Robot Democratization: A Machine for Every Manufacturer   

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With collaborative robots proliferating, we wanted to know who’s using these robots and what tasks they’re doing. Design News caught up with Walter Vahey, executive vice-president at Teradyne, a company that helps manufacturers gear up their automation. Vahey sees a real change in the companies that are deploying robotics. For years robots were tools only for the largest manufacturers. They required expensive care and feeding in the form of integrators and programming. Now, collaborative robots require configuration rather than programming, and they can be quickly switched from task to task.

Vahey talked about robot companies such as Universal Robots (UR) which produces robot arms, and MiR, a company that produces collaborative mobile robots. He explained how they’re putting robotics in the hands of smaller manufacturers that previously could not afford advanced automation. The difference is that these robots are less expensive, they can be set up for production without programming, and they can be quickly reconfigured to change tasks.

Universal Robots, MiR, Taradyne, robotics, robots, automation, small manufacturers
Robots are now within the investment reach of small manufacturers. That's fueling a surge in the use of collaborative robots. (Image source: Universal Robots)

We asked Vahey what’s different about collaborative robots and what he’s seeing in robot adoption among smaller manufacturers.

Design News: Tell us about the new robots and how they’re getting deployed.

Walter Vahey: Companies such as Universal Robots and MiR are pioneering the robot space. They’re bringing automation to a broad class of users and democratizing automation. For small companies, the task at hand is to figure out how to fulfill their orders. It’s particularly challenging to manufacturers. In a tight labor market, manufacturers are facing more competition, growing demand, and higher expectations in quality.

Manufacturer can plug UR or MiR robots in very quickly. Everything is easy, from the specs up front to ordering to quickly arranging and training the robot. There’s no programming, and the robots have the flexibility to do a variety of applications. Every customer is dealing with labor challenges, so now they’re deploying collaborative robots to fulfill demand with high quality.

The whole paradigm has shifted now that you have a broader range of robot applications. You can easily and quickly bring in automation, plug it in ,and get product moving in hours or days rather than months. That’s what’s driving the growth at UR and MiR.

The Issue of Change Management

Design News: Is change management a hurdle?. Does the robot cause workforce disruption?

Walter Vahey: We really haven’t seen that as an issue. The overwhelming need to improve and fulfill demand at a higher quality level helps the manufacturers deploy. It outweighs other challenges. We help with the deployment, and the manufacturers are making the change easily.

We grew up as a supplier of electronic test equipment. Since 2015, we’ve entered the industrial automation market with a focus on the emerging collaborative robot space. We see that as a way to change the equation for manufacturers, making it faster and easier to deploy automation.

Design News: What about return on investment? Robotics can be a considerable investment for a small company/

Walter Vahey: The customers today are looking for relatively short ROI, and we’re seeing it from 6 months to a year. That’s a no brainer for manufacturers. They’re ready to jump in.

We work hard to make deployment less of an issue. We have an application builder, and we use it to prepare for deployment. The new user may have a pick-and-place operation. They choose the gripper, and we guide them to partners who make it easy to deploy.

The application builder helps the customer pick the gripper. The whole object is to get the customer deployed rapidly so the automation doesn’t sit. With MiR, the robot comes in, and we find an easy application for the mobile device. We take the robot around the plant and map it. We’ve work to guide customers through an application quickly and make the robot productive as soon as possible.

There are hundreds of partners that work with UR and MiR, providing grippers and end effectors. We have a system that customers can plug into. Customer can look at grippers from a wide range of companies. We’re not working just on the robot deployment. We work to get the whole system deployed so they can quickly get the ROI.

What Tasks Are the Robots Taking On?

Design News: Who in the plant is using the robots, and what tasks are involved?

Walter Vahey: There is a range of users. To be effective at training a robot and configuring it, the people best suited for it are the ones most aware of the task. To get the robot to be effective you have to know the task. By and large, the person who has been doing that task is best suited to train the robot. That person can then train other robots. Nobody’s better suited to do it than the people who know what needs to be done.

The tasks are broad set of applications. We automate virtually any task and any material movement. It’s not quite that simple, but it’s close. With UR, we’re doing machine learning, grinding, packing, pick-and-place, repetitive tasks, welding. It’s a very broad set of applications. In materials it’s also very broad. Parts going from a warehouse to a work cell, and then from the work cell to another work cell, up to a 1000-kilo payload. We’re moving robots into warehousing and logistics space, even large pieces of metal. The robots are well suited for long runs of pallets of materials.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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‘Weird Little Robots’ is the Magical Tale of a Girl, Her Robots, and Making Big Choices – Win a Copy!   

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When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought. [Sponsored]

Click through to read all of "‘Weird Little Robots’ is the Magical Tale of a Girl, Her Robots, and Making Big Choices – Win a Copy!" at GeekDad.If you value content from GeekDad, please support us via Patreon or use this link to shop at Amazon. Thanks!


          

SWN Sector Cabal Sigma Session One- The Wrong Side of Heaven (part 2)   

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The four began the Danger Room "exercise" cautiously, realizing stepping on any of the squares could trigger problems, Able using his "Fix" skill disabled the panel in front of him rendering it safe to step on. Bras Hombre tried to do the same, but he was no tech. Osric took a few tentative steps into the room, only to come face to face with a robot popping up from the floor in front of him and beginning to activate it's taser hands. Osric swung his melee weapon and beheaded the robot. Varlo stepped into the room and jumped back avoiding the pit trap that opened up beneath him. Soon more robots were triggered. Then the thing...the Hybrid Mergence MOVED! It scuttled across the room quickly, triggering traps as it moved, another robot popped up and then some form of thick vision obscuring fog, then the Hybrid Mergence triggered a pit trap and fell into the trap. 
                                          The Hybrid Mergence
Able decided this was his chance and dashed across the room and dove into the pit after the thing. With each step he made a loud click occurred...multiple robots appeared, a Gatling gun popped up in the corner and whirred into life, barrels of some sort of flaming substance shot out of the wall and fire spilled out into the room approaching the edge of the pit containing Able and the thing.   
Then things went really wild, the robots that activated the prior round now moved towards the four. This trigged explosions, more robots, including a life-like robotic version of Stalin (who drew its pistol), a crevasse appeared dividing the room, and an Energy Cannon appeared. Varlo nearest to the Gatling gun, safely got to the Gatling gun (although a robot was now activated right beside Bras Hombre). Varlo hacked into the Gatling gun's system and was able to manually take control of it (he rolled so well with his skill check that he altered the things programmed damage output and rate of fire). Bras Hombre was locked in combat with a robot, while Osric used his psionic powers to telekinetically lift Able (now holding the Hybrid Mergence) out of the pit and towards the exit. Robot Stalin popped off a shot at the airborne Able hurting him but not "killing" him. Just as a flaming barrel emerged from the wall and melted robot Stalin into slag.  The Plasma gun activated, misfired and overheated blowing up. Bras Hombre had managed to pry up a floor panel giving him some cover from all the chaos. A blizzard of ice and snow(WTH?!!) activated in the middle of the room spilling over into the crevasse and mixing in with the flames from the burning barrels, steam made visibility even harder. As robots were taken out more appeared in their place. The words of the robot announcer at the start of this fiasco echoed in their heads...this was an "Introductory Scenario" to the danger room?!   
Unbeknownst to the party, their encounter was being broadcast on more channels across Riot, and even a few bars on the orbiting Outlaw Station.  Varlo then used the reprogrammed Gatling Gun to unleash a massive volley of "bullets" across the room, robots were taken out... along with Able and Bras Hombre!! In all this chaos it was friendly fire that took out half the party. The party couldn't hear it but bar patrons  cheered as Val (unintentionally?) took out two of his teammates. Osric knowing they were about to go down in flames (literally?) dashed to Able's fallen form, retrieved the Hybrid Mergence and was able to open the exit door. The program ended, the fires, fog and blizzard dispersed. The simulation was ended.  Bras Hombre and Able shook their heads, groggily waking up, bruised but alive and with bad headaches.   
The robot announcer instructed the four that the exercise was over, and directed them to the freshers and to return the Hybrid Mergence to the containment cube now appearing in the room.  Osric started in that direction, but then he sensed something. The Hybrid Mergence was a living thing! And it was projecting emotions to Osric...fear, sadness, most of all it wanted to escape this place! Osric realized it had some level of sentience and some level of psychic ability...at least some level of empathy. At the last minute Osric swapped out a small ration pack from his gear while stowing the creature in his clothing he dropped the ration pack into the containment cube, acting like he was returning the Hybrid Mergence, which now was secreted under his clothing and then excited the Danger Room. Varlo grinned from ear to ear, while Able gave him a menacing glare and Bras Hombre shook his head.



          

Arbitrary Pattern Formation by Opaque Fat Robots with Lights. (arXiv:1910.02706v1 [cs.DC])   

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Authors: Kaustav Bose, Ranendu Adhikary, Manash Kumar Kundu, Buddhadeb Sau

Arbitrary Pattern Formation is a widely studied problem in autonomous robot systems. The problem asks to design a distributed algorithm that moves a team of autonomous, anonymous and identical mobile robots to form any arbitrary pattern given as input. The majority of the existing literature investigates this problem for robots with unobstructed visibility. In a few recent works, the problem has been studied in the obstructed visibility model, where the view of a robot can be obstructed by the presence of other robots. However, in these works, the robots have been modelled as dimensionless points in the plane. In this paper, we have considered the problem in the more realistic setting where the robots have a physical extent. In particular, the robots are modelled as opaque disks. Furthermore, the robots operate under a fully asynchronous scheduler. They do not have access to any global coordinate system, but agree on the direction and orientation of one coordinate axis. Each robot is equipped with an externally visible light which can assume a constant number of predefined colors. In this setting, we have given a complete characterization of initial configurations from where any arbitrary pattern can be formed by a deterministic distributed algorithm.


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