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Top 5 Robotics Trends of 2011

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Alexander Wolfe
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Bifurcation?
Alexander Wolfe   12/7/2011 9:37:04 AM
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What jumps out at me is the bifurcation taking place in the field. On the one hand, we have incremental advances in industrial robots (pick and place etc.), where they're being butressed by technologies like improved machine vision. OTOH, in the consumer sphere, we're seeing an explosion of experimentation. In this regard, see our slideshow, Humanoid Robots Get Real.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bifurcation?
Ann R. Thryft   12/7/2011 1:15:11 PM
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I've noticed the same division. Industrial robots, including surgical ones, seem to be following one "evolutionary" path, while consumer-oriented robots are developing in a different direction. What I'm wondering is whether these paths will join or cross over in the future. For example, will functions and features of the consumer robots and the motion replication robots merge in military or medical applications?


Beth Stackpole
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Re: Bifurcation?
Beth Stackpole   12/7/2011 3:09:40 PM
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Great recap of major milestones. I would think, to your point, that there has to be some crossover eventually of robotics advances on the automation side with the useability advancements led by consumer developments. On the useability/human interface front, I just read earlier this week about a robot the South Koreans developed that looks like ET, but is designed to function as a prison guard. There's something disconcerting about a cute little mechanical guy cruising the corridors keeping order behind bars.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Bifurcation?
TJ McDermott   12/7/2011 3:18:12 PM
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I would not expect them to.  Industrial robots have no need for human "personable" characteristics (looks, voice).  It's a good description of evolution in fact.  The design of robots for two different environments causes them to take on different characteristics.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bifurcation?
Ann R. Thryft   12/8/2011 12:29:35 PM
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The crossover I had in mind was not making industrial robots cuter or more human-looking--and I agree, Beth, a cute-looking ET-like prison guard sounds like a very scary idea.

What I do think possible is that some of the movement emulation work described in #5 could be used to influence how consumer robots move, making them even more human, and could also be used in surgical robots (larger than the one described in this article), which require extraordinary precision (if it's not already). At the same time, some work like this (motion emulation) may have already been done in surgical robots which might then translate back insto consumer robots.


Charles Murray
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Re: Bifurcation?
Charles Murray   12/7/2011 10:53:59 PM
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Ann, I think there is a small amount of crossover starting to happen. One example: The VGo robot, from VGo Communications, which plays a mildly human role but does not have any human attributes. VGo Communications said that they deliberately used a non-human form, so it "wouldn't be intimidating."

Rob Spiegel
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Tracking luggage?
Rob Spiegel   12/7/2011 3:27:16 PM
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Nice trend piece, Ann. I was little surprised to see luggage tracking on the list. It makes sense simply because of the complexity. I'd love to see how automatic luggage tracking is improving the process of keeping travelers moving parallel to their bags.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Tracking luggage?
Ann R. Thryft   12/8/2011 12:30:17 PM
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Thanks, Rob. Right now, we may all have to go to the Amsterdam airport if we want our luggage tracked correctly! Kidding aside, I, too, was surprised, in fact dumfounded, that such an enormous system works at all, regardless of it's underpinnings. And I was even more surprised that it's done with robotics. Part of the fun in investigating this area is that the technology is much more advanced than I realized. I don't think we're quite yet to the point of a War with the Machines (Terminator? Frank Herbert? Dan Simmons' AI net?), but progress in robotics is certainly proceeding apace.

 


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Tracking luggage?
Rob Spiegel   12/8/2011 1:04:40 PM
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I'd love to see how the robots pull luggage. Since luggage comes is so many shapes it seem the robot would have to be very flexible. There there's the question of whether the robot might damage the luggage. Also, I would imagine the robot would need to identify the bags. Perhaps they use RFID so that line-of-sight is not a problem.

Gunar Baier
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Re: Tracking luggage?
Gunar Baier   12/14/2011 4:34:36 AM
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Rob:

To have a first look on the robotic bag loader, please visit http://www.grenzebach.com/index.php/grenzebach/technologien/airport/automated_baggage_loading_2011_video

You´re right. There´s quite a bunch of technologies involved (SW algorithms for online "palletizing", robot controls, vision technology, handling technology, HMI, ...) to have a robot "playing 3D-tetris" in such a complex environment

Charles Murray
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Re: Tracking luggage?
Charles Murray   12/8/2011 8:54:05 PM
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Ann, I'm seeing more commercials for home robots. For example, Swiffer is running a commercial for a robot that wipes your floors with a cleaning cloth. Are we actually seeing more of these? 

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: Tracking luggage?
Alexander Wolfe   12/9/2011 11:33:02 AM
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There definitely is a marketing impediment to consumer robot uptake, along the lines of "What can these things actually do?" With the Roomba, it's not clear that this can vacuum your floors better than a normal vacuum. With Honda's Asimo, it's a curiousity. With the Japanese humanoid robots, well, the less said the better. I think it's going to take a robotics industry Steve Jobs to "create" a need for these things. Maybe Heather Knight is that person.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Tracking luggage?
Ann R. Thryft   12/9/2011 11:57:43 AM
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Chuck, I've been tracking industrial robots, not consumer or office models. But I'd bet there are more of them out there, if the commercials and ads are any indication. I do know that home robots started out pretty pricey, and have been an early adopter phenomenon (read: expensive). 

Rob, those are good questions and I'd like to know the same things myself. 


Joachim D
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Re: Tracking luggage?
Joachim D   12/14/2011 10:07:35 AM
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Easier than going to Amsterdam: go to youtube and search for "Grenzebach Baggage Handling" to see the baggage robot at work.

Also, if you happen to have a stopover in Amsterdam, you can catch a glimpse at the robots (as the new baggage hall has a window front towards the public side of the airport -  the technology does not have to be hidden in the basement ;-)).

Finally, any seriously interested party can get in touch with airport@grenzebach.com, and we can arrange for a site visit.

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Tracking luggage?
Ann R. Thryft   12/14/2011 3:42:01 PM
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Thanks to Gunar and Joachim for the links and info. This is a truly impressive operation and a system that I'm sure will inspire others to attempt large-scale robotics.


phonesystems
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Robotics Trends
phonesystems   12/8/2011 6:29:29 AM
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There is truly a big explosion of experimentation in technology and everybody is putting whole of there knowledge and creativity in making some best Robots.

Efm

jhankwitz
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Progress
jhankwitz   12/8/2011 9:24:19 AM
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I was involve with ASEA Robotics way back in the late 70's.  Their primary focus was getting auto manufacturers up and running with them.  Their biggest problem was that the robots demanded far less variation between parts being assembled, which got them involved with advancing vision technology to compensate for some variation.  It's amazing how this industry has expanded and progressed over the years.

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: Progress
Alexander Wolfe   12/8/2011 10:43:12 AM
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The canonical example of robots run amok (that sounds like a title for a Star Trek episode) was what happened at GM under Roger Smith when they were first implemented. Of course, that's a period in the U.S. auto industry that everyone would rather forget (paging Chevy Vega). As you say, jhankwitz, things have thankfully progressed a great deal. The interesting development now is that we have solid tech progress simultaneously on TWO robotics fronts: industrial, which is relatively mature, and the newer consumer oriented robotics, like Roomba and the Japanese attempts to create humanoid-looking machines (to which I say, ick).

 

Jack Rupert, PE
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Integration
Jack Rupert, PE   12/20/2011 3:17:17 PM
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It's interesting that you post Integration as the number one issue.  I just read an article in another trade magazine (I don't remember which one) that was talking about this very issue.  The ongoing integration efforts include a change to programming so it more closely resembles PLC programming and is therefore easier for a wider variety of engineers to setup.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Integration
Ann R. Thryft   12/28/2011 12:38:19 PM
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Thanks, Jack. I also chose integration/convergence as my top trend, and software as the second, for an upcoming article on the Top 5 trends in robotics for this coming year. Look for it in January.


vimalkumarp
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robotics trends
vimalkumarp   1/23/2012 10:24:49 PM
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medical / surgical robotic systems like Da vinci are reducing hospitalisation time, improving clinical work flow and also reducing infection. This is a good article.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: robotics trends
Ann R. Thryft   1/24/2012 12:01:48 PM
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vimalkumarp, thanks for the feedback. Also, thanks for the info a while ago on the da Vinci surgical robot. It has a surprising number of potential apps. For example, NASA is using a modified one in a program that's studying how robots can refuel and service space satellites, remotely controlled from Earth:

http://releases.jhu.edu/2011/12/05/medical-robotics-experts-help-advance-nasa's-'satellite-surgery'


vimalkumarp
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robotics
vimalkumarp   1/24/2012 12:20:23 PM
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Thanks a lot for the info on the NASA refuelling robots. Will you throw light on the MEMS robotics link and  what do you think is in store for the future?

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: robotics
Ann R. Thryft   1/24/2012 2:33:15 PM
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vimalkumarp, what MEMS robotics link do you mean? Please tell us more.


apresher
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Delta Robots
apresher   2/7/2012 2:42:56 PM
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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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Delta Robots
Ann R. Thryft   2/7/2012 2:49:39 PM
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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?


apresher
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Delta Robots Offer Speed and Flexibility
apresher   2/7/2012 3:20:39 PM
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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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Delta Robots Offer Speed and Flexibility
Ann R. Thryft   2/9/2012 1:05:08 PM
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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.


apresher
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Speed and Flexibility
apresher   2/9/2012 3:28:21 PM
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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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Speed and Flexibility
Ann R. Thryft   2/10/2012 12:47:33 PM
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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!


apresher
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Creative apps
apresher   2/13/2012 9:03:53 AM
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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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Creative apps
Ann R. Thryft   2/13/2012 3:57:26 PM
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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?


apresher
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Software for Robotics
apresher   2/13/2012 4:09:21 PM
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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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Software for Robotics
Ann R. Thryft   2/14/2012 12:03:40 PM
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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.


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