Posted By Jeff Moad, July 14, 2011 at 11:01 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies
Robots long ago found a place in automotive and other types of discrete manufacturing, performing tasks that require repetition and precision. But most manufacturers have avoided placing robots and humans side-by-side in the production environment, largely because of concerns about human safety. Now, however, researchers at the NASA Johnson Space Center and General Motors have collaborated to develop a humanoid robot--called Robonaut 2 or R2--that includes advanced visual and tactile sensing technologies. Researchers believe these technologies will eventually free manufacturers to design production processes in which humans and flexible robots work in close proximity. In fact, NASA officials hope to be able to use the R2 robot on the International Space Station.
According to a recent article in the MIT Technology Review, R2 makes use of elastic actuators in its joints which allow the Robot to sense the impact its movements are having on an object and control those movements. Not only do the elastic actuators allow R2 to control the force of its movements, they make it easier to program the robot to handle a wide range of sometimes delicate objects and tasks. R2 can dial a cell phone, researchers say.
R2 also includes a variety of sensors and cameras--including an infrared camera that provides depth sensing. These, researchers say, allow R2 to perceive and respond to the nearby presence of humans.
Robots such as R2 may be suitable for working near humans performing tasks such as tool set-up and tear-down as well as tasks that are too repetitive or ergonomically difficult for humans.
For a video of R2, click here.
What kind of impact will next-generation robots such as R2 have on your plant? Do you believe that robots will ever work side-by-side with humans in the production environment?
Written by Jeff Moad
Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit