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  • What's New In Robotics?  20.09.2019

    Good morning.  In this week's news mix: UR unveils powerful UR16e cobot and IFR's latest World Report delves into global cobot sales for the first time.  We also meet a mind-blowing 'biobot' with neurons for brains, marvel at a robot made of robots, do pressups with a Chinese quadruped and cast a net through an extremely 'fishy' week of robot news! 

    Cobots & manufacturing

    The biggest cobot story of the year so far broke this week at the China International Industry Fair when Universal Robots unveiled the UR16e, a ground-breaking new cobot with a massive 16kg (35.3 lbs) payload.

    cbVOF0rw'Have you been working out?!' 
    The UR16e (left) is UR's most powerful cobot yet. Credit: Universal Robots

    The UR16e is designed to open up new, heavy-duty application possibilities for manufacturers from heavy machine tending, material handling and packaging through to finishing and screw and nut driving applications, UR says.  The powerful cobot can handle heavy end of arm tooling and lift multiple parts in a single pick, making tasks much more efficient by achieving shorter cycle times.

    As some observers have noted, the new cobot is such a significant product release that in some ways it even challenges our notions of what a cobot is and highlights the fact that safety is not the only feature that makes a robot collaborative.

    UR 16e Specs
    Compare the UR16e's specs to those of UR's other cobots.  Credit:  Universal Robots reports:

    The fact that UR has released a cobot with a higher payload, as well as embracing non-collaborative applications like welding, indicates that a cobot is much more than a robot without a fence. The flexibility and ease-of use aspects of the concept of collaborative robotics are turning out to be the real value of the technology.

    High-tech automation distributors R.R. Floody Company, Inc. released video this week demonstrating a mobile cobot set up that incorporates a mobile robot from MiR, a cobot arm from Universal Robots and a Robotiq gripper... 

    The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) released its World Report on Wednesday and for the first time, the report includes specific numbers for the cobot market.  And the numbers are impressive: From 2017 to 2018, annual installations of cobots increased by a massive 23%.


    Credit: International Federation of Robotics

    These numbers need to be put into context, however.  Despite their growing popularity, cobots still represent a tiny fraction of the overall industrial robotics segment, which shipped 422,000 units globally in 2018, the report found, to reach a record-breaking sales value of 16.5 billion USD.  The IFR notes:

    Despite a very strong media attention of cobots, the number of units installed is still very low with a share of 3.24% only. In 2018, less than 14,000 out of more than 422,000 industrial robots installed, were cobots. The year before that, roughly 11,100 units were cobots.

    The Robotiq User Conference, an annual event that brings global cobot experts and end-users together, finished earlier this month.  To catch up on happenings (which included everything from seminars to the Amazing Robot Challenge), read Alex Owen-Hill's posts and check out this gorgeous new highlights video...


    • Waste separator is industry fair’s star of the show (China Daily)
    • Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution could spell more jobs – not fewer (World Economic Forum)
    • Robot take-up by UK businesses needs incentivising by Government (E&T)
    • Eyes Are the Window to a Robot’s Soul (Medium)
    • Blueprint For Industry 4.0: What Manufacturers Must Do Today (Forbes)



    The worlds of biology and robotics merged in a mind-blowing way this week with news that researchers at the University of Illinois have created soft robotic devices powered by skeletal muscle tissue stimulated by on-board motor neurons that react to light. 

    That's right: this new, swimming microbot contains real, biological neurons (derived from mouse stem cells) and real, biological muscle cells. 

    The potential implications for future robot design are immense, including the possibility of creating new types of biohybrid bots with high-performance, biological neurons for brains. 

    211461_webCredit: Graphic courtesy Michael Vincent

    Via EurekAlert!:

    "The ability to drive muscle activity with neurons paves the way for further integration of neural units within biohybrid systems," [mechanical science and engineering professor Taher Saif] said. "Given our understanding of neural control in animals, it may be possible to move forward with biohybrid neuromuscular design by using a hierarchical organization of neural networks."

    Meanwhile,  researchers at Penn State (in collaboration with researchers at the University of Houston and the University of Virginia) have received a USD1.2m grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate fish movements, with the aim of creating improved swimming robots. 

    IMG_6266Bo Cheng and Asok Ray will develop a robotic fish as part of their NSF-funded project. 
    Credit: Erin Cassidy Hendrick | Penn State

    Penn State News reports:

    By taking this deep dive into the physics of fish locomotion, the researchers hope to make discoveries that influence a new understanding of robotics development. For instance, it could enhance search-and-rescue missions in the ocean or in confined underwater environments or help develop nanoscale technology that could deliver medical treatments by swimming in blood vessels.

    Separately, a brilliant new robot fish was unveiled this week by researchers from NYU Tandon and the University of Western Australia.   However, if you happen to be a mosquitofish (one of the world's most problematic invasive species) you won't be at all pleased to see it. 

    fish-robot-predator_770The new fish bot mimics a predator largemouth bass and is designed to create existential crises among mosquitofish.
    Credit: NYU

    Futurity reports:

    Researchers have published the first experiments to gauge the ability of a biologically inspired robotic fish to induce fear-related changes in mosquitofish. Their findings indicate that even brief exposure to a robotic replica of the mosquitofish’s primary predator—the largemouth bass—can provoke meaningful stress responses in mosquitofish, triggering avoidance behaviors and physiological changes associated with the loss of energy reserves, potentially translating into lower rates of reproduction.

    Not sure why, but all of a sudden I'm craving fish and chips for supper.  

    • Engineers build robot fish that keeps pace with yellowfin tuna (UPI)
    • CMR Surgical hits £1bn valuation as it rolls out robots for surgery (Financial Times)
    • The house that robots built (Mail Online)
    • Ocado’s new offer to investors: quinoa with added robotics (The Guardian)
    • Animals are inspiring drone development (Verizon)

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

    Five vids for Friday

    1.  In the future, independent robots and robot parts may be able to self-assemble to create complex, individual robots.  That possibility drew closer this week with news that researchers at Georgia Tech have successfully demonstrated the principle using 'smarticles.'  (H/T  Interesting Engineering)

    2.  c|net's Lexy Savvides tried out Sarcos Robotics' Guardian GT this week. Designed for industrial uses, particularly in dangerous environments such as nuclear reactors, the unit comes with two cameras that act as eyes, enabling the operator to remotely see what the bot sees.  

    3.  In our first quadrupedal robot video of the week, New China TV broadcast video of 'Jueying,' a bot with some nice exercise moves developed at China's Zhejiang University.  

    4.  Separately, ETH Zürich's popular ANYmal quadruped returned in brand new video this week to perform "dynamic hybrid walking-driving motions" while on wheels!  It's all part of a paper submitted to IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters and next year's IEEE ICRA event, to be held in Paris, France. 


    5.  Interns at NASA's Langley’s Makerspace Lab are working on soft robot actuators for potential use in future Mars missions.  Designed for safe operation around humans, these soft cobots could one day be used across a wide range of space exploration missions from assembly to excavation.  (H/T NASA)  


    Read more »
  • 11 Helpful Questions About Machine Tending with Vacuum Grippers

    Machine tending is one of our most popular tasks for new cobot users. You can now use a vacuum gripper! Got some questions? Here are some answers.

    Just when you thought that you had it figured.

    Just when you thought you'd made all the decisions that you'd have to make.

    Just when you thought "Okay! We're going for a collaborative robot and it's going to do machine tending."

    … a new decision appears out of nowhere…

    Should you use a vacuum gripper for your machine tending task?

    You probably have some questions. Here are some answers.

    1. Why are vacuum grippers better than fingered grippers for machine tending?

    The simple answer is "they aren't!"

    Vacuum gripper aren't inherently better than fingered grippers for all machine tending tasks.

    But, you're not trying to achieve "all machine tend tasks" are you?

    You're trying to deploy your specific machine tending task in your unique situation. In this case, it's possible that a vacuum gripper will better suit your needs, but it's also possible that a fingered gripper will be better suit your needs. The quickest way to find out exactly which technology your task needs is to ask an implementation coach via Blueprints.

    2. Why are vacuum grippers suddenly an option for machine tending?

    They're not!

    Vacuum grippers have been available for robots for years. They are the most popular type of robotic gripper in some industries. However, it's only recently that we have introduced our own vacuum grippers here at Robotiq…

    … but, there's more too it than just saying "we have a vacuum gripper so we're talking about them now" (we've talked about them in the past anyway).

    The difference now is that suddenly vacuum grippers are a feasible option for any new cobot user. Traditionally, vacuum grippers are very tricky to purchase and integrate. You had to make many decisions, make a load of calculations about vacuum levels, and purchase different parts from different suppliers. Now, the decisions you need to make are minimal.

    3. Do I need a pneumatic supply?

    Maybe, but not necessarily.

    This is an extremely common question. In the past, all vacuum grippers needed an external air supply. Now grippers like EPick have an in-built vacuum generator. You can add an external supply to increase the vacuum flow, but only if your task really needs it.

    4. Is it easier or harder to control a vacuum gripper?

    Compared to a fingered gripper, potentially a bit easier but basically the same.

    Both fingered grippers and vacuum grippers are very easy to control. You just move the robot arm to wherever you need it, activate the gripper, and you're done! Simple.

    There's only one thing that might make vacuum grippers a bit easier to control than fingered grippers. They do not require such precise poisoning of the gripper to approach a grip feature from the right direction. On the other hand, vacuum grippers do work better when the lifting force is parallel to the object — which is not the case with fingered grippers — so, in the end, they come out about equal.

    AirPick on OMRON - Four suction cupsYou can now use a vacuum gripper for Machine Tending.

    5. What type of machines are best suited to vacuum grippers?

    This is a tough question to give a definite answer to.

    We sometimes think of machine tending as being only about tending CNC machines. In reality, a huge range of machines are suitable for machine tending (e.g. labeling machines, product testing machines, inspection machines, etc). Vacuum grippers can be compatible with any of them, but the specific needs of your task will determine what type of gripper you need.

    6. Will a vacuum gripper make it easier to interface with my machine?

    Probably not, except in some unique situations.

    Interfacing with the machine is often the hardest part of a machine tending deployment. We usually advise people to use low-tech solutions — e.g. pressing the start button on the machine with the gripper rather than trying to send a digital message to its controller. Either way, there won't be much difference unless the start button on the machine is more easily activated by one type of gripper.

    7. Will a vacuum gripper drop the parts?

    Not if you use the gripper correctly.

    Many of us intuitively feel like vacuums cannot grasp objects as securely as fingers can. This is understandable. After all, we don't have big vacuum cups at the end of our own arms, do we? We have fingers. However, vacuum grippers can be as stable and powerful as fingers (you can even climb up a wall using vacuum cups). The EPick and AirPick vacuum grippers have a payload capacity of 10kg, which is the same as our 3-Finger gripper and more than our 2-Finger grippers.

    8. Is my machine tending task suited to vacuum grippers?

    It's quite likely!

    Vacuum grippers are extremely versatile and are compatible with many machine tending tasks. However, this is perhaps the wrong question. Instead, you should be asking "Is a vacuum gripper the best solution to my unique needs?" We can help you to work that out.

    9. Will a vacuum gripper work if the objects are dirty?

    Possibly. There's a good chance, yes. 

    It depends on the level of dirt and the type of vacuum gripper that you have. Dirt, dust, and grease can all affect the vacuum quality. If the vacuum cup loses too much of its seal, it could drop the object. A bellows-type vacuum cup can help with this and our AirPick gripper can account for a less-than-perfect seal around the edges of the vacuum cup.

    10. Will there be a speed increase compared to fingered grippers?

    There often is!

    Fingered grippers are great, but they always add extra cycle time because you have to wait for them to close around the object. You can reduce the grasping time by reducing the width of the "open" position, but you can't eliminate it. Vacuum grippers can grasp an object extremely quickly, especially if you use AirPick which has a high flow rate.

    11. Do I need a vacuum gripper if I already have a fingered gripper?

    Maybe… or maybe not.

    It would be wrong of us to say "Buy a new gripper!" if you don't really need one. If you already have a fingered gripper for your task, you should only get a vacuum gripper if it will actually improve your application.

    To find out if your task might benefit from a vacuum gripper, feel free to send us a question directly.

    What question did we miss out? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community.

    Read more »
  • What's New In Robotics?  13.09.2019

    Good morning. In this week's news mix: Shopify buys 6 River Systems for USD450m, ABB starts China factory construction and DHL's Americas Innovation Center opens. We also admit to a mistaken prediction, leap with a flying-fish inspired robot, admire a new inspection bot and much more!  

    Cobots & manufacturing

    6 River Systems (the maker of mobile cobot 'Chuck' and other warehouse automation products) was purchased for US450 million this week by Canadian e-commerce software company Shopify.  6 River Systems provides "end-to-end fulfillment solutions that can double and triple the productivity of your warehouse associates."  The company released video this week showcasing how its products fit together...

    TechCrunch reports:

    “Shopify is taking on fulfillment the same way we’ve approached other commerce challenges, by bringing together the best technology to help everyone compete,” said Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify, in a statement. “With 6 River Systems, we will bring technology and operational efficiencies to companies of all sizes around the world.”

    DHL opened its Americas Innovation Center in Chicago this week. The new facility will showcase technologies including "automated guided vehicles that can ferry goods through warehouses, mobile robots that can facilitate order fulfillment in e-commerce operations and collaborative robots designed to help with repetitive tasks, such as picking and packing." (H/T Transport Topics)...

    ABB announced on Thursday that construction work on its new robotics manufacturing and research facility in China has begun. Expected to open in 2021, the site represents a total investment of USD150 million by the robotics giant.  Via ABB:

    The new 67,000 m2 [219,816.3 feet] factory in Kangqiao, near Shanghai, will deploy the latest manufacturing processes, including machine learning, digital and collaborative solutions. The new factory will also host an onsite research and development center, which will help accelerate innovations in Artificial Intelligence.

    • Ross Knepper: Formalizing Teamwork in Human-Robot Interaction (Robohub)
    • Robots are on the rise but never underestimate the human factor (The Times)
    • Cork firm lets robots take the strain (Irish Examiner
    • This giant robotic arm was one of the stars of New York Fashion Week (FastCompany)
    • Keep The Robot In The Cage—How Effective (& Safe) Are Co-bots? (Forbes)



    Canadian startup Averro Robotics and Technology has successfully tested an inspection robot called 'Rudy' that can quickly scale and test guide-wires for damage while humans remain safely on the ground.  

    Rudy at work.  Credit:  Zach Goudie, CBC

    CBC reports:

    Guy-wires are critical infrastructure for all sorts of tall things; communications towers, ski lifts, flare stacks at industrial sites. Rudy tests the wires for breaks, corrosion and other damage. The robot consists of a drive system for climbing, a data recorder, and a magnetic rope-testing device, called an MRT. It's a job normally done by a team of technicians, but it's time-consuming, costly, and a little dangerous.

    Engineers have retrofitted the 4-meter Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope in Arizona, USA with a robotic system designed to help scientists in their quest to understand dark matter. 

    ca_0913NID_DESI_Focal_Plane_onlineCredit: University of California/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

    Science reports:

    The instrument has 5000 fibers attached to its 0.8-meter-wide focal plane. Each fiber tip can be repositioned in a matter of seconds by a tiny robotic actuator. The 5000 fibers snake down the back of the telescope to a temperature-controlled room containing 10 spectrographs, each analyzing the light of 500 galaxies simultaneously. The entire instrument can be reconfigured for a new patch of sky in a few minutes.

    In last week's news roundup I suggested that it may be a while before we receive significant updates about humanoid bot Fedor.  I couldn't have been more wrong. 

    Yevgeny Dudorov, executive director of Fedor's creators Androidnaya Tekhnika, has been talking with Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency this week following the robot's return to earth from the International Space Station.  Roskosmos Space Agency

    Unfortunately, even taking into account that Fedor was a first attempt, Dudorov's initial assessment of the robot's performance wasn't exactly positive.  The design team is already working on a "less human-like" replacement, according to reports.  Via PhysOrg:

    Fedor turned out to have a design that does not work well in space [...] its long legs were not needed on space walks, Dudorov said.  [...]  There appear to be other issues.  Footage of the robot ahead of the mission suggested it needed support to stand up. Cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin complained to mission control that it took more than a dozen attempts to switch on the robot and suggested: "Maybe I should bash it with a hammer."

    According to Fedor's most recent tweet, the bot is safely packed away in Moscow: "Now I'm in my case. I await directions for further tests after the flight," it said.  While a more positive assessment followed later in the week, it seems certain that Fedor won't be taking any more trips into space and is most likely to end up in an exhibition hall or educational institution, an important piece of space-traveling humanoid robot history.   

    Fedor in its case, blissfully unaware of any criticism.  
    Credit: Androidnaya Tekhnika

    • Robot developed to improve pharmacy services in China (Xinhua)
    • Meet the robot surgeon hospital bosses want to operate on Edinburgh patients (Edinburgh News)
    • The Samsung Club des Chefs Kitchen Heats Up with AI Assistance at IFA 2019 (Samsung Newsroom)
    • India's Silent Moon Lander Could Be in One Piece After 'Hard Landing': Reports (
    • Singaporean robot-designing couple welcomes own human creation (Reuters)

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

    Five vids for Friday

    1.  It gallops. It recovers from a kick. It trots. It climbs stairs. It bounds. It performs a flying trot.  It goes around in circles.  And it bounces!  New video from the Biomimetics Lab at MIT showcases Cheetah 3's impressive dynamic locomotion skills in a variety of environments.  

    2.  Researchers from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering unveiled a new design for swimming robots this week.  Powered and steered by light, the prototype 'OsciBot' device could eventually lead to the development of new oceangoing bots and autonomous ships.  Composed of a soft material called a hydrogel that expands in water and responds to light, the free-swimming OsciBot does not require batteries or tethering to a power source.  (H/T UCLA Newsroom)


    3.  Staying with marine bots, researchers at Imperial College London unveiled a stunning, flying-fish inspired robot this week. Designed to collect water samples in hazardous and cluttered environments, the bot can travel 26 meters (85.30 feet) through the air and is propeled by just 0.2 grams (0.007 oz) of calcium carbide powder that reacts powerfully with water in a combustion chamber, producing a force 25 times the bot's weight.  (H/T Imperial College London)


    4.  Engineers at the University at Buffalo revealed a new gripper design on Thursday that uses repulsion between magnets to adjust grip stiffness and absorb energy from collisions. The researchers hope that the design could one day be used to improve safety in industrial settings. (H/T University at Buffalo


    5.  Meet the ShapeBots, a new breed of shape-changing swarm robots developed by researchers from the University of Colorado and the University of Tokyo.  The ingenious design enables ShapeBots to individually and collectively change configuration to "display information, actuate objects, act as tangible controllers, visualize data, and provide physical affordances."  (H/T Science)

    Read more »

NASA Breaking News

Space News

Universe Today

European Space Agency Articles

  • ISS-Experimente wieder zurück auf der Erde

    Die Beyond-Mission des ESA-Astronauten Luca Parmitano hat in den letzten Wochen einen Gang zugelegt. Er hat gemeinsam mit seinen Crewmitgliedern dafür gesorgt, dass die Internationale Raumstation ISS reibungslos funktioniert und arbeitet auch aus der Ferne mit europäischen Forschern zusammen - selbst Lucas Mahlzeiten waren Gegenstand eines Experiments.

    Read more »
  • Flug über den Mars

    3D-Modelle des Mars werden Rover „Rosalind Franklin“ bei ihrer Suche nach vergangenem Leben unterstützen Read more »
  • Sommerschule zur kosmischen Strahlenforschung

    Die Erforschung kosmischer Strahlung und ihrer Auswirkungen auf Menschen, Elektronik und Material ist ein entscheidender Beitrag für eine zukunftsträchtige Raumfahrt, damit Astronauten und Satelliten im Weltall den besten Schutz bei der Exploration unseres Sonnensystems erhalten. In dieser Woche kommen 15 junge Forscherinnen und Forscher aus 8 Ländern und aus verschiedenen naturwissenschaftlichen Disziplinen im Satellitenkontrollzentrum der ESA in Darmstadt zusammen, um sich im Rahmen der Radiation Summer School, organisiert von GSI/FAIR und ESA, mit kosmischer Strahlung auseinanderzusetzen.

    Read more »

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