3) Medical robots. A different type of remote-controlled mobile robot is the medical variety. HeartLander Surgical Robot Inches Closer to Reality describes a miniature robot that creeps along the surface of a human heart to take measurements and perform simple surgical tasks. This robot solves two problems by gaining access to the heart without opening the patient’s chest and operating on the heart while it is beating. Surgical robots are thought by many to be the wave of the future. This trend heralds miniature devices that will probably become more complex and capable of more functionality as the technologies on which they are based get more powerful and less expensive, following typical price/performance curves.
This previous HeartLander prototype uses onboard motors measuring 8.5mm high, 15mm wide, and 46mm long.
4) Tracking luggage. In Smarter Baggage Handling, we learn about a highly complex, interconnected, synchronized, and automated storage and retrieval system being used at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. This huge system conveys and tracks each and every bag at every point in its 21km journey. It integrates the baggage handling system with passenger check-in information and real-time flight information.
It operates six robot cells for automatically loading bags into containers and carts, as well as the redundant storage of the positions of more than 4,200 bags and Destination Coded Vehicles (DCVs). Robots pull bags from storage on demand. To prevent system overload, the robots release bags on the conveyor belt only as needed. Eventually, the airport expects to use robots to handle up to 60 percent of baggage in its south hall to improve working conditions for operators and increase productivity. The system’s mind-numbing complexity orchestrates embedded software in the robots, a scheduling program that handles gate changes, and logistics and communications software.
Thanks for that observation about simplified programming and the development of programs for specialized apps. ABB has been promoting that idea, at least one one or two of their recent announcements. This parallels a similar trend in other aspects of automation, including machine vision.
Ann, The development of applications programming packages in specific areas such as palletizing is an example of how robot makers are simplifying the software required for integrated systems. The user doesn't need to implement the robotics programming themselves. With the singulation system, it is more of a packaged solution where the machine builder is providing a flexible turnkey solutions that can easily be adapted to a specific requirement. Less costly than a fully custom subsystem.
Thanks for all the great info, Al. I like the idea of limited programming, which is a trend in machine vision and it looks like maybe in robotics, too. It sounds like not only have robots had to adapt to factory conditions, but factory conditions may also have had to adapt to robots to help them be more efficient: I refer to the placing of items in a single line. Or did I misunderstand you?
In specific types of machines such as high speed assembly, palletizing, robot loaders and material handling robots, the creativity is using the Delta configuration in conjunction with software tools to solve specific applications -- sometimes with limited programming required. One example is ABB's RobotStudio Palletizing PowerPac, which allows users to configure, simulate and program ABB robots and grippers for palletizing solutions, in one step, with little or no robot programming experience required. What used to take days now takes minutes. Another example is singulation systems which are able to increase the efficiency of Delta robots in picking and placing food items such as bagels or English muffins by placing them is a single file line. That simplifies locating the product during high speed operation. Robots can then pick up one or two products per pick, and place them into a subsequent manufacturing system such as a flow wrapper or a carton loader.
So their main advantage sounds like speed and dexterity in handling smaller, lighter objects. I noticed that earlier you mentioned "more creative material handling and tooling" wrt Deltas. What exactly did you mean? Please tell us more!
Yes, that's true. But higher speeds and flexibility are the key ingredients and the reason why Delta style robots are moving into new applications. And in some configurations that go beyond 4 axes, I believe that there are payload limitations.
Thanks for the summary, Al. So it's not just the structure but the mass differential that makes this architecture different. Sounds like they are not designed for picking up and moving heavier objects.
Ann, Delta robots have been emerging because of their ability to do high speed pick and place applications (less mass in the arms), increased flexibility and sophisticated multi-axis wrists that enable quick orientation of products in a small area. The development of the six axis Delta robot has helped introduce Delta style robots into high speed assembly where they were never capable enough because they only had four axes. These are applications that used to be handled using SCARA robots, which are as fast as Delta robots but again only have four axes or on a slower scale with regular six axis articulated arms. A significant drawback is that Delta systems are designed to handle lighter payloads where an articulated arm can handle much heavier products.
Thanks for the info, Al. Can you tell us some more about the Delta-style robot? This appears to be a particular spider-like architecture, right? The name makes me wonder if it started out in military apps. Why is this one becoming so popular? How does it compare with other architectures?
Ann, Excellent story. The only other additional trend in robotics I have seen is the continued penetration of the Delta-style robot into application areas such as high speed assembly, palletizing, robot loaders and material handling robots. Both speed and more creative material handling and tooling is making the Delta configuration a good choice for enhancing performance and productivity.
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