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Analysis: 5 Key Robotics Trends from ProMat and Automate 2019

CHICAGO – After three-plus days of seeing robots at last week’s ProMat and Automate trade show event — large, small, static, and mobile — it’s become clear that robotics and automation is more than just a “kick the tires” technology for many companies. Now that I’ve had some time to step back, check my notes, and reflect on news announcements and meetings with top robotics leaders, I’ve come away with five key robotics trends on the state of the industry in 2019 so far.
Trend #1: Collaboration that focuses on applications
At both shows, robotics companies weren’t just showing off their robots and telling customers, “Just buy this and everything will be fine.” Instead, they were displaying how their robots could perform certain tasks or how a complete system could solve a particular problem for a manufacturer. In other words, they were offering robotic applications instead of just robots or robot parts.

RightHand Robotics, for example, didn’t just display their very cool robot tool that combines a three-finger gripper with a vacuum gripper, which is impressive enough. Instead, they created the RightPick2 system, which shows off the gripper, the cobot arm (usually a Universal Robots cobot), the vision system (utilizing Intel RealSense cameras), and talking about the software and processors inside the RightPick2. Going beyond that, however, the company has done an outstanding job of also showing how the system can work with other partners, including Tompkins Robotics and Vecna Robotics, to name a few.

Universal Robots, as well, used the show to create zones of applications that the cobot arms could perform, including machine tending, packaging, assembly, and processing. The company did this to not only show that these processes could be handled by a cobot, but also to showcase partners, especially within its very large UR+ ecosystem of partners.

Jurgen von Hollen, Universal Robots

“If you’re only focused on the cobot and not on the complete application, you may believe you’re adding a lot of value to your customer,” Universal Robots President Jürgen von Hollen told me at the show. “But you actually don’t know. It might be some other part of the application that’s got nothing to do with a cobot that’s actually more of a problem. That’s why it was very critical for me, last year, that we started our applications team to really start understanding what does driving applications actually mean for the customer.”

It feels like more of the cobot and gripper/end-of-arm tool companies at Automate were doing the collaboration piece than those mobile robot companies that were displaying at ProMat, but several companies I spoke with are also seeing the value of automating more of the process beyond just having robots “move materials from Point A to Point B.”

For example, startup ROEQ was showing off its top roller mobile systems, which take materials to Point B and then moves it to a fixed conveyor system – Point C, D, etc. The top rollers that work with mobile robots from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) are also part of a similar ecosystem that MiR is setting up, replicating the UR+ model. This makes sense, since MiR and UR are both part of the Denmark robotics cluster, as well as both owned by Teradyne.
Trend #2: Adding pieces to the robot puzzle
On the ProMat side, I saw several cases where companies that launched with a single robot a few years ago are now adding additional pieces to create or extend a particular process or task. Not only does this give the company additional potential revenue on the hardware side, but it also creates more opportunities for them to create more automated processes or additional links in the supply chain.

For example, 6 River Systems talked about its new Mobile Sort system, which enables warehouse operators to fill batched orders with its existing 6 River mobile robots (aka “Chucks”).

The new Bolt robot from IAM Robotics. Source: Robotics Business Review

At the IAM Robotics booth, company officials were showing off Bolt, a new mobile robot that can take bins picked by its Swift mobile manipulator robot and then deliver the goods to an existing conveyor system.

GreyOrange, which has a fleet of its Butler mobile robots delivering in goods-to-person scenarios, was showing its Flexo mobile robots designed for modular sortation purposes.

Meanwhile, the folks at Brain Corp used the show to highlight its new concept robot for the grocery and in-store shelving market, to demonstrate how its BrainOS software could give autonomy to existing mobile carts and other devices beyond the commercial floor cleaning systems.

Whether these companies are creating new systems to generate more revenue on the hardware side, or to tell customers that they can create larger processes beyond the “move from A to B” basics, it’s clear they want to offer more options for customers.
Trend #3: Keeping it simple, stupid!
By most accounts, teaching or programming a robot how to perform a particular task is a complicated and difficult process. At the Yaskawa booth, for example, they had a “robotic bartender” pouring draft beer for attendees. One of the engineers at the booth told me it took a few weeks of programming to get the robot to accurately grab the cup and move it to the correct beer pouring spot (attendees could choose from at least two beer options).

Most companies showcasing robot arms touted either simpler software from existing options (such as improved interfaces for teaching pendants), or they touted new methods that enabled gesture-based approaches on teaching a cobot how to perform a simple task. At the Productive Robotics booth, for example, it didn’t take me (yes, me!) long to teach one of their OB7 cobots to pick up an object and move it to another location. Thankfully, the Productive Robotics team then also showed me other ways to expand beyond pick-and-place, such as opening a CNC machine door, or how it could see specific objects to grab in case the object was in the wrong location (or if a different object was on the table).

At the Ready Robotics booth, the company was showing its Forge suite of products, which aim to unify cross-robotic programming and control. The Forge suite includes a hardware controller called Forge/Ctrl running the Forge/OS software, which then “empowers anyone to intuitively control industrial and collaborative robots.” The Forge suite utilizes one interface across multiple robot brands, “creating a programming experience so far beyond easy it feels intuitive with no previous robotic experience required,” said Ready Robotics.

The company’s booth included 11 different robots and eight live robotic demonstrations that showcased its software – including having a UR-10e cobot putt a golf ball into a hole, or bowl a strike with a CR-15iA cobot from FANUC.

As more companies begin to deploy robots in their operations, especially as small and midsize companies buy or lease them, making sure the robots can be easily programmed will be key. Fortunately, most of the companies on the Automate and ProMat floors understood this.
Trend #4: Larger loads, bigger markets
While large industrial robots have been able to pick up large loads before, on the mobile side there have been limitations on the payloads. At this year’s show, those payloads are getting larger.

The MAV3K robot from Waypoint Robotics can support heavier loads for manufacturing environments. Source: Waypoint Robotics

MiR introduced its new MiR1000 that can move around goods that weigh up to 1 ton, and Waypoint Robotics showed off its MAV3K (pronounced “May-Vick”) mobile platform with a 3-ton capacity. Whoah.

For those mobile robot companies aiming their products at the manufacturing space, these payload numbers will matter more for larger parts or larger bundles, or for boxes/pallets that require these weights. Even on the robotic lift truck side of things, I saw larger vehicles with autonomous capabilities. The new robotic lift truck from Yale Materials Handling, for example, was loading and unloading pallets onto shelves three levels high and two pallets deep. Robotic lift truck veterans Seegrid and Vecna also displayed their latest autonomous vehicles for carrying heavier loads.

More on Automate, ProMat 2019:

At Automate 2019, Robot Vendors Tout Simplicity Across Products
ProMat and Automate Day 3 News and Notes: R2-D2 and 3 Tons of Fun!
ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts
News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019

For these companies, this opens up new markets and opportunities that they might not have had in the past – and companies that need those loads moved around the factory floor can now look at autonomous mobile robots as an option.
Trend #5: Deployments show robotics maturity
Even before the show began, I was noticing a general maturity in the mobile robotics space – company announcements about new partnerships, customers, and deployments all showed that companies within the supply chain space are going beyond the pilot phase into real-world usage (check out our free download titled “Mobile Robots Grow Up” for more details).

At the show, companies also announced further deployments and partnerships, including Brain Corp announcing that it would provide an additional 1,500 robotic floor cleaners to Walmart nationwide by the end of the year. Previously, the company had announced 360 robotic floor cleaners powered by the company’s BrainOS were working at the world’s largest retailer.

6 River Systems showcased its partnership with Office Depot and other companies, and also announced a new partnership with Sport Chek, Canada’s largest retailer of sports clothing and equipment. Locus Robotics also highlighted key partnerships and customers as well.

For newer robotics companies, proving that customers are finding value from their offerings is a key difference-maker for end users thinking about deploying robotics at their own locations. I would expect to see additional customer announcements and partnerships in this space as the year continues.
But wait, there’s more!
We’re not quite done yet with our ProMat and Automate coverage here at Robotics Business Review. In addition to some additional company news, we plan on publishing some Q&A interviews with key robotics leaders and showing off some videos we made while we were at the event. As always, stay tuned!
Source: Robotics Trends

At Automate 2019, Robot Vendors Tout Simplicity Across Products

CHICAGO — The collocated Automate and ProMat trade shows last week provided manufacturers, software companies, and other robotic suppliers the chance to demonstrate some of their latest developments to aid customers with their business needs. One of the major themes of many of the displays and demonstrations was facilitating operations by making systems easier to use and simpler to deploy.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two parts covering robot company meetings at Automate and ProMat. Coming tomorrow, Phil Britt will highlight companies that displayed at ProMat 2019.

Among those were:
Energid
Energid demonstrated enhancements to its Actin 5 software development kit, which helps developers design, model, and control robotic systems. Among the enhancements:

Expanded support for Universal Robots’ e-Series and CB3 robots;
A Group Motion Manager that enables developers to queue up a group of motions and control the execution of those motions using a pre-defined state machine.

“The new features we have added make it even easier for robotic system developers to build advanced robotic applications,” said Neil Tardella, Energid CEO. “We’re making it so that anyone can use it without needing to know advanced programming.”

As companies seek to use robots for more complex tasks, with even command protocols, it’s increasingly important that companies be able to easily and quickly implement new command and controls, Tardella said.

The newest Actin updates enable users to develop controls and commands without some of the previous constraints, he added. “There are a lot of possibilities.”

A robot uses the Energid Actin software to complete its task at Automate 2019. Source: Energid

The latest updates also help with real-time communications with robots, so there isn’t noticeable latency between a command and a robot’s reaction, Tardella said. Energid demonstrated at the show how the software adapts to a changing robot base position while performing a task. Once a system is modeled within Actin, the robot designer can focus on the end-of-arm application while no longer worrying about the base.

Tardella said he sees the Actin capability as useful for applications for mobile robots, mounted (for example, on rails) robots and underwater robots. Actin has already been used to help develop some of the controls for an autonomous rig drilling system.

Energid also demonstrated automated bin picking, using a tabletop demo to show how Actin can simplify the programing of picking parts under different scenarios. The demonstration also showed how the ability to use real-world input from collaborative robots in order to design collision-free motion environments.
Comau
Comau introduced its wearable exoskeleton, the Muscular Aiding Tech Exoskeleton (MATE), to help workers who move heavy equipment and perform repetitive tasks. The exoskeleton uses an advanced passive structure and delivers lightweight, breathable and highly effective postural support without batteries, motors or other devices.

The Comau MATE is an exoskeleton that helps workers move heavy equipment. Source: Comau

The MATE was developed in partnership with ÖSSUR (a non-invasive orthopedics company) and IUVO (a spin-off company of The BioRobotics Institute specialized in wearable technologies).

MATE is important for many companies where workers are moving heavy equipment, said Mark Anderson, head of robotics and automation products. He acknowledged that many robotics companies are seeking to use robots to take over the repetitive, heavy lifting in warehouses. But robots aren’t the answer in every situation, meaning humans still need to do some of this work.

MATE follows the movements of the upper limbs without resistance or misalignment, reducing shoulder muscle activity, helping workers perform the same tasks with less fatigue.

“MATE is another tool to help get the job done,” Anderson said. As such, the device is part of Comau’s “HUMANufacturing Tech” theme, which sees humans and robots as essential elements to increase productivity and quality within the evolving smart factory paradigm.

Though MATE is designed to help humans work with less physical stress in that smart factory, safe usage of the exoskeleton is an essential, Anderson said. “We work with users to train them on what they can and cannot do [with MATE]. It does not make someone Iron Man.”

MATE is already in use in automotive assembly, with significant demand indicated from companies across several industries, according to Anderson.

The Vir.GIL is a digital assistant for manual operations from Comau.

In addition to MATE, the company also displayed its in.Grid interactive IoT platform and Vir.GIL (Virtual Guidance Interactive Learning), the company’s digital assistant for manual operations.

The in.Grid platform combines digital and physical worlds through sensorization, data analysis and real-time monitoring of equipment and systems so operators can quickly verify production parameters at any stage of the manufacturing process, streamline maintenance operations and prevent problems before they occur.

Vir.GIL uses lights, sensors, speech and human-like gestures to guide workers. By putting Vir.GIL in machine-learning mode, the expert operator performs and confirms each position of an assembly process while Vir.GIL memorizes the hand positions and intervention points. Upon learning the sequence, the system can guide a non-experienced operator. The digital assistant also collects anonymous real-time data to verify technical parameters.
Acieta
Acieta used the event to launch its FastLOAD CR2000 standard machine tool cell. The new cells are designed with all components fully integrated for fast delivery and start-up as well.

Acieta’s booth at Automate 2019.

“Companies want to address their manufacturing problems quickly, and with our FastLOAD CR2000, we can deliver a high-quality system with an aggressive lead-time,” said Mark Sumner, Acieta’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Utilizing a FANUC collaborative robot in this system provides manufacturers a great way to drive increased productivity in a small footprint, a safe work environment, and at a high return on investment, so succeeding with robotics is easier and faster than ever before. It’s changing the way people think about robotics.”

The FastLOAD CR2000 can tend two machines simultaneously so an operator can load and unload parts while the robot is working on the other machine. It features a FANUC CR-15iA collaborative 6-axis robot, an intuitive touchscreen interface with easy in-shop Wi-Fi programming, and gripper fingers that allow for parts ranging from 5/8-inches to 5 ¾ inches in diameter.
Soft Robotics
The company’s mGrip modular automation kit enables uses to build soft, flexible gripping ends for robotic arms in order to grab a variety of consumer packaged goods and other products from an assembly line, such as foods and other soft goods that would be damaged by more rigid grippers or suction devices, according to Austin Harvey, senior product manager.

Each kit includes components needed to build tools with various configurations and spacing options.

More on Automate, ProMat 2019:

ProMat and Automate Day 3 News and Notes: R2-D2 and 3 Tons of Fun!
ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts
News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019

Harvey said manufacturers, particularly in the food industry, need a variety of soft gripper configurations offering human hand-like dexterity so they can work with various sizes of products, like snack cakes, produce, etc., which have different tolerances for gripping strength.

The company’s gripping platform is already in use at a number of companies in the food and beverage industry, including Just Born Quality Confections (maker of PEEPS), a popular inclusion in Easter baskets.
TM Robotics
The company displayed its THE600 SCARA robot, now offered in North America. The robot is twice as fast, with a 60% higher payload capacity, than the THE400, which the company launched last year.

Larger payloads were important elements of numerous introductions at both Automate and ProMat, as manufacturers, warehouse companies and others seek to fill increasing capacity demands.

Source: TM Robotics

TM Robotics also exhibited other robots from its extensive selection, including the TVM range of 6-axis robot models. The TVM range is a vertically articulated series available in three different sizes, lending itself to a multitude of industries.

“Combining high speed operation with a high payload capacity, the THE600 model has been developed to meet growing demand for fast-cycle automation,” said Nigel Smith, TM Robotics president. “Manufacturers are looking for machines to deliver improved precision and enhanced performance without breaking the bank, particularly in parts assembly, testing and transfer processes.”

TM Robotics also demonstrated several other SCARA machines as well as its robot control software, TSAssist, which is compatible with any Toshiba Machine SCARA, Cartesian or 6-axis robot.
LITE-ON Technology
As smart factories and smart warehouses continue along their evolutionary paths from concept to reality, an increasing number of sensors will be found on robots, machines, and related systems.

While these sensors offer a tremendous amount of data to aid efficiency, predict system failures and a variety of other uses, the data does little good if there isn’t an efficient way to collect and interpret information from different systems with different protocols a challenge that LITE-ON Technology offers to solve with its newly launched IIoT Gateway 2224-VGA.

The gateway includes a pair of two independent Gigabit Ethernet portals so it can work in LAN as well as WAN environments. The gateway incudes a programmable platform as well as the ability to sense data flows between HMI and PLC (Programmable Logic Controller).
Bosch Rexroth
Bosch Rexroth offered a number of technologies designed to aid companies in the smart factory, displaying them in a “Factory of the Future” showcase.

Rexroth’s Smart Assembly 4.0 Conveyor used Industry 4.0 compatibility of products from Rexroth’s linear motion, assembly, and automation technology portfolio.

Related technologies the company displayed in its Mechatronics@Work demo included:

The onboard IoT Gateway for the Smart Assembly 4.0 Conveyor, which displays any parameter on the system and can communicate with other devices and display their data.
The ActiveAssist Workstation, which offers intuitive worker guidance, enabling teams to easily visualize information.
The ActiveCockpit, an interactive data visualization and communications platform designed to support employees and management personnel.

 
Source: Robotics Trends

ProMat and Automate Day 3 News and Notes: R2-D2 and 3 Tons of Fun!

CHICAGO – Observers of these “news and notes” updates may notice a not-so-subtle casualness to the write-ups as the length of time increases while at a trade show. ProMat and Automate are no different, as we continue to see more robots (the R2-D2 model squealing a few rows over from our video booth was fun!) and meet with companies in the automation space.

Speaking of R2-D2, I discovered during Day 3 that the Star Wars Celebration event is being held right after this show, in fact with a day of overlap (April 11). The Star Wars folks will be at the other part of the McCormick Place convention center – in the West Hall area, while ProMat and Automate takes up the North and South Halls. I saw a few people wandering around carrying light sabers, in addition to the R2-D2 robot – I figure that’s going right over to that event on Friday through the weekend.
Waypoint goes big with MAV3K
At the Waypoint Robotics booth, visitors could check out MAV3K (pronounced “May-Vick”), the latest member of the company’s industrial-grade autonomous mobile robot family. MAV3K can carry items up to 3,000 pounds, with omnidirectional mobility for “smooth and nimble movement of your heaviest materials,” the company said.

Like its Vector robot, MAV3K includes support from Waypoint’s Dispatcher software, which lets companies set up the robot and have it operate autonomously in under 15 minutes. The MAV3K’s batteries also keep it moving throughout the workday, but it can also recharge by connecting to the Waypoint EnZone wireless charging system. MAV3K also includes dual-safety rated lidar sensors, a three-stage safety system and autonomous navigation are designed to have MAV3K safely find its way around a manufacturing or warehouse floor safety.

“We are thrilled to offer the workforce a better tool to move large, heavy materials,” said Jason Walker, CEO of Waypoint Robotics. “We’ve architected our products from Day 1 with the philosophy of ‘Bobby first.’ Bobby is the worker who’s been there for years and knows the job better than anyone. We’ve designed MAV3K so Bobby and workers like him can send it on missions to move the heaviest materials in his factory.”
Inspekto aims to disrupt inspection process
I had a very quick but great meeting with the leaders of Inspekto, which was honored at the Automate show with a Gold Award in the vision systems category of the Vision Systems Design Innovators Awards. After spending a few minutes talking with them, I can understand why they were honored.

The Inspekto S70 system.

Launched in November 2018, the Inspekto S70 is an “autonomous vision system” that combines a camera, light, lens and mounting aimed at industrial inspection processes. “Capable of inspecting any product, on any line, using any handling method, the system is a major tool for profitability per line for industrial plants, regardless of industry or geography,” the company said. With the company’s Plug and Inspect technology, Inspekto says the system can be installed in 30 to 60 minutes, with a price tag of just over $11,000 (€10,000).

The company said it plans on launching a new suite of applications for the platform next month at the Control trade fair for quality assurance professionals, held in Stuttgart, Germany.

“Installing the INSPEKTO S70 means that valuable staff can be moved from monotonous QA tasks to more productive roles and traditional tedious solutions replaced by simple to use and very affordable systems,” said Harel Boren, CEO and co-founder of Inspekto. “Over time, a €10,000 investment in an off-the-shelf product will save a plant hundreds of thousands and drastically improve productivity.

Yonatan Hyatt (left) and Harel Boren (right) from Inspekto.

“In fact, one of our customers, a world leading automotive plant, recently reported direct savings of €468,336 per year from just one location using an INSPEKTO S70 system. When you think about installing multiple systems to achieve Total QA, the impact on customer profits is extraordinary.”

The company said the S70 system has already been deployed in manufacturing plants across several industries, less than six months after launching. It claims a commercial footprint of more than 2,500 industrial plants worldwide, and the company said it plans to expand into the U.S. market as well. For more details, head to the company’s website.
Final bits and pieces
I spent most of the day conducting some video interviews with robotics leaders, including Melonee Wise from Fetch Robotics, Daniel Theobald from Vecna Robotics, Matt Yearling from PINC, and Joel Reed from IAM Robotics, among others. We plan to have those videos up soon for readers to enjoy – thanks to everyone who helped us out on that project.

Stay tuned next week for even more updates, posts, and analysis from the show, and if you’re sticking around Chicago for the Star Wars Celebration, May the Force Be With You!

Additional ProMat / Automate coverage:

ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts
News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019
Source: Robotics Trends

Recycling Robot Learns Through System of Touch

Every year, trash companies sift through an estimated 68 million tons of recycling, which is the weight equivalent of more than 30 million cars.

A key step in the process happens on fast-moving conveyor belts, where workers have to sort items into categories such as paper, plastic and glass. Such jobs are dull, dirty, and often unsafe, especially in facilities where workers also have to remove normal trash from the mix.

The RoCycle robotic system uses touch sensors to detect whether an item is paper, plastic, or metal. Source: Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL

With that in mind, a team led by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has developed a robotic system that can detect if an object is paper, metal or plastic.

The team’s “RoCycle” system includes a soft teflon hand that uses tactile sensors on its fingertips to detect an object’s size and stiffness. Compatible with any robotic arm, RoCycle was found to be 85% accurate at detecting materials when stationary, and 63% accurate on an actual simulated conveyor belt. Its most common error was identifying paper-covered metal tins as paper, which the team says would be improved by adding more sensors along the contact surface.

“Our robot’s sensorized skin provides haptic feedback that allows it to differentiate between a wide range of objects, from the rigid to the squishy,” said MIT professor Daniela Rus, senior author on a new paper about RoCycle that will be presented later this month at the IEEE International Conference on Soft Robotics in Seoul, South Korea. “Computer vision alone will not be able to solve the problem of giving machines human-like perception, so being able to use tactile input is of vital importance.”

A collaboration with Yale University, RoCycle directly demonstrates the limits of sight-based sorting: it can reliably distinguish between two identical-looking Starbucks cups made of paper and plastic that would give vision systems trouble.
Incentivizing recycling
Rus says that the project is part of her larger goal to reduce the back-end cost of recycling, in order to incentivize more cities and countries to create their own programs. Today recycling centers aren’t particularly automated: their main kinds of machinery include optical sorters that use different wavelength light to distinguish between plastics, magnetic sorters that separate out iron and steel products, and aluminum sorters that use eddy currents to remove non-magnetic metals.

Five different test objects. Source: MIT CSAIL

This is a problem for one very big reason: just last month China raised its standards for the cleanliness of recycled goods it accepts from the US, meaning that most of our single-stream recycling is now sent to landfills.

“If a system like RoCycle could be deployed on a wide scale, we’d potentially be able to have the convenience of single-stream recycling with the lower contamination rates of multi-stream recycling,” said Ph.D. student Lillian Chin, lead author on the new paper.

It’s surprisingly hard to develop machines that can distinguish between paper, plastic and metal, which shows how impressive a feat it is for humans. When we pick up an object, we can immediately recognize many of its qualities even with our eyes closed, like whether it’s large and stiff or small and soft. By feeling the object and understanding how that relates to the softness of our own fingertips, we are able to learn how to handle a wide range of objects without dropping or breaking them.

This kind of intuition is tough to program into robots. Traditional rigid robot hands have to know an object’s exact location and size to be able to then calculate a precise motion path. Soft hands made of materials like rubber are much more flexible, but have a different problem: because they’re powered by fluidic forces, they have a balloon-like structure that can easily puncture quite easily.
How RoCycle works
Rus’ team used a motor-driven hand made of a relatively new material called “auxetics.” Most materials get narrower when pulled on, like a rubber band when you stretch it; auxetics, meanwhile, actually get wider. The MIT team took this concept and put a twist on it, quite literally: they created auxetics that, when cut, either twist to the left or right. Combining a “left-handed” and “right-handed” auxetic for each of the hand’s two large fingers makes them interlock and oppose each other’s rotation, enabling more dynamic movement. The team calls this “handed-shearing auxetics”, or HSA.

“In contrast to soft robots, whose fluid-driven approach requires air pumps and compressors, HSA combines twisting with extension, meaning that you’re able to use regular motors,” said Chin.

After determining the type of object, the robot can place the object in the correct bin. Source: Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL

The team’s gripper first uses its “strain sensor” to estimate an object’s size, and then uses its two pressure sensors to measure the force needed to grasp an object. These metrics – along with calibration data on the size and stiffnesses of objects of different material types – is what gives the gripper a sense of what material the object is made of. Since the tactile sensors are also conductive, they can detect metal by how much it changes the electrical signal.

“In other words, we estimate the size and measure the pressure difference between the current closed hand and what a normal open hand should look like,” said Chin. “We use this pressure difference and size to classify the specific object based on information about different objects that we’ve already measured.”

RoCycle builds on a set of sensors that the team developed for a different paper to estimate an object’s size and stiffness. Those sensors could detect the radius of an object to within 30 percent accuracy, and tell the difference between “hard” and “soft” objects with 78 percent accuracy. The team’s hand is also almost completely puncture-resistant: it was able to be scraped by a sharp lid and punctured by a needle more than twenty times, with minimal structural damage.

As a next step, the researchers plan to build out the system so that it can combine tactile data with actual video data from a robot’s cameras. This would allow them to further improve its accuracy and potentially allow for even more nuanced differentiation between different kinds of materials.

Chin and Rus co-wrote the RoCycle paper alongside MIT postdoctoral associate Jeffrey Lipton, as well as PhD student Michelle Yuen and professor Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio of Yale University.

This project was supported in part by Amazon, JD, the Toyota Research Institute and the National Science Foundation. The complete paper is available here.
Source: Robotics Trends

Dynamic DNA material with emergent locomotion behavior powered by artificial metabolism

Metabolism is a key process that makes life alive—the combination of anabolism and catabolism sustains life by a continuous flux of matter and energy. In other words, the materials comprising life are synthesized, assembled, dissipated, and decomposed autonomously in a controlled, hierarchical manner using biological processes. Although some biological approaches for creating dynamic materials have been reported, the construction of such materials by mimicking metabolism from scratch based on bioengineering has not yet been achieved. Various chemical approaches, especially dissipative assemblies, allow the construction of dynamic materials in a synthetic fashion, analogous to part of metabolism. Inspired by these approaches, here, we report a bottom-up construction of dynamic biomaterials powered by artificial metabolism, representing a combination of irreversible biosynthesis and dissipative assembly processes. An emergent locomotion behavior resembling a slime mold was programmed with this material by using an abstract design model similar to mechanical systems. Dynamic properties, such as autonomous pattern generation and continuous polarized regeneration, enabled locomotion along the designated tracks against a constant flow. Furthermore, an emergent racing behavior of two locomotive bodies was achieved by expanding the program. Other applications, including pathogen detection and hybrid nanomaterials, illustrated further potential use of this material. Dynamic biomaterials powered by artificial metabolism could provide a previously unexplored route to realize “artificial” biological systems with regenerating and self-sustaining characteristics.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content

ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts

CHICAGO – Wow, there are a lot of robots here at the ProMat 2019 and Automate 2019 shows. Of course, there are lots of other things, like conveyor systems, pallets, racks, and forklifts (or, as those in the industry like to say, lift trucks). Continuing our coverage of the shows, here are some additional product announcements from companies that I met with.
Humatics, Vecna team up to improve navigation
Microlocation provider Humatics announced a partnership with Vecna Robotics at the show. The agreement will integrate Humatics’ KinetIQ 300 microlocation system into Vecna’s fleet of self-driving vehicles, allowing them to navigate outdoor environments and access areas of a warehouse that previously was difficult, such as loading docks.

Examples of how the microlocation platform will help self-driving vehicles in the warehouse space include:

Navigation down to the centimeter in unstructured and dynamic environments. For example, a worker using a pallet jack to move boxes in and out of a loading dock can slow robots only equipped with lidar or fiducial stickers for navigation, Humatics said. The KinetIQ 300 system can recognize these changes without confusion, with 2-cm repeatability from up to 500 meters away.
Operation indoors and outdoors and in all weather conditions. This will allow Vecna vehicles to move pallets from an outdoor loading dock to an indoor warehouse storage area, or move goods between different buildings.
Increased operational efficiency in facilities that have more than 20 automated vehicles.

“Navigation for autonomous mobile robots in the warehouse has hit limitations that can only be remedied with more precise microlocation,” said David Mindell, CEO and co-founder of Humatics. “Humatics created the KinetIQ 300 to give mobile robots of all shapes and sizes a reliable way to move freely between indoor and outdoor warehouse environments, dynamically adapting to people and things in constantly shifting spaces.”

Dan Patt, CEO of Vecna Robotics, said their vehicles already have high confidence in self-driving, but the company is always looking to innovate and improve those features. “To facilitate this, we seek to collaborate with industry experts, such as Humatics,” he said. “As we continue to grow, we look forward to working with them to ensure our self-driving vehicles work in all environments, including indoor/outdoor spaces.”
New mobile robot features from Locus
Locus Robotics announced its Spring 2019 software and hardware updates for its autonomous mobile robots at the show. New features include omnichannel support, the ability for associates to handle putaway (replenishment) duties simultaneously with picking functions, multi-order and multi-tote picking, and an accessory power port for the robot that lets users place peripherals such as a label printer onto the LocusBot.

Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics

“We’re especially excited to introduce the industry’s first, full omnichannel support that seamlessly handles all aspects of fulfillment for retail, wholesale, and e-commerce channels,” said Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics. “Together, these new features enable us to deliver even greater levels of optimization and productivity gains to our customers and continue our goal of consistently delivering results and innovation across the entire spectrum of order fulfillment.”

The omnichannel support gives companies the ability for efficient picking of complex retail shipments, while simultaneously picking orders for retail store replenishment, wholesale, and e-commerce orders on a single robot.

Other updates in the spring software release include bulk item picking, which lets associates pick larger quantities of goods for later sorting at a sortation station, real-time traffic flow management to improve picking velocity and productivity, and custom robot branding options for the robots.

In addition, the company has added gamification features to its software, allowing customers to create “fun and engaging internal competitions to motivate and reward warehouse workers for achieving high order fulfillment levels” as a way to improve the working experience for employees. The company said this feature can be valuable for companies that integrate pay-for-performance programs to help incentivize warehouse workers.
Yale shows off robotic reach lift truck
Labor shortages for forklift drivers have many warehouses looking for resources to handle storage and retrieval tasks, including robotics automation. Yale Materials Handling showed off its new Yale robotic reach truck, a dual-mode pantograph robotic lift truck that can autonomously deposit and retrieve loads from locations as high as 30 feet, and reach into double-deep storage areas.

The new Yale Materials Handling robotic reach truck.

The company said the high-lifting capability of the reach truck makes it ideal for distribution centers facing a shrinking labor pool and pressure to maximize vertical storage space due to pressures from e-commerce demand.

Through a partnership with JBT, the robotic reach truck uses a combination of sensors and 3D cameras to achieve its precision and effectiveness at higher-level storage locations, “capable of exceeding the productivity of operator-driven trucks,” Yale said.

“The robotic reach truck’s ability to go as high as 30 feet opens up a wide range of new tasks for automation, enabling operations to maximize utilization of robotic solutions and achieve return on investment faster than ever,” said Mick McCormick, vice president of robotics and automation at Yale Materials Handling.

The robotic reach truck is the first model to commercialize through Yale’s collaboration with JBT, and is now available in North America. The dual-mode feature allows human drivers to take over tasks and operate the reach truck as a regular truck lift. Other robotic lift trucks from Yale include a robotic tow tractor, end rider, and counterbalanced stacker models.
More to come!
Keep checking back on Robotics Business Review for more ProMat and Automate updates, analysis, videos, and more. For additional multimedia updates, be sure to watch our Twitter feed.

Additional ProMat / Automate coverage:

News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019
Source: Robotics Trends

News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019

CHICAGO – Plenty of robots and robotics solutions were on display for the opening day festivities at the ProMat and Automate shows, as attendees from the supply chain, logistics, and manufacturing industries aimed to learn more about how robots can help improve their businesses.

We’ve already highlighted some of the news announcements that have come out at the show, here are some additional company announcements we learned while meeting with companies:
Productive Robots show teachable cobots
Productive Robots (booth N6957) unveiled its full line of next-generation teachable collaborative robots at the event. Based in Santa Barbara, Calif., Productive has added “an enhanced human sense of vision to its teach-and-learn platform” which gives customers an additional offering for end users.

“The Productive Robotics design and engineering team started building robots for movie special effects in the 1980s,” said Zac Bogart, president and CEO of Productive Robotics. “We’ve combined that level of expertise with the latest technology to offer customers the simplest, most flexible, innovative and cost-effective lineup of next-generation collaborative robots in the market.”

The OB7 model from Productive Robotics is a 7-axis model that can provide more flexibility for cobot applications. Source: Productive Robotics

The company was showing its 7-axis OB7-Max 8 and OB7-Max 12 at the show, rounding out its line based on the success of its original OB7 cobot. The OB7-Max 8 has a payload up to 8 kg and a 1,700 mm reach, while the OB7-Max 12 can handle payloads up to 12 kg with up to 1,300 mm reach.

Productive Robotics said the OB7 models can automatically learn to recognize and pick up objects with a single push, and that by the end of the year, it will be equipped with an improved sense of touch. The additional axis gives OB7 “the flexibility and dexterity to reach around objects or obstacles where other’s can’t,” as each of the joints can rotate 360 degrees in both directions.
ROEQ debuts top roller module for MiR1000
Just minutes after MiR announced its MiR1000 mobile robot that can handle loads up to 1,000 kg (slightly more than 1 ton), ROEQ (short for “Robotic Equipment) announced its TR1000 Top Roller, a conveyor solution that can connect the MiR Robots to other conveyor systems.

The TR1000 from ROEQ provides conveyor connectivity for the MiR1000 mobile robot. Source: ROEQ.

Working in tandem with the MiR1000, the TR1000 Top Roller can support heavy internal logstics within industrial facilities by automating the load and unload operations of the MiR1000. Think of it this way – while mobile robots like the MiR1000 can move materials from Point A to Point B, once it gets to Point B, the Top Roller system can raise to the level of an existing conveyor system and then automatically transfer the materials to the belt or other location, saving humans from the lifting part of the load or unload process.

“A mobile robot without a conveyor or top module is like a robot arm without a gripper,” said Peder Grejsen, technical sales manager for ROEQ. “Production throughput can be greatly improved when mobile robots are outfitted with intelligent top modules that self-load and unload.”

The TR1000 accommodates U.S. pallets and can be delivered with a fully automated lifter functionality for pick-up and delivery of goods in heights ranging from 23.6 inches (600mm) to 29.5 inches (750mm). The Top Roller integrates seamlessly in MiR’s own user interface where all control functions are embedded; when the robot is called to deliver or pick up goods, the conveyor communicates with the pick-up and delivery stations and will automatically activate the loading or unloading upon arrival.

“By targeting the loading and unloading of mobile robots, we are addressing that missing link in the automated logistics cycle that today is handled either by fork or pallet lifters or manually by employees,” said Grejsen. “Adding the conveyor capability strengthens the employees’ work environment by taking over ergonomically unfavorable tasks or by reducing truck traffic and noise.”
Staubli shows multiple robot collaboration application
At the Stäubli booth (#7150), the company was showing its new TS2 four-axis robots to the North American market, but also showed a scenario where multiple robots worked together, along with human workers, to accomplish tasks. In addition to the SCARA robots, the company showed

“This new series of SCARA robots has been reimagined, incorporating our JCS drive technology that has greatly improved the performance and versatility of our six-axis machines,” said Sebastien Schmitt, Robotics Division Manager, Stäubli North America. “This allows for ultra-short cycle times and enormous performance gains for the new four-axis TS2.”

The new line consists of four models, the TS2-40, TS2-60, TS2-80 and TS2-100 to provide a solution for a wide range of manufacturing scenarios. With the four-axis TS2-100, Stäubli has extended the working radius of the TS series (400 to 800 millimeters) up to 1,000 millimeters.

The Staubli HelMo mobile robot provides collaborative capabilities with human workers. Source: Staubli

The company also showed its HelMo mobile robot system, designed to bring flexibility to an electrical connector assembly line. The HelMo can navigate autonomously by monitoring its environment with three integrated laser scanners, and can perform tasks either fully automatically or in collaboration with humans. “Once trained, HelMo can handle almost any manual job on a variety of assembly lines,” Stäubli said. The system can navigate to its own workspace, decelerating or stopping when humans come too close, and then continue its process when humans are farther away. Built around a six-axis standard TX2-90L robot with a payload of 15 kg and reach of 1,200 mm, the system comes with a safety package that meets the requirements of SIL3/PLe, Stäubli said.
More coverage to come!
Stay tuned for additional updates, posts and other articles from the ProMat and Automate show. For the latest updates, photos, and videos, make sure to monitor the Robotics Business Review Twitter feed. If you’re at the show, make sure you stop by the CRO Summit at ProMat (located in the North Hall near the RBR booth #6360) to hear strategies around deploying robotics at your company.

Additional ProMat / Automate coverage:

MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019
Source: Robotics Trends

MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads

ODENSE, DENMARK and HOLBROOK, N.Y. – Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) today launched its MiR1000 autonomous mobile robot, with the ability to automatically pick up, transfer, and deliver pallets and other heavy loads up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs). The company will demonstrate the MiR1000 and other AMRs at this week’s Automate 2019 show in Chicago.

Like the company’s MiR500, which was introduced last year, the MiR1000 is “a collaborative, safe and flexible alternative to potentially dangerous and expensive forklifts on the factory floor,” the company said. MiR also announced it was releasing artificial intelligence capability across all of its AMRs for improved navigation.

The company’s MiR100, MiR200 and MiR500 have been installed in more than 45 countries, at companies such as Airbus, Flex, Honeywell, Toyota, Visteon, and Hitachi, MiR said. Thomas Visti, MiR’s CEO, said the company built the MiR1000 in response to strong demand from customers of the smaller robots, who also wanted to transport heavier components, such as those required in the aerospace and automotive industries.

The MiR1000 features two flexible pallet lifts for the two most commonly used types of pallets – the EU pallet and the 40-inch by 48-inch pallet. Like the company’s other AMRs, the MiR1000 can be programmed via its user interface, or through the MiRFleet robot fleet management system. The company said its AMRs can also easily integrate different top modules, such as pallet lifts, conveyors, a robot arm or other options to support several applicatiosn.

“With the MiR1000, we are once again extending the possibilities for automating internal logistics, especially for those who want to transport very large materials without reconfiguring their infrastructure,” said Visti. “Manufacturers today must deal with ever-changing customer demands, which means they need flexible and easily adaptable production facilities. Conventional logistics solutions like forklifts and conveyor belts, and even traditional automated guided vehicles (AGVs) haven’t been able to support this type of production.”

More on mobile robots:

Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019
Robots Will Be Working in 50,000 Warehouses by 2025, Report Says
ProMat Preview: What’s Really Happening With Mobile Robots

He added the company has made it easier to optimize the transportation of materials without requiring rebuilding infrastructure or extensive programming capabilities. “Customers have seen that with our other robots, and will experience the same efficiencies with the MiR1000 and much heavier loads.”
AI and mobile robot navigation
With the AI capabilities now incorporated into the company’s software, as well as strategically placed camera that function as an extended set of robot sensors, MiR said its robots can now optimize their route-planning and driving behavior. The cameras, called MiREyesight, enable the robots to “detect and recognize different moving obstacles and react accordingly.” As an example, the robots will continue driving if they detect a person not in their path, but will park if the robots detect an AGV so it can drive by. MiR said the robot can also predict blocked areas or highly trafficked areas in advance, and re-route instead of entering the blocked area and then re-routing.

The company plans to showcase all of its AMRs and software at booth #7368 at the Automate show.
About Mobile Industrial Robots
Founded in 2013 by Danish robotics industry professionals, MiR was acquired last year by Teradyne, the owner of cobot manufacturer Universal Robots. In addition to its Odense headquarters, the company has regional offices in Dortmund, Frankfurt, Shanghai, New York and San Diego. The company said its sales have risen 500% from 2015 to 2016, and 300% from 2016 to 2017, as well as from 2017 to 2018. Last year, it was awarded the EY Entrepreneur of the Year in Denmark.
Source: Robotics Trends

Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit

QUEBEC CITY – Robotiq today announced the launch of three new tools and software for collaborative robots that help automate packaging, palletizing, and sanding processes. The company will showcase the new tools at this week’s Automate 2019 show in Chicago.

Robotiq’s AirPick includes options for one or two suction cups on its vacuum gripper. Source: Robotiq

The AirPick, EPick and Robotiq Sanding Kit are designed for manufacturers looking for less expensive and less complicated options for those processes, without having to build a custom-designed solution, the company said.

AirPick and EPick are customizable vacuum grippers aimed at several industrial applications, with plug-and-play features that make them easier to program and quick to install on cobots. Robotiq said the tools’ ability to handle objects of varying sizes, shapes, materials, and weights “makes them an effective solution for packaging, palletizing, pick-and-place, assembly, and machine-tending applications.” Both AirPick and EPick come with options for one or two suction cups for customers to choose from.

The EPick vacuum gripper also features one or two-suction cup options. Source: Robotiq

Robotiq said the two vacuum grippers complete the company’s lineup of grippers. They added that expanding into vacuum grippers was a natural step for the company, which is one of the leaders in the end-of-arm tools and grippers for cobots.
Sanding kit made for UR cobots
The Robotiq Sanding Kit (photo, above) is the company’s first application-based package, built as the only hardware and software sanding solution for Universal Robots. The company said the kit increases quality and productivity while saving manufacturers hours of programming. The software’s built-in path generator ensures that “consistent force is applied at each cycle, which makes it easy to automate dirty and tedious finishing tasks,” the company said.

More on grippers:

Insider Report: Market Playbook for End-of-Arm Tools
Acutronic, Robotiq Team Up on ROS-Native Grippers
Cobot Arms, Grippers Offer Manufacturers Value at IMTS
MIT, Harvard Researchers Create Soft and Strong Robot Hand

“The introduction of these solutions to the Robotiq product family is built on our expertise from supporting thousands of clients with their automation projects over the past 10 years,” said Jean-Philippe Jobin, CTO and co-founder at Robotiq. “AirPick, EPick  and the Robotiq Sanding Kit were all engineered for helping manufacturers start production faster in mind. We wanted to support them in automating their cobot applications by offering solutions that are easy to use, safe, and flexible.”

In addition to showing all three new products at Automate (at booth #7165), Robotiq said it plans to show its complete product lineup of specially designed plug-and-play grippers, force sensors, camera technology, and related software.
Source: Robotics Trends