Using a new software platform, Rethink Robotics says it has enabled collaborative robots to do inspection and assembly chores that weren’t previously possible.
At the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show, Rethink showed how a collaborative robot called Sawyer could inspect and test engines in the presence of humans, without a safety fence for separation. The robot used a camera to check for positioning of parts and employed force sensors to make sure wires and cables were snugly installed.
Sawyer (at upper right), a collaborative robot made by Rethink Robotics, tests the snugness of a spark plug cable on an internal combustion engine. (Source: Design News)
"In the past, a person would have been needed to complete these tasks,” Matthew Fitzgerald, vice president of customer experience for Rethink, told Design News. “Now a robot can do it.”
The key to the robot’s capabilities is the Intera5 software platform, which the robot manufacturer rolled out at the show. A company press release described the software as “a new way to approach automation that allows manufacturers to control the robots, orchestrate the work cell, and collect data.”
At the show, “Sawyer” used the software’s force-sensing capabilities to check the security of a spark plug cable on an engine. The robot’s arm measured force as it tugged on the cable, then sent an alert if the cable was loose, or lit a green light if the cable was secure. Fitzgerald said the robot accomplished that by measuring the deflection of stiff springs in its joints.
Fitzgerald added that the technology could also be used by manufacturers to test and inspect printed circuit boards that get used in mobile phones, laptops, televisions and PCs.
Rethink is currently working with Tuthill Plastics Group, an injection molder, to use Intera5’s force-sensing capability to pick and place parts in an automated operation.
Such capabilities are new for collaborative robots, which are attracting attention for their ability to work safely, and even cooperatively, with humans. Fitzgerald said that Sawyer is even capable of retrieving a tool in response to a physical nudge from a human operator. At the same time, he said, the robot can collect data on the operation while it carries out its tasks.
“It’s really the first step in the Industrial Internet of Things,” he said.
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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.