operate, it’s super exciting, it’s very inspirational to see.

[ Mars 2020 Rover ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435722 Stochastic Robots Use Randomness to ...

The idea behind swarm robots is to replace discrete, expensive, breakable uni-tasking components with a whole bunch of much simpler, cheaper, and replaceable robots that can work together to do the same sorts of tasks. Unfortunately, all of those swarm robots end up needing their own computing and communications and stuff if you want to get them to do what you want them to do.

A different approach to swarm robotics is to use a swarm of much cheaper robots that are far less intelligent. In fact, they may not have to be intelligent at all, if you can rely on their physical characteristics to drive them instead. These swarms are “stochastic,” meaning that their motions are randomly determined, but if you’re clever and careful, you can still get them to do specific things.

Georgia Tech has developed some little swarm robots called “smarticles” that can’t really do much at all on their own, but once you put them together into a jumble, their randomness can actually accomplish something.

Honestly, calling these particle robots “smart” might be giving them a bit too much credit, because they’re actually kind of dumb and strictly speaking not capable of all that much on their own. A single smarticle weighs 35 grams, and consists of some little 3D-printed flappy bits attached to servos, plus an Arduino Pro Mini, a battery, and a light or sound sensor. When its little flappy bits are activated, each smarticle can move slightly, but a single one mostly just moves around in a square and then will gradually drift in a mostly random direction over time.

It gets more interesting when you throw a whole bunch of smarticles into a constrained area. A small collection of five or 10 smarticles constrained together form a “supersmarticle,” but besides being in close proximity to one another, the smarticles within the supersmarticle aren’t communicating or anything like that. As far as each smarticle is concerned, they’re independent, but weirdly, a bumble of them can work together without working together.

“These are very rudimentary robots whose behavior is dominated by mechanics and the laws of physics,” said Dan Goldman, a Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The researchers noticed that if one small robot stopped moving, perhaps because its battery died, the group of smarticles would begin moving in the direction of that stalled robot. Graduate student Ross Warkentin learned he could control the movement by adding photo sensors to the robots that halt the arm flapping when a strong beam of light hits one of them.

“If you angle the flashlight just right, you can highlight the robot you want to be inactive, and that causes the ring to lurch toward or away from it, even though no robots are programmed to move toward the light,” Goldman said. “That allowed steering of the ensemble in a very rudimentary, stochastic way.”

It turns out that it’s possible to model this behavior, and control a supersmarticle with enough fidelity to steer it through a maze. And while these particular smarticles aren’t all that small, strictly speaking, the idea is to develop techniques that will work when robots are scaled way way down to the point where you can't physically fit useful computing in there at all.

The researchers are also working on some other concepts, like these:

Image: Science Robotics

The Georgia Tech researchers envision stochastic robot swarms that don’t have a perfectly defined shape or delineation but are capable of self-propulsion, relying on the ensemble-level behaviors that lead to collective locomotion. In such a robot, the researchers say, groups of largely generic agents may be able to achieve complex goals, as observed in biological collectives.

Er, yeah. I’m…not sure I really want there to be a bipedal humanoid robot built out of a bunch of tiny robots. Like, that seems creepy somehow, you know? I’m totally okay with slugs, but let’s not get crazy.

“A robot made of robots: Emergent transport and control of a smarticle ensemble, by William Savoie, Thomas A. Berrueta, Zachary Jackson, Ana Pervan, Ross Warkentin, Shengkai Li, Todd D. Murphey, Kurt Wiesenfeld, and Daniel I. Goldman” from the Georgia Institute of Technology, appears in the current issue of Science Robotics. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435716 Watch This Drone Explode Into Maple Seed ...

As useful as conventional fixed-wing and quadrotor drones have become, they still tend to be relatively complicated, expensive machines that you really want to be able to use more than once. When a one-way trip is all that you have in mind, you want something simple, reliable, and cheap, and we’ve seen a bunch of different designs for drone gliders that more or less fulfill those criteria.

For an even simpler gliding design, you want to minimize both airframe mass and control surfaces, and the maple tree provides some inspiration in the form of samara, those distinctive seed pods that whirl to the ground in the fall. Samara are essentially just an unbalanced wing that spins, and while the natural ones don’t steer, adding an actuated flap to the robotic version and moving it at just the right time results in enough controllability to aim for a specific point on the ground.

Roboticists at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have been experimenting with samara-inspired drones, and in a new paper in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters they explore what happens if you attach five of the drones together and then separate them in mid air.

Image: Singapore University of Technology and Design

The drone with all five wings attached (top left), and details of the individual wings: (a) smaller 44.9-gram wing for semi-indoor testing; (b) larger 83.4-gram wing able to carry a Pixracer, GPS, and magnetometer for directional control experiments.

Fundamentally, a samara design acts as a decelerator for an aerial payload. You can think of it like a parachute: It makes sure that whatever you toss out of an airplane gets to the ground intact rather than just smashing itself to bits on impact. Steering is possible, but you don’t get a lot of stability or precision control. The RA-L paper describes one solution to this, which is to collaboratively use five drones at once in a configuration that looks a bit like a helicopter rotor.

And once the multi-drone is right where you want it, the five individual samara drones can split off all at once, heading out on their own missions. It's quite a sight:

The concept features a collaborative autorotation in the initial stage of drop whereby several wings are attached to each other to form a rotor hub. The combined form achieves higher rotational energy and a collaborative control strategy is possible. Once closer to the ground, they can exit the collaborative form and continue to descend to unique destinations. A section of each wing forms a flap and a small actuator changes its pitch cyclically. Since all wing-flaps can actuate simultaneously in collaborative mode, better maneuverability is possible, hence higher resistance against environmental conditions. The vertical and horizontal speeds can be controlled to a certain extent, allowing it to navigate towards a target location and land softly.

The samara autorotating wing drones themselves could conceivably carry small payloads like sensors or emergency medical supplies, with these small-scale versions in the video able to handle an extra 30 grams of payload. While they might not have as much capacity as a traditional fixed-wing glider, they have the advantage of being able to descent vertically, and can perform better than a parachute due to their ability to steer. The researchers plan on improving the design of their little drones, with the goal of increasing the rotation speed and improving the control performance of both the individual drones and the multi-wing collaborative version.

“Dynamics and Control of a Collaborative and Separating Descent of Samara Autorotating Wings,” by Shane Kyi Hla Win, Luke Soe Thura Win, Danial Sufiyan, Gim Song Soh, and Shaohui Foong from Singapore University of Technology and Design, appears in the current issue of IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.
[ SUTD ]

< Back to IEEE Journal Watch Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435714 Universal Robots Introduces Its ...

Universal Robots, already the dominant force in collaborative robots, is flexing its muscles in an effort to further expand its reach in the cobots market. The Danish company is introducing today the UR16e, its strongest robotic arm yet, with a payload capability of 16 kilograms (35.3 lbs), reach of 900 millimeters, and repeatability of +/- 0.05 mm.

Universal says the new “heavy duty payload cobot” will allow customers to automate a broader range of processes, including packaging and palletizing, nut and screw driving, and high-payload and CNC machine tending.

In early 2015, Universal introduced the UR3, its smallest robot, which joined the UR5 and the flagship UR10, offering a payload capability of 3, 5, and 10 kg, respectively. Now the company is going in the other direction, announcing a bigger, stronger arm.

“With Universal joining its competitors in extending the reach and payload capacity of its cobots, a new standard of capability is forming,” Rian Whitton, a senior analyst at ABI Research, in London, tweeted.

Like its predecessors, the UR16e is part of Universal’s e-Series platform, which features 6 degrees of freedom and force/torque sensing on the tool flange. The UR family of cobots have stood out from the competition by being versatile in a variety of applications and, most important, easy to deploy and program. Universal didn’t release UR16e’s price, saying only that it is about 10 percent higher than that of the UR10e, which is about $50,000, depending on the configuration.

Jürgen von Hollen, president of Universal Robots, says the company decided to launch the UR16e after studying the market and talking to customers about their needs. “What came out of that process is we understood payload was a true barrier for a lot of customers,” he tells IEEE Spectrum. The 16 kg payload will be particularly useful for applications that require mounting specialized tools on the arm to perform tasks like screw driving and machine tending, he explains. Customers that could benefit from such applications include manufacturing, material handling, and automotive companies.

“We’ve added the payload, and that will open up that market for us,” von Hollen says.

The difference between Universal and Rethink

Universal has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding in 2008. By 2015, it had sold more than 5,000 robots; that number was close to 40,000 as of last year. During the same period, revenue more than doubled from about $100 million to $234 million. At a time when a string of robot makers have shuttered, including most notably Rethink Robotics, a cobots pioneer and Universal’s biggest rival, Universal finds itself in an enviable position, having amassed a commanding market share, estimated at between 50 to 60 percent.

About Rethink, von Hollen says the Boston-based company was a “good competitor,” helping disseminate the advantages and possibilities of cobots. “When Rethink basically ended it was more of a negative than a positive, from my perspective,” he says. In his view, a major difference between the two companies is that Rethink focused on delivering full-fledged applications to customers, whereas Universal focused on delivering a product to the market and letting the system integrators and sales partners deploy the robots to the customer base.

“We’ve always been very focused on delivering the product, whereas I think Rethink was much more focused on applications, very early on, and they added a level of complexity to their company that made it become very de-focused,” he says.

The collaborative robots market: massive growth

And yet, despite its success, Universal is still tiny when you compare it to the giants of industrial automation, which include companies like ABB, Fanuc, Yaskawa, and Kuka, with revenue in the billions of dollars. Although some of these companies have added cobots to their product portfolios—ABB’s YuMi, for example—that market represents a drop in the bucket when you consider global robot sales: The size of the cobots market was estimated at $700 million in 2018, whereas the global market for industrial robot systems (including software, peripherals, and system engineering) is close to $50 billion.

Von Hollen notes that cobots are expected to go through an impressive growth curve—nearly 50 percent year after year until 2025, when sales will reach between $9 to $12 billion. If Universal can maintain its dominance and capture a big slice of that market, it’ll add up to a nice sum. To get there, Universal is not alone: It is backed by U.S. electronics testing equipment maker Teradyne, which acquired Universal in 2015 for $285 million.

“The amount of resources we invest year over year matches the growth we had on sales,” von Hollen says. Universal currently has more than 650 employees, most based at its headquarters in Odense, Denmark, and the rest scattered in 27 offices in 18 countries. “No other company [in the cobots segment] is so focused on one product.”

[ Universal Robots ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots