Robotic innovations like Rail-Veyor's conveyor system for hauling materials in and out of mines are taking some of the human factor out of mining, making it more efficient and safe for workers. (Source: Rail-Veyor Technologies)
As we've discussed in other DN articles and lots of comment threads, such as here http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=250357&piddl_msgpage=2#msgs the standard definition of a robot is an electromechanical (or mechatronic) device that works automatically. But many people assume, perhaps from science fiction movies and/or remote-controlled toys, that robots are machines that can function separately and independently of a large automation system such as are found in industrial automation Some even think a robot must be intelligent and/or autonomous. The lines are somewhat fuzzy, and as technology changes so are the definitions. That said, the conveyor system in the photo looks like a standard industrial automation conveyor system, so I guess I'm also wondering: where are the robots?
Elizabeth, what I'm asking (about the rail-veyor system specifically) is, is it a "robot"? It sounds like a car moves along a rail, and some conveyor belts. That sounds more like industrial automation.
For example, a smart belt conveyor system detects products that arrive at random times and by accelerating / decelerating adjusts the a single product at a time so as to evenly space them, or deliver them to a flighted conveyor between the flights instead of on them.
Would you call such a system a "robot"? To me, that's industrial automation. The rail-veyor system would appear to be more like simple industrial automation rather than robotics.
Is a series of 4 pneumatic actuators and detection sensors programmed to push the products into 4 different totes based on bar code (or color, or size, or weight, etc.) as they come down a conveyor system a robot?
I would say that is simple industrial automation as well.
But take an mechanical arm, driven by a number of servo motors, provide a camera and program that arm to pick up each product and place it in the appropriate tote based on the camera input; that system I would call a robot.
A vehicle (air, land or sea) that can autonomously navigate and adjust its course based on its perception of the environment is also called a robot according to other articles here in Design News.
From working to saving lives, seems like these robots are doing some good. The mining industry is possibly the worst for human workers. Being trapped in a collapsed mine is least painful danger they face. So any little help will save lives.
I like how bots are now the ones on the dangerous end of jobs. Take the military bomb defusing bots, they have saved countless lives. Or the legion of bots deployed at the Fukushima disaster site. In this case, it is 2012, humans should not be at risk deep under the earth. (I would say, we shouldn't be there at all. But even now, coal mining employs a lot of people. Where would they go otherwise?)
Ann, I agree. As I was reading the article and didn't get the since of robots performing mining operations but Industrial Automation being at work. Industrial Equipment Manufacturers need to be careful in using the word "robot" in their advertisment. It's quite easy to mislead the potential customer into thinking their buying a certain piece of machinery when they're not.
It is my understanding that the conveyor system goes beyond mere automation and acts in the same way as other "robotic" cars and self-driving systems, so ventures slightly beyond normal conveyor systems into the world of robotics. But perhaps it's a gray area, and your points about it being more automation what is considered robotics are well taken.
My definition of "robot" includes mobility in non-preset ways (i.e. the generic ability to handle new situations without being "reconstructed"). It doesn't imply un-attended operation (that would make it an automaton), only the ability to remotely control it.
Conveyer belts are set up with specific source/destination points, so although it moves things intelligently, it moves those things only to the pre-set locations. Handling new situations (e.g. a new tunnel) requires "reconstruction" to add new tracks. Unattended yes, but not a robot.
I never thought of it 'till now, but standard (available for decades) mining equipment (hydrolic diggers) classify as robots more correctly than this article's subject. They are machines/vehicles that translate user direction at a remotable control panel to mechanical operation at the digging point.
Perhaps the article on the rail-veyor product left out pertinant info? The rescue robots are (I think) more clearly "robots".
3drob, I agree. There's a fine line between automation and robotics. Some of the roboticists purest argue that a robot must be autonomous with no human interaction. Also, automation falls in the domain of autonomous and that the system describe would be considered a robot. These conversations are quite intriguing and I'll keep reading these articles about the subject to see the tech communities' conclusion.
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