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  • What's New In Robotics?  15.02.2018

    Hi!  In this week's news mix: researchers reveal grasping fundamentals, Universal Robots launches India partnership, and Ford announces USD1bn investment.  We also see AntBot and Ai-Da in action, see the 1st debate between human and machine, meet a joint-melting robot and much more.  

    Cobots & manufacturing

    In a ground-breaking study, researchers from Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna's BioRobotics Institute and the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision have revealed the "guiding principles that regulate choice of grasp type" and hand placement during human-robot object exchanges.  (More: On the choice of grasp type and location when handing over an object, Science Robotics). 


    Ford Motor Company announced plans to invest USD1 billion in its Chicago assembly and stamping plants this week, creating 500 new jobs.  The plans incude an all-new body shop and paint shop, modifications to the final assembly area and the addition of new stamping lines.  The automotive giant is also set to deploy advanced manufacturing technologies at the facility, Future Car reported, including 3D printed tools and "a collaborative robot with a camera that inspects electrical connections during the manufacturing process."  

    In the latest of its “Doing with duAro” miniseries, Kawasaki TV hosts Johanna and Leith showcased some of the benefits the duAro dual-arm cobot can bring to assembly tasks... 


    Cobot giant Universal Robots and machine tool manufacturer Bharat Fritz Werner have announced a strategic partnership targetting India's all-important micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs).  Praful Shende, CSMO, BFW commented: “Deployment of collaborative robot technology will help Indian organizations to realize the creative potential of their teams by engaging them in higher value creation activities. The BFW and Universal Robots alliance will act as a major catalyst for these initiatives.”

    Humans and cobots can collaborate on dance moves too... 


    MMH1902_SR_Geodis_inline1Global third-party logistics provider GEODIS has doubled productivity improvements since deploying a fleet of 21 mobile cobots from Locus Robotics.  As of mid-December 2018, the cobots had picked more than 6.5 million items, according to Kevin Stock (left), the senior vice president of engineering and Alan McDonald, senior director of continuous improvement. (H/T Modern Materials Handling)


    After two years of steady growth, industrial robots sales in the UK fell by 15 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, according to new figures from the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA).  BARA chairman Mike Wilson told Drives & Controls that a lack of end-user knowledge in the UK means that users are unable to identify opportunities and produce usable specifications for robotic automation.  BARA recently launched the UK's first robot integrator certification scheme in association with the Robot Industries Association.

    Can cobots communicate effectively with humans using wearable haptics?  Italian researchers are aiming to find out... 


    The 10-nation ASEAN group has a combined GDP of USD2.5 trillion, larger than the GDP of France and Korea and 25 percent larger than India's.  And it's a region that's embracing the advantages of industrial automation at a rapid pace.  Asian Robotics Review's series of articles on the "bounty and promise" of the ASEAN is essential reading for those looking for an understanding that goes beyond the established giants --China, Japan and Korea-- of Asian automation.

    Voelker Controls Company released video showcasing some fancy, small part pick and place work courtesy of a UR5 cobot from Universal Robots and the Robotiq Wrist Camera and Hand-E Adaptive Gripper... 


    In other cobot and industrial automation news:


    Cries of "Noooooo!" were heard among space bot fans Wednesday as news emerged that NASA's recording-breaking, Mars-exploring rover Opportunity is (as feared) officially dead. 

    Designed to withstand a mere 90-day mission, Opportunity touched down on the Martian surface way back in Jan 2004.  From that moment through to the summer of 2018 (when a planet-wide dust storm rendered the solar panels unusable) the bot has traveled 28.06 miles (45.16 km).  That's further than any other vehicle on the surface of another world and along the way it sent back reams of data and helped terrestrial scientists make important discoveries.  

    One of many stunning images sent to earth by Opportunity during its mission /  Credit: NASA/JPL

    14.5 years of operation is a spectacular achievement, especially given the extreme conditions Opportunity operated in.  Consider this:  Most of us get an average of three years use out of our laptops.  If 'the laptop' were a unit of time measurement, Opportunity was operational for 4.83 laptops, its IT systems surviving all the while on a sole diet of software updates.  That's impressive by any standard --even makeyup ones!   

    Colorado State assistant professor Jianguo Zhao has created new kind of robot that can melt down and then reharden its plastic joints to change their configuration.  With new joint configurations come new motions, so this little reconfigurable bot (and bots like it) could end up with a large repertoire of moves at its disposal.   (H/T IEEE Spectrum)

    Credit: Colorado State University

    President Donald Trump signed an executive order to launch the 'American AI Initiative'  this week.  Designed to boost the country's artificial intelligence industry, the initiative's five main goals are to: redirect funding, create resources, establish standards, retrain workers and engage internationally.  (H/T MIT Technology Review)

    A025_C041_0612EA.0000223Driverless delivery startup Nuro has raised a whopping USD940 million from the Softbank Vision fund.  Nuro's bots have a top speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h) and are already delivering goods in Phoenix, Nevada.  The Nuro's top speed limit is similar to the speed and force limits that you'll find in cobot designs: it's there to ensure that if a collision occurs between human and robot, no serious injuries will result.  (Ars Technica has more.) 


    UK workers want robots to take over "the unhealthy (83 percent), hazardous (77 percent) or monotonous (72 percent) jobs, according to the findings of the automatica trend index. (H/T Associated Press

    In other news:

    • A Book on Robotics That's Really About How Evolution Does It Better  (The Wire)
    • At your service: Japanese robots move out of the factory  (Nikkei Asian Review)
    • Robot mail delivery trucks developed in Detroit ready for China, US  (USA Today)
    • This Robot Debates and Cracks Jokes, but It's Still a Toaster  (Wired)
    • What Will Happen to the Opportunity Rover's Dead Body on Mars?  (LiveScience)

     Swing by next week for more of the latest robotics news!  Until then, hope you enjoy... 

    Five vids for Friday

    1.  Desert ants navigate by tracking bands of polarized light and carefully counting their steps.  Inspired by this ability, researchers created AntBot, which comes with UV light sensors to help it work out its direction of travel and a built-in 'step' counter.  These skills could be very useful to robots in situations where GPS is not available.  (More: AntBot: A six-legged walking robot able to home like desert ants in outdoor environments, Science Robotics).




    2.  Ai-Da is an art-making robot being developed by British gallery owner Aidan Meller and a team of engineers at Engineered Arts.   Ai-Da will present its inaugural exhibition “Unsecured Futures” in May at the University of Oxford. 




    3.  IBM made history on Tuesday when it hosted the first ever public debate between man and machine.  First human chess players felt the power of AI.  More recently, Go players have been squished by algorithms.  Are humankind's skills in sophistry and rhetoric next to be brushed aside by an all-conquering AI? 




    4.  A fascinating DW Documentary exploring the impact of automation and digital technologies on farming was released online this week.  


    5.  Tim Swift, CEO of Roam Robotics (the firm that developed the Roam Robotics Elevate exoskeleton) sat down with Mercedes-Benz to talk about the technology, which enables people with invasive physical limitations to move around on skis as though they were without impairment.   




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  • How Much Dexterity Does a Robot Need?

    What does it mean when a robot is described as "dexterous." And what does it mean for robot users? Here's what to look for when you're selecting a robot based on its dexterity.

    Start Production Faster with Robotiq Grippers.

    The word "dexterity" is thrown around a lot in the robotics world. It's used by robot manufacturers who describe their robots as dexterous. It's used by robotics researchers who describe the dexterity of their developments. It's used by gripper manufacturers who describe their grippers as dexterous.

    You might ask: How much dexterity does my robot need to have?

    The answer: It's impossible to say. Nobody can seem to decide what makes a robot dexterous.

    Robotic dexterity is a complex topic. It's hard to tell how much dexterity you'll need for a particular robotic application — or even if "how much" is the right question to be asking.

    Robotic dexterity = a moving goalpost

    To understand why this is a tricky topic, it's useful to look at an example.

    Last year, a research team from UC Berkeley claimed that they had created the "most dexterous robot ever created".

    When I heard the news, I was skeptical. Not because I doubted that they had made a technological breakthrough. I was skeptical of the word "dexterous". I knew from experience that this word is a moving goalpost in the world of robotics.

    You see, I investigated robot dexterity as part of my PhD, which I completed back in 2014. During my research, I discovered that there is no standard definition for "dexterity" in the robotics community. As a result, researchers often claim that their robot is "dexterous" without defining what this means.

    This makes it very difficult for robot users.

    If we don't know how dexterous a robot is, how can we tell if it's the right one for our task?

    I was right to be skeptical. The UC Berkley team had done what many researchers have done in the past. They had invented an entirely new metric to measure dexterity. Their metric ignored the physical properties of the robot and instead focused on machine learning performance. There's nothing inherently wrong with their new metric — which is really a measure of bin picking speed — but it certainly can't be used to prove that the researcher's robot is "the most dexterous robot ever created." In order to say that, you'd need to measure all dexterous robots using the same metric.

    This is not an isolated case. I've seen the same thing happen again and again. People use their own definition to try to prove a robotic system is dexterous.

    There is no standard metric for dexterity — not until ISO nails it down at least. Unfortunately, that means you have to find your own way to assess a robot's suitability for your task.

    How to discover the dexterity needs of your task

    The solution is to ignore the claims of "dexterity" made by manufacturers, the media, or researchers.

    Instead, you should look closely at your robotic task and assess the specific performance that is vital for each of the steps. You can use this information to come up with your own definition of dexterity for your specific application.


    Here are some of the important factors which relate to robot dexterity, along with questions that you can ask yourself to narrow down the needs for your task:

    1. Object size — How small are the objects that the robot will manipulate? Are there a variety of sizes or are all objects identical? How does this compare with the reach required of the robot?
    2. Object shape — What shape are the objects? Do they have many complex edges or a simple geometrical shape? Are they spherical or otherwise difficult to grasp?
    3. Gripping strategy — What are the different ways that the objects can be grasped (e.g. with an encompassing grip, internal grip, or suction)? Are there different ways to grasp the same objects? Are the objects delicate and so require a particular gripping strategy?
    4. Reachability — How much does the robot have to "stretch" to reach all important locations in the workspace? Does it need to use all the robot's workspace, or just a small part of it? Does it need to approach locations from many different angles?
    5. Speed — What cycle time is required for each action?

    We sometimes think that factors 1-3 are only related to the robot's gripper and factors 4-5 relate to the manipulator. However, they are all inter-related. One factor in isolation does not necessarily define the robot as "dexterous" (e.g. a fast robot is not always dexterous), but together they give a picture of the dexterity needs of the task.

    I should add that there are probably other factors besides those which I've listed which contribute to a robot's dexterity, but these 5 are a good place to start.

    Examples: High-dexterity tasks vs low-dexterity tasks

    Let's look how these factors relate to some fictional examples.

    grippers for collaborative robots

    Example 1: A high-dexterity assembly task

    The task involves picking up several small, tough parts (1-3mm wide) with a variety of complex geometrical shapes. The robot needs to rotate the parts to align them and then assemble them together. Then, the robot must move 1.5m to the other side of its workspace to insert the assembled parts into a box. A cycle time of 30 seconds per part is required.

    Dexterity factor

    Relationship to this task's dexterity

    Object size

    The objects are very small, particularly considering the large reach required to the robot (1.5m).

    Object shape

    Objects are a variety of shapes which means that the gripper will need to be adaptable.

    Gripping strategy

    The shapes are geometric, so flexible grasping is likely to be needed. The objects are tough so don't need delicate handling.


    The manipulation will be focused on two far-apart areas of the workspace. In the assembly area, it may need to be approach the objects from various angles.


    The required cycle time is very small for such a complex assembly application.

    Most of the factors suggest a high degree of dexterity.

    Example 2: A low-dexterity pick and place task

    The task involves picking medium-sized, cuboid objects from one part of the workspace and placing them at an inexact location a short distance away. The objects are quite fragile and a cycle time of 30 seconds is required.

    Dexterity factor

    Relationship to this task's dexterity

    Object size

    The objects are not small and do not need to be placed precisely.

    Object shape

    The objects are a uniform, basic shape which is easy to grasp.

    Gripping strategy

    The objects are a basic shape, but they are fragile so a force-limited or vacuum gripper may be necessary.


    Very little of the robot's workspace is required.


    The cycle time is low for the simple task and short distance required.

    Most of the factors suggest a low degree of dexterity, despite the fact that the objects are fragile.

    How to pick the best robot and gripper for you

    As you can see, the dexterity required for a task can't be defined by a single factor. Various properties of both the robot and its gripper will combine to determine the system's dexterity.

    For more information on selecting robots and end effectors, check out these free eBooks:


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  • Look on the Sunny Side of Life with Elisabeth Ste-Marie

    As our Inside Sales Specialist for Southern Europe, Elisabeth Ste-Marie is persistent, empathetic, and fueled by new discoveries—consistently raising the bar and getting involved. A speaker of four languages, she loves traveling to immerse herself in new cultures and meet interesting people. She’s always seeking enriching experiences to add to her repertoire of stories!


    Elisabeth Ste-Marie

    Inside Sales Specialist, Southern Europe

    "You get what you give. What you put into things is what you get out of them." —Jennifer Lopez

    • Joined in:  2018
    • Describes self as: Sports Junkie, Coffee Addict, Wine Connoisseur, Real Foodie, Globetrotter
    • Greatest strengths: Creativity, Curiosity, Kindness

    Meet our EuRobotiq Team - The interview

    How did you start working with Robotiq?

    Ste-Marie-Elisabeth_MilanoAfter completing my Master’s degree in International Management in France, I spent some time in Buenos Aires working for the Argentine-Canadian Chamber of Commerce. I was just returning to Canada when I chanced across an opening at Robotiq. I knew I wanted a job that would allow me to stay close to my family yet also travel whenever wanderlust strikes. In addition, I’ve always enjoyed working in fast-paced environments, and knew I would love living in Quebec City.

    I immediately knew Robotiq was the place for me! I identify strongly with Robotiq’s values of respect, positivity, creativity, practicality, teamwork, and family spirit. Robotiq team members inspire one another to embody our aspirations, both on and off the job.

    What do you work on? What does that mean for the world?

     I work closely with our partners and customers daily to make their projects as clear and simple as possible. It’s important to do this with a human touch to give the the client the best experience we can; “yes” is the word I want to hear, and “happy” is the feeling I want you to have when we work together.

    I feel honored to help our partners and customers chase their goals; it’s so empowering to work with a wide range of partners who I genuinely love chatting to and meeting with every day. We are the infinite team (name of Team 8 at the RUC2018 Technical Challenge)!

    As an added bonus, I have amazing colleagues—always ready for a beer, poutine, or a coffee. They even changed my tire for me one day when my bike had a flat! 

    What are your biggest values?

    Ste-Marie-Elisabeth_babyI am curious by nature, so continuous learning is very important for me. I am fascinated by how technology affects our daily lives, and I want to contribute to other people’s success. I also believe strongly in our mission at Robotiq: to free human hands from tedious tasks.

    Because human contact is a priority for me, I love learning new languages: it lets me get to know people I might not have otherwise. My mantra in life is you get what you give, which keeps me motivated and working hard.

    On a personal note, family is the most important thing to me. I especially love spending time with my brothers and nephew! They bring me joy, and I want to do the same for them.



    What do you do when you’re not working?

    I’m a traveler, an adventure seeker, always looking for new experiences.

    I love challenging myself to step beyond my comfort zone. Life is to be lived to the fullest! I embrace life by spending much of my time with my family, doing sports, or discovering something new.

    I’m constantly checking Google Flights and planning my next adventure. I always try to achieve something when I travel, like the physical challenge of the five-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, or skiing the Aiguille du Midi mountain in France. Next destination: Everest Base Camp in Nepal, perhaps?

    P.S.: Although family is my top priority, sometimes I think it’s actually food! As M.F.K. Fisher said, “First we eat, then we do everything else.” What can I say? I’m a foodie.


    Elisabeth at Vinicunca, the Rainbow Mountain, in Peru.

    Let's meet !

    Elisabeth Ste-Marie is one awesome Robotiq teammates among many others. Want to meet them all ? Read more about Meet the Team !



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