Pittsburgh—While it may be a while before one joins the group Village People, robots are being adapted to do "burly" jobs in construction, mining, and agriculture.
Tony Stentz, associate director of the National Robotics Engineering Consortium at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), says robots' automation offers the opportunity for increased productivity (speed of operation), quality of work (from robotic precision), improving safety (not placing people in dangerous situations), and reducing cost (including maintenance). And robots wouldn't merely take jobs away from hard working folk. Stentz notes human operators would still be needed to monitor robotic systems, "teach" site-specific operations, and position the robots for repetitive tasks. Robots excel at the latter. Such an increase in productivity, he adds, must more than make up costwise for retaining the operator, otherwise adoption is doubtful.
Heavy-equipment robot use hinges on sensors (cameras and laser rangefinders, for example) and control algorithms now being developed.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.