I really like where the development of robots is going in terms of doing jobs that are inaccessible or dangerous for humans. This is a space where robots won't necessarily replace human workers but make their jobs a bit safer and do things they can't do. One thing I always think in terms of these robots is, how can humans evaluate that a robot has done its job correctly? I suppose if it's meant to fix something and the machine then works, then humans would know. But are there other forms of oversight?
I agree, Elizabeth--I think this is one of the best uses for robots, to do things that are too dangerous for people. OTOH, I think there's a reasonable line somewhere if humans are not to become too much like the sci-fi brains in vats with no bodies because robots/machines do everything.
Exactly! Which is why I think it's important for robots to work alongside humans rather than merely replace them. I'm of the mind that there will ALWAYS be things humans can do better than robots and we will always be necessary, even in a completely "automated" environment...we are perhaps the most complicated machines there are! And we are the ones creating the intelligence of the robots, of course. The thing is, until we understand everything about the mechanics, physics, neuroprocesses etc. etc. of the human body, I daresay it would be impossible to create as sophisticated a robot. And that, in my opinion, is a very good thing.
Hexapod machining is growing in popularity. I love this concept, spot machining. This looks heavily geared towards the building of all types of vehicles. I would like to see the concept adapted for circuit building and repair. Also, sounds like a new system for graffiti, carving a "tag" on a wall.
Thanks for your input Cabe. I agree, isn't the concept a cool one? Bring the small mobile repair machine to the big hulking array of things that need repairing, are mostly connected to each other, not easily movable and/or dangerous to work with.
I'm not at all clear on what the specific applications for such a machine would be. Currently, the main example of automated/robotic maintenance in inaccessible places are the "pigs" used to maintain pipelines. They're well-served by the current form factor.
I question the usefulness of the "legged" deviced describe because it's not at all clear how it would attach itself rigidly to the structure being repaired. If there's one requirement for machine tools that's held true for two centuries, it's that they must be very rigidly. The machine shown, with articulated legs and a gooseneck tool head is far from rigid, and I guess we're supposed to believe that the legs just magically stick to the workpiece. Given that, by definition, it will work in confined places, there isn't likely to be any convenient place for it to stand and attach itself.
The other big unanswered question relates to what it would do even when it gets to where it needs to go and somehow attaches itself. Most repair operations require additive processes such as welding cracks or flame-spraying worn shafts. I can't think of any common repair to a machine, other than cleaning, that solely involves removing material. Furthermore, within a machine, wear usually happens where two parts are in contact, such as a shaft and a journal, so the parts must be separated before they can be repaired, no matter what method is used.
If one could build a gear-repair machine that could somehow crawl down inside a gearbox, flame-spray worn gear teeth, heat treat them, grind them to the desired shape and surface finish, and remove all grinding swarf from the gearbox, that would be a very handy robot with great potential to save money in repairing gearboxes that are large, expensive, and inaccessible (e.g. wind turbines). However, every one of those steps, by itself, appears to be impossible for anything resembling the device described here, all of them must be performed for the device to be useful, and combining them all is pure fantasy at this point.
"Submarine repair" is rather vague, though, without knowing exactly what sort of repair operation it might be performing. When I read these sorts of articles, I'm usually thinking in terms of "how can we apply this to our business?" I just couldn't find anything in the article describing what it might do (cut, grind, weld, measure, etc) in a way that would allow me to extrapolate its usefulness. "Repair" is really too general for a technical magazine.
This is a news story, not a product story or an in-depth feature article. It's also true that the MiRoR site has, regrettably, very little info available. That's why we also gave the link to the FreeHex info, which is more detailed. It's a bit early for a purchase decision. No doubt if and when this becomes ready for sale there will be lots more detail. Meanwhile, you might consider writing one of the consortium members.
I am trying to imagine what sort of repairs need precision machining, and finding it a bit of a challenge. Mostly, repairs involve either replacing a broken part or tightening something that has come loose. BUt I am sure that a robot that is able to do precision machining of some kind will find a few uses eventually.
Turns out this isn't the first time Design News has posted a story on robotic CNC repair. Here's one from two years back: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=229513 This one also began as a (relatively) mobile underwater repair station, although specifically for repairing welds on a nuclear reactor's containment vessel.