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  • 5 Robotics Trends for 2020 and What They Mean for You

    There is a confusing number of robotics trends at this time of year. Let's cut through the complexity to see what these 2020 trends really mean for you.

    It's around this time of year that people start announcing their "trends for the new year."

    In robotics, these trends are often variations on the same themes that we have seen and reported on here at Robotiq for the last decade, e.g.: there are more and more collaborative robots, Artificial Intelligence is on the rise, the Internet of Things is gaining popularity, etc, etc, etc.

    I don't know about you, but I sometimes find myself reading these trend lists and thinking "Okay… but what does the trend really mean for me? What impact will it have on real people?"

    I'm much more interested in looking at the impact that the changing world will have on you, the reader of this blog, than I am at making wild headline-grabbing predictions.

    So, here is a list of 5 of the most important robotics trends for 2020 and (most importantly) what they mean for you.

    I've picked these 2020 trends from four sources: American Machinist, EENews, The Robot Report, and Innovation and Tech Magazine.


    1. More competition in the robotics space

    There are now more and more companies entering the robotics space. Startups are launching brand new products onto the market every month, established companies with no history in robotics are bringing out robotic products for the very first time, and long-established robotics companies continue to expand their product lines.

    As Innovation and Tech Magazine says:

    "There have always been a limited number of companies working in the robotics space. Now that robots are becoming more accessible, you can expect more businesses to start entering the space. Increased competition will lead to more product options and lower prices."

    What this trend means for you

    As the quote above suggests, there are certainly some benefits to having more robotic products on the market, but there are various effects of this change, including:

      • More choice — You can now find many components for your application at more competitive prices.
      • Shopping around is harder — Without a guiding hand to help you, you could end up researching robot components forever.
      • Conflicting advice — The more robotics companies enter the marketplace, the more places you can find advice about how to build your robot cell. Peer support on a trustworthy forum is becoming ever-more important.
        Robotiq grippers were featured on many cobots brands at Automate 2019


    2. More hazardous environments for robots

    A recent poll found that 77% of workers now want robots to take over the hazardous parts of their job. The fact that robots can help to make people's jobs safer is fast becoming one of the most compelling reasons to get started with robotics. It's even more important than the fact that robots can eliminate the boring parts of people's jobs.

    As a response to this need, robot makers have begun to introduce models which can handle the more hazardous environments.

    What this trend means for you

    This trend makes it important to understand how robots can be protected in hazardous environments. For example, some robot grippers have a high IP rating (ingress protection) which protects them from dust and water. It can be helpful to learn a little bit about IP ratings and other safety factors if you'll be using your robot for hazardous tasks.


    3. Heavier duty robot arms

    As robots become more popular, the range of robot sizes is growing… in both directions. There are now tiny robots which you can fit on a desktop and giant robots that can lift a car. The market for heavy-duty robots is set to grow to $14.7 billion by the year 2026.

    What this trend means for you

    This trend towards giant robots is obviously beneficial if you are using robots for huge tasks. However, it is also beneficial if you need collaborative robots for heavy-duty tasks. There are now cobots with impressive payload capacity, from Comau's huge Aura with 110kg payload and FANUC's large CR-35iA with a 35kg payload, to the brand new, modestly-sized, high-payload cobot from Universal Robots — the UR 16e with a 16 kg payload.

    Vaccum UR16e-4The new Universal Robots UR16e with Robotiq's Epick


    4. Robotics in more markets

    Over the past few years, we've discussed how robots are making their way into many new markets, including the packing industry, the agricultural industry, the food industry, and the healthcare industry.

    This trend towards more robotics in more industries is not likely to stop. It seems likely that it will only continue to grow.

    What this trend means for you

    There are two big conclusions you can take away from this trend:

    1. If you are not using robots yet, you will be soon. It doesn't matter which industry you work in, if there is a way to use robotics in your business it's likely to reach you eventually… whether you like it or not.
    2. Your competitors are probably using robots already. If they're not, robots could help to give you a competitive advantage.

    It's worth keeping yourself up to date with the applications you can use with a robot. A good place to keep up to date is this blog!


    5. Solutions are becoming more complex

    As we said above, there are more and more robotic products out there. This means that building robotic solutions could become more complex…

    The Robot Report said recently:

    "Solving the automation problem is technically complex. Much like the cobot systems we help design every day, the biggest winners will be those who embrace continuous collaboration between hardware makers, software developers, integrators, and end users."

    What this trend means for you

    The good news is that your robotic solutions don't need to be complex. If you're smart about how you design, integrate, and operate your solution, you can avoid much of the complexity that is caused by the increased number of robotic products.

    More choice of robotic components is usually a good thing, but only if you keep your robot cell as simple as it can be.

    Although the trends seem to point towards a more complex robotic future, there is great power in simple, easy to use, useful robotic solutions.

    Simplicity is what we should all be striving for in 2020.

    What do you think will happen to robots in 2020? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community.

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  • What's New In Robotics?  06.12.2019

    Good morning. In this week's news mix: cobots to account for 30% of global robot sales by 2027,  ARM announces cobot projects funding and ABB's cobots shine in New York.  We also greet CIMON-2, enjoy a luxury car-towing robot, admire 'Pavlov's Soft Robot' and much more!

    Cobots & manufacturing

    Pittsburgh's Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute announced funding for four new projects from its fifth Technology Project Call this week, with human-robot collaboration (HRC) very much on the agenda.

    Capture-6Credit: ARM Institute

    Auto giant Fiat Chrysler will lead a project in which researchers hope to enhance HRC for part quality inspection through the development of an easily programmable robotics 3D inspection system. Siemens will lead a separate project to develop a cobot welding system for precision brazing tasks.  ARM is expected to provide more than USD1.6 million in funding for a total investment of USD5.3 million across the four projects. (H/T Robotics Business Review)

    ABB has been showing off its talented cobots at Bloomingdale's in New York.  Besides delighting visitors to the store, the IRB 1200 and dual-arm YuMI are being used to showcase the potential for cobots in visual merchandising applications... (H/T RIA)


    The global cobot market is forecast to account for 30 per cent of the total overall robot market by 2027, according to a report released on Tuesday by Interact Analysis.   In 2018, global cobot revenues exceeded USD550 million.  Interact Analysis predicts that cobot revenues will reach USD5.6 billion in 2027, with smaller cobots (w/ payloads of <5kg (11.02lb) and 5-9kg (11.02-19.84lb)) accounting for the majority of collaborative robot sales by 2023.

    Meanwhile, cobot maker Doosan Robotics has been showcasing how its cobots can be used in automotive tasks.  (Robotics & Automation News has more.)

    doosan-cobots-in-automotiveCobots can be used in a wide range automotive manufacturing tasks. Credit: Doosan Robotics

    Meet MOBOT --a mobile collaborative robot platform for intralogistics.  Developed by WObit, MOBOT is designed for internal cargo transportation and can handle loads as large as 1800kg (3,968.32 lb)...

    We've seen several new mobile cobots arrive in recent months.  But with all these bots (many of which offer autonomous features) trundling around, it's important to consider your battery options, explained Ultralife Corporation's Michele Windsor in a piece for Robotics Tomorrow.

    • Poland: Keeping rapid growth rate (MM International)
    • EU project ROSIN: Change in free robot software components (CORDIS)
    • Mobile and Collaborative Robots Ratchet Up Flexible Packaging (Automation World)
    • Ocado raising £500m to fund onward march of the robots (The Times)
    • Robots or Cobots: Which to Choose? (Automation)


    Tow Atlanta, a towing firm based in Georgia, U.S.A., recently purchased two robots specially engineered to lift luxury cars from tight spaces without creating any scratches, dents or other mishaps.  General manager Syre Perkins collaborated on the design of the resulting robotic flatbed truck, with Drive Products, a Canadian truck equipment company and towing firm Miller Industry. 

    112219 tow atlanta 020Credit: Rebecca Wright

    Via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

    The robot loads the pricey cars onto flatbeds by first picking up the front wheels and then going underneath the car to lift the rear wheels. A remote control is used to maneuver the car onto a flatbed truck. “That’s the technology,” [Perkins] said. “It’s autonomous. It picks [the vehicle] up by all four wheels and you don’t have the human error.

    Meanwhile, Wimpole Farm, an 18th century National Trust estate in the U.K., is trialing one of three weed removal robots developed by Small Robot Company.  Dubbed 'Tom,' the robot maps terrain and identifies unwanted plants.  Eventually, the estate hopes to test 'Dick' and 'Harry' too --a pair of bots that zap weeds with electricity and assist with precision farming, respectively.

    21839552-7757869-image-a-232_1575507828930Tom identifying weeds for extermination by Dick.  Credit: PA

    The Daily Mail reports:

    Rob Macklin, the National Trust’s head of farming and soils, said: ‘Technology needs to play a big part in solving many of the issues we currently face in farming - particularly improving soil health and carbon sequestration, reducing our reliance on fossil fuel power and fertilisers and avoiding the adverse impacts of synthetic chemicals on the environment.

    Remember CIMON, the floating, shperical astronaut's assistant that flew on the International Space Station last year?  Well, it's back with a new name (CIMON-2) and some extra features that enable it to recognize and respond to human emotions. 

    Screenshot_2019-12-06 Emotion-sensing robot launches to assist space station astronautsIBM's Bret Greenstein holds a clone of the original CIMON back in 2018. Credit: Reuters/Joey Roulette

    Via Reuters:

    While designed to help astronauts conduct scientific experiments, the English-speaking robot is also being trained to help mitigate groupthink — a behavioral phenomenon in which isolated groups of humans can be driven to make irrational decisions [...] one of CIMON’s most important purposes would be to serve as “an objective outsider that you can talk to if you’re alone, or could actually help let the group collaborate again.”

    • 800+ Dishes, 140K Meals: How RoboChef Is Eliminating Human Chefs From The Restaurant Industry (Inc42)
    • JR East's new Takanawa Gateway Station to feature robot guide and unstaffed convenience store (The Japan Times)
    • Vicarious Surgical wins FDA breakthrough designation for surgical robot  (Mass Device)
    • The robot connection (University of Louisville News)
    • A waving robot has lured NASA to Australia in hunt for space tech (The Age)

    Come back next week for more of the latest robotics news! Until then, please enjoy...

    Five vids for Friday

    1.  Staffordshire University researcher Carl Strathearn has proposed an update to the classic Turing Test.  Strathearn's Multi-Modal Turing Test is aimed at humanoid robots, with the idea being to evaluate factors such as appearance and speech processing alongside the AI evaluations that feature in the original Turing Test.  (Note: the Turing Test comes with at least one major caveat; See also: Mark Twain)

    2.  Meet 'Pavlov's Soft Robot': a teachable liquid crystal polymer that can move and stick to an object of a given color.  ‘Conditioning can teach materials new tricks, such as recognizing colors or moving in conditions where they don’t originally move,’ says Professor Arri Priimägi from Tampere University, Finland.  (H/T SciTechDaily)

    3.   Researchers at the University of Manchester are developing chemical sensors that can be mounted on worm-like robots and then used to assist in disaster scenarios.  

    4.  In new video from the University of Surrey, Ryan Abbott, professor of law and health sciences argues that in certain scenarios the same legal standards such be applied to humans and artifical intelligence. 

    5.  In the latest edition of his artificial intelligence podcast, Lex Fridman spoke with linguist Noam Chomsky about language, cognition and deep learning. 


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  • Which Do You Need? Part-to-Process or Process-to-Part?

    There are two ways to automate a task with a cobot: part-to-process or process-to-part. Which do you need for your cobot application? Here's how to decide.

    It's becoming increasingly easy to automate with a collaborative robot. For some common tasks, there are now pre-packaged solutions which can cut days (or even weeks) off your integration time.

    However, there is one big decision that you will need to make before you can get started: Will your task be part-to-process or process-to-part?

    Your answer will determine the best way to deploy the cobot and which accessories might make the job easier. This choice is your first step towards picking the best solution.

    Let's have a look at these two automation strategies and how you can decide which is the best one for you.

    What is a "process" in this context?

    The strategies of "part to process" and "process to part" both revolve around this word "process." This is a word that we use a lot in business, to refer to a variety of things, so it's worth defining our terms.

    The two terms mean:

    • Part — In this case, a part is any object that you are going to transform or inspect. It's most usually a product (or a component of a product). You could also call this the "workpiece."
    • Process — In this context, "process" refers to the mechanical, chemical, or sensing operation that you want to perform on the part to transform or inspect it.

    In both strategies, one of these is fixed and the other is moving. As we are talking about robotic automation here, the movement in this case is carried out by the collaborative robot. Either the robot moves the part whilst the process stays static, or vice versa.

    Some examples

    Let's take a look at a few example applications which I'll use throughout this article. These tasks are all achievable with a collaborative robot and can use either strategy.

    • Sanding wood — This task involves moving some form of abrasive media over the surface of the wood. Manual sanding can be a tough and tiring job so is a perfect candidate for automation.
    • Gluing electronics — This task involves dispensing a consistent stream of glue onto an electronic board or casing. Automation can improve the consistency and efficiency of the task.
    • Driving screws — This task involves inserting screws into the part. Automation is particularly beneficial for parts which require many screws.
    • Polishing metal — This task involves moving a soft polishing material over the surface of the metal to improve the part's finish. Automation can seriously improve the consistency of the finish.

    With specially designed cobot application kits, it's now possible to integrate some of these tasks quickly and easily. However, first, you need to decide which automation strategy you will use.

    Option 1: Part to process

    As the name suggests, part-to-process involves moving the part and keeping the process fixed. The collaborative robot will hold the part (e.g. with a suitable 2-Finger Gripper) and move it towards the process machine which remains static.

    This strategy is best with small parts. The gripper must be able to firmly grasp the part and hold it steady while the process machine is operating. The control software uses an External Tool Center Point (TCP) to make programming easier.

    Sanding wood with part to process

    A common example is to have a belt sander fixed in place. The robot moves small wooden parts onto the moving belt. For this, you would need an External Tool Finishing Kit.

    Gluing electronics with part to process

    Using a part-to-process strategy allows you to use an automatic glue dispensing machine. The robot holds the part and moves it in a controlled path to apply the glue to the electronic board.

    Here is an example:

    Driving screws with part to process

    With a part-to-process strategy, driving screws is really a machine tending task as it involves moving the part to an automatic screwing machine. Unlike with the gluing application, the robot doesn't have to move along a tightly controlled path.

    Polishing metal with part to process

    A common polishing task which uses the part-to-process strategy is to hold small objects onto a polishing or buffing wheel. We demonstrated this task at Automate 2019 for a task which involved polishing metal door handles.

    Option 2: Process to part

    As the name suggests, process-to-part is the exact opposite of the previous strategy. It involves keeping the part fixed and moving the process itself. The collaborative robot will be fitted with a special process end effector.

    This strategy is best with large parts which are difficult to move.

    Sanding wood with process to part

    Large wooden workpieces almost always require surface sanding. This is achieved by attaching a special sanding end effector to your cobot. You can get this application up and running very quickly, as demonstrated in this video:

    Gluing electronics with process to part

    Dispensing glue with a process-to-part strategy involves attaching a dispensing end effector to the robot. Some users design their own custom end effectors for this.

    Driving screws with process to part

    A nutrunner tool allows the robot to drive screws itself. This is a far more flexible approach than using an automated screwing machine, as in the part-to-process strategy. An automated screw dispenser can speed up this task considerably, as shown here:

    Polishing metal with process to part

    This is similar to the sanding task. In fact, the same sanding end effector as used in the wood sanding example can also be used for polishing. The only difference is in the type of abrasive media that is attached to it.

    How to pick the right option for you

    Which is the best automation strategy for your situation? Part-to-process or process-to-part?

    Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you arrive at an answer:

    • Is your part big or small? — Big parts often work better with process-to-part and small parts with part-to-process.
    • How do human workers currently do the task? — If they currently hold the part, it probably makes sense for the robot to do the same.
    • What other automation do you already have? — It makes sense to utilize the machines that you use already. For example, if you have a fixed glue dispensing machine, a part-to-process gluing application would make the best use of it, rather than buying a new gluing end effector for the robot.

    Once you've decided which strategy suits you, it's simply a case of picking the application kit that suits your task!


    Which strategy do you prefer? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community.

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