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  • What's New In Robotics?  11.10.2019

    Good morning.  In this week's news mix: ABB unveils mobile 'lab assistant' YuMi, researchers reveal a soft robot for future manufacturing and journos take a trip to Airbus' Hanger 245.  We also visit an automated insect factory, cheer the UK's lunar mission plans, give thanks to an automated trash can and much more!  

    Cobots & manufacturing

    ABB officially opened its "global healthcare research hub" in Houston, Texas on Wednesday and the company's dual-arm YuMi cobot -–perched on a mobile platform-- was the star of the show. 

    Designed to assist medical and laboratory staff with laboratory and logistics tasks in hospitals, YuMi is able to autonomously navigate its way around humans and can teach itself the best routes to take between different locations.   Researchers at the hub plan to test and extend YuMi's capabilities as a medical/lab assistant over the coming years. 

    Via ABB:

    [YuMi] has the potential to undertake a wide range of repetitive and time-consuming activities, including preparation of medicines, loading and unloading centrifuges, pipetting and handling liquids and picking up and sorting test tubes. YuMi may be able to dispense medicines, transport them to where they are needed in hospitals, bring medical supplies to hospital staff and bed linen direct to patients’ bedrooms.

    Airbus gave journalists a behind the scenes look at its advanced manufacturing facility in Hamburg, Germany, where planes are built and experts are exploring ways to combine cobots with VR and AR technologies. 

    cobots-IMG_1017-copyAirbus' innovation centre in Hanger 245 features cobots fitted with Robotiq grippers.  Credit: Robotics & Automation News

    Robotics & Automation News published a special feature (and a worthwile long-read) on the trip this week:

    Hamburg is the largest Airbus site in Germany, and employs more than 13,000 people. It is at this facility that structural assembly and equipping of fuselage sections as well as final assembly take place [...]  Hangar 245, which is the facility we visited, is said to be the most advanced in terms of robotics and digital technologies. Successful processes here will be copy-pasted into other Airbus facilities worldwide.

    It might not look like something your manufacturing facility needs right now, but engineers at the University of Toronto unveiled a prototype, bio-inspired soft robot this week that they hope could one day lead to the development of soft cobots for use in manufacturing.

    From University of Toronto Engineering News

    “Right now, the robots you’ll find in industry are heavy, solid and caged off from workers on the factory floor, because they pose safety hazards,” explains [Professor Hani Naguib].  “But the manufacturing industry is modernizing to meet demand. More and more, there’s an emphasis on incorporating human-robot interactions,” he adds. “Soft, adaptable robots can leverage that collaboration.”



    UK start-up SpaceBit announced a 2021 lunar robot mission at an event in London, Thursday.  Several of the tiny rovers --each weighing just 1.5kg (3 lbs)-- will travel to the moon on Astrobotic's Pergrine lander.  If the mission is successful, the UK will become just the fourth country to land a rover on the lunar surface. 

    d7a5034Credit: SpaceBit 

    Via New Scientist:

    “It’s going to be quite a spectacle when we land because we’re going to have multiple small rovers dropping and rolling or crawling or walking off and taking all kinds of pictures and data,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. The rovers will send their data back to the lander, which will transmit it back to Earth. 

    Husband and wife team, Meng Wei and Tamara Finlay, founders of Forward Robotics, have developed a prototype specialist drone designed for use on large farms.  The U7AG Aerial Application Drone enables fixed-wing spraying at 120 km/h (74 mph) with a 7 m (23 ft) boom and is capable of fully automated refills. 

    meng-and-tamara-2.jpg;w=960;h=640;bgcolor=000000Credit: Northern Ontario Business

    Via Northern Ontario Business:

    Forward Robotics met with a lot of fans on the road this summer. There are roughly 70 farms across the province interested in their technology, including farms across Northern Ontario. They are currently in the process of setting up water-only trials for the spring of 2020, and want to set up a chemical trial with a larger company in the hope of commercializing the unit next year.

    The world's first "autonomous humanoid robot with full-body artificial skin" was revealed Thursday by researchers at the Technical University of Munich.  Designed to give bots the ability to feel its surroundings, the artifical skin opens up new application possibilities for humanoid robots.     

    synthetic-skin-696x294Credit: Astrid Eckert | TUM

    Via Technical University of Munich:

    [The robot] can even give a person a hug safely. That is less trivial than it sounds: Robots can exert forces that would seriously injure a human being. During a hug, two bodies are touching in many different places. The robot must use this complex information to calculate the right movements and exert the correct contact pressures.

    • Could robots be psychology’s new lab rats? (Science)
    • Paralyzed man hails 'feat' of walking again with robot exoskeleton (Reuters)
    • 30 women in robotics you need to know about – 2019 (Robohub)
    • From Mainframes to PCs: What Robot Startups Can Learn From the Computer Revolution (IEEE Spectrum)
    • Autonomous taxis have made their driverless debut in London (Driving)

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

    Five vids for Friday

    1.   A pop-up robot cafe with a difference opened in Japan on Monday.  The system is set up so that the bots inside the cafe are remotely operated by people with conditions that leave them confined to bed, excluded from employment opportunities and deprived of social interaction.  Cafe customers can even chat in real-time with the robot pilots! 

    2.  In 'Of Bugs and Robots,' released this week, The Verge visits an automated cricket farm in Austin, Texas where up to a million insects --destined for human consumption-- can be hatched per day.  

    3.  Bumble, one of NASA's Astrobee bots has successfully completed its first autonomous flight on the International Space Station.  (H/T IEEE Spectrum)

    4.  In a development that could led to increased harmony in households all over the world, Rezzi has unveiled a self-driving garbage can.  Now the trash is able to take itself out (well, with a little help from a smartphone app).   (H/T ZDNet)

    5.  2019 has seen a notable increase in the use of cobots in medical facilities, their flexibility and safety being a major plus in cluttered hospital environments.  The latest to join the ranks of mobile medical cobots such as Moxi and YuMi is a National Science Foundation-funded project to develop a robotic nurse's assistant.   (H/T National Science Foundation)


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  • Best Practices For Cup Selection

    Linking the vacuum generator and the workpiece, vacuum suction cups play an essential role in the design of every vacuum-handling system. When selected correctly, vacuum suction cups can hold and manipulate a wide range of objects in many shapes, sizes and materials.

    Festo offers a wide range of vacuum suction cups for use with Robotiq Vacuum Grippers

    Festo offers a wide range of vacuum suction cups for use with Robotiq Vacuum Grippers. To get the most out of Vacuum Grippers like the EPick or AirPick, the size, number, and type of vacuum suction cups must be taken into consideration. 

    In this article, we cover five best practices for vacuum suction cup selection to help you get a grip on this complicated subject so you can make the right choice for your application. 

    1. Ease the Requirements on Your Vacuum Pump

    Regardless of if you use the AirPick Vacuum Gripper, which can achieve a vacuum level of up to 85% using compressed air, or the EPick Vacuum Gripper, which operates without an air supply and can achieve a vacuum level of up to 80%, you should always use the largest vacuum suction cup possible to ease the requirements on your vacuum pump. 

    The lifting capacity of a vacuum suction cup can be determined using this simplified holding force formula: 

    F = P × A


    • F = Weight of the object in pounds or grams
    • P = Expected vacuum level in PSI or MPa
    • A = Effective area of the vacuum suction cup measured by in2 or mm2 (Effective area will differ from area calculated directly from physical cup diameter. See manufacturers documentation. Some manufacturer’s like Festo, will provide holding force values directly at a reference pressure for a given cup)

    By using a larger vacuum suction cup, it’s possible to manipulate a heavier object using the same pressure. Conversely, a smaller vacuum suction cup requires a greater vacuum level to lift the same object. Keeping the pressure low not only helps ensure long pump life, but it also greatly decreases energy requirements, since the vacuum force and the energy needed to produce that force don’t scale linearly. 

    2. Add Safety to Your System 

    To lift and manipulate an object, a vacuum-generating device is used to reduce the atmospheric pressure inside the vacuum suction cup and create a partial vacuum. This pressure difference (when compared with the pressure of the air around the vacuum suction cup) pushes down on the cup, squashing it against the object, and, at the same time, pushing the object against the inner walls of the cup due to the lower pressure. 

    In the section above, we explained how to determine the lifting capacity of a vacuum suction cup—but be warned, this simple formula doesn’t take into consideration the numerous variables surrounding lifting applications. 

    To account for these and other external influences, we recommend including a safety factor of at least 1.5 for smooth objects, 2.0 for porous or oily objects, and as much as 4.0 when the vacuum suction cup face is in a vertical position. Use the following formula to:  

    F = (P × A) × S


      • F = Weight of the object in pounds or grams
      • P = Expected vacuum level in PSI or Kpa
      • A = Effective area of the vacuum suction cup measured by in2 or mm2 
    • S = Safety factor 

    3. Don’t Forget to Consider Acceleration 

    With their quick response times, great precision, and remarkable versatility, Vacuum Grippers can handle a wide range of applications and greatly exceed the performance of human operators. In situations when high handling speeds are demanded, it’s paramount to consider another important factor when selecting the right vacuum suction cup: acceleration, or the change in velocity of a moving object with respect to time.

    Acceleration is a vector, and its unit is meters per second squared, symbolized as “a.” Gravitational acceleration (symbolized as g) is approximately 9.8 m/s2, meaning that the speed of an object falling freely will increase by about 9.8 meters per second every second. The average acceleration can be calculated with the following formula:

    Acceleration = Velocity / Time 

    To take into account both the acceleration of the vacuum-handling system and gravitational acceleration, the following holding-force formula can be used in situations with a horizontal vacuum suction cup and a vertical direction of force: 

    FH = m × (g + a) × S 


    • FH (theoretical holding force) = the required theoretical holding force acting perpendicular to the workpiece surface, in Newtons (N).
    • m (mass) = Volume of the object multiplied by its material density, measured in grams.
    • g (gravity) = Gravitational acceleration (9.8 m/s2).
    • a (acceleration) = Change in velocity of a moving object with respect to time (m/s2).
    • S (safety factor) = How much stronger the vacuum-handling system needs to be. 

    The safety factor in high-speed swinging or swiveling operations should be 2.5 or higher. 

    In situations with a horizontal direction of force and a horizontal vacuum suction cup, it’s also necessary to consider the relationship between friction force and normal force by including the friction coefficient (μ):

    FH = m × (g + a/μ) × S 

    If the direction of force is vertical and the vacuum suction cup is also vertical, the friction coefficient can be included as follows:

    FH = (m/μ) x (g + a) x S 

    The friction coefficient should be determined correctly through tests, but the following can be used as reference values:

    • Oily surfaces = 0.1
    • Wet surfaces = 0.2–0.3
    • Rough surfaces = 0.6
    • Wood, metal, glass, stone surfaces = 0.5

    4. Use Smaller Cups to Lift Porous Materials 

    We’ve explained the advantages of using large vacuum suction cups, but there are some applications where smaller cups are better, such as when manipulating porous materials like corrugated fiberboard or textiles. 

    Smaller vacuum suction cups are less prone to leakage than larger cups, which can manipulate porous materials only when combined with a high-flow pump capable of compensating for their inherent leakage. By using smaller cups, you can achieve the same lifting capacity while saving compressed air and energy. 

    Another scenario when it’s better to use, say, four smaller vacuum suction cups instead of two larger cups involves the handling of thin metal plates and other delicate objects that could be bent or damaged if too much lifting force is concentrated in a single area. 

    5. Select the Right Cup Material for Your Application 

    Vacuum suction cups are available in many different materials, including polyurethane, butadiene rubber, nitrile rubber, silicone, and the synthetic rubber and fluoropolymer elastomer commonly known as Viton. Each of these materials has a different resistance to wear, tearing, deformation, extreme temperatures, and chemicals. 

    Polyurethane stands out with its oil resistance, which is why it’s readily used in the automobile industry. The antistatic properties of butadiene rubber make it a great choice for the electronics industry, where static electricity is a critical issue, causing an estimated $5 billion worth of damage each year to electronic devices. 

    Nitrile rubber is a versatile material suitable for conventional applications, and its main advantage is its low cost. Both Viton and silicone suction cups are resistant to temperatures, with the latter being approved for use in the food industry thanks to its non-reactive nature. 


    Despite their humble appearance, vacuum suction cups are just as important for the smooth operation of a vacuum-handling system as Vacuum Grippers themselves. Today, vacuum suction cups are available in a broad range of materials, shapes, and sizes, which must be carefully selected based on the intended application. In this article, we explained five best practices for successful vacuum suction cup selection. Keeping these best practices in mind when selecting Festo’s vacuum suction cups for use with the EPick and AirPick Vacuum Grippers from Robotiq is key to enabling the entire vacuum-handling system to operate in a safe, reliable, and efficient fashion.

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  • 5 Super-Dangerous Jobs That Robots Can Do Safely

    Some jobs are just too dangerous for human workers. Robots are increasingly used to improve the safety of workers performing these tough and dangerous tasks. Here are 5 super-dangerous jobs that robots can do safely.

    Credit:  The Fabricator

    Here on the Robotiq blog, we've often written about robots tackling the "3 D's of Industry." That means they're perfect for jobs that are "dull, dirty, and dangerous."

    Most of us can relate to the "dull" part of this. After all, we all have parts of our jobs that are boring and we'd prefer to give them to a robot. But, what about jobs that are "dangerous?"

    How dangerous are we talking here?

    There are some jobs that are so dangerous, a robot is absolutely the best way to achieve them. Before long, these jobs might only be done by robots. In the future, we'll look back on when people used to do these jobs and think "How could a human ever do that!?"

    Here are 5 super-dangerous jobs that robots can do safely. Giving these jobs to a robot will immediately improve the safety of the human workers in your business.

    1. Lifting very heavy (and slightly heavy) objects

    Robots are often used to lift very heavy objects. Want your robot to lift a whole car? No problem, there are robots that can do that easily. These lifting tasks wouldn't just be dangerous for humans, they would be impossible (unless you've hired the Incredible Hulk to do palletizing in your warehouse).

    However, the most dangerous heavy lifting tasks actually involve objects which humans can lift… but shouldn't lift. Repeated lifting of objects between about 15-50kg can be extremely dangerous for workers. A strong worker will be able to lift a 30kg weight. However, if they lift this weight many times a day, they are likely to overexert themselves, use increasingly bad posture, and there is a chance of permanent injury.

    Some health and safety guidelines recommend that people should not lift over 25kg, but there is no hard-and-fast limit. Even lighter weights than this can be dangerous.

    Robots are perfect for repetitively lifting heavy loads. There are even a couple of collaborative robots that can handle very heavy lifting, such as the FANUC CR-35iA (payload: 35kg) and the Comau Aura (payload: 170kg).

    2. Stirring 2000°C molten metal

    There are some jobs that are still performed by humans but probably shouldn't be. One such job is "furnace tapping," which can be extremely unsafe when the furnace is big. This job involves stirring molten metal to remove a waste by-product called "slag."

    Furnace tapping requires workers to approach the molten metal (which can be at temperatures of 2000°C) and agitate it with a long oxygen lance. The working environment can be extremely hot and filled with noxious fumes. As the worker "taps" the furnace, they are drenched in a cascade of burning sparks. Here's a short video of someone performing furnace tapping in a very large furnace.

    A recent editorial by the Robotics Industries Association highlighted how this repetitive and highly demanding job can now be achieved by robots. Robot arms are wrapped in a heat-protective covering which allows them to withstand the high temperature environment. They are equipped with custom-built oxygen lances which they use to remove the slag.

    3. Collecting and packaging radioactive waste

    The handling of radioactive materials is a job that has involved robots since before the 1980s. It's easy to see why: it's impossible for humans to handle any radioactive materials without some risk to their health.

    With small doses of radioactivity — e.g. in medical applications — the worker's safety is managed by limiting the total radiation that workers receive per year. However, with very high levels of radiation — e.g. when handling radioactive waste from nuclear power plants — the only option is robotics.

    The most common robots used in the nuclear industry are telerobots, which are remotely controlled by human workers. The environment is often too unpredictable and the tasks too varied for autonomous robotics. The MARS robot, for example, is a remotely operated arm which uses a high powered jet of liquid to clean up the radioactive waste at a facility in Hanford, Washington, USA.

    Robotic manipulators have also been proposed as a way to package radioactive waste, in an operation similar to packaging in a manufacturing environment.

    Mechanic fixing a car at the garage

    4. Working in contaminated, dusty environments

    In some jobs, the cause of danger is the unsafe working environment. For example, jobs like industrial battery manufacture can produce toxic dust which would be highly hazardous if inhaled by human workers. Some drug manufacturing processes can also produce fumes and dust which are filled with dangerous chemicals.

    Dust is a danger to humans. Workers in very dusty environments are prone to respiratory problems and have an increased chance of contracting lung cancer. This is true even when the dust contains no contaminants. However, the risk is increased even further when the dust contains chemicals, radiation, or harmful substances.

    Robots can improve worker safety in contaminated, dusty environments. However, you need to make sure the robot itself is able to operate within dusty environments. You can do this by using a robot with an appropriate Ingress Protection (IP) Rating.

    5. Repeating the same motion again and again

    Robots are perfect for performing repetitive motions. It's what they are made for!

    For us humans, repeating the same motion again and again is very, very boring. But, it can also be dangerous. There is a real risk of conditions like repetitive strain injury (RSI) and other musculoskeletal disorders. If the safety of the task is not improved, these disorders can turn into long-term, or even permanent, health problems.

    There is also a business case for using robots for repetitive motions. Musculoskeletal disorders account for around 35% of work days lost to injury, so they can have a huge financial cost to businesses.

    Thankfully, robots are a great way to remove this danger. They excel at repetitive tasks and don't suffer from musculoskeletal disorders — though they do need a little bit of maintenance every so often.

    When a task looks too dangerous for a human worker, a robot can be the perfect solution to improve safety.

    Which tasks in your business could be safer when done by a robot? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community.

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NASA Breaking News

  • NASA Spacecraft Launches on Mission to Explore Frontier of Space
    After successfully launching Thursday night, NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) spacecraft is in orbit for a first-of-its-kind mission to study a region of space where changes can disrupt communications and satellite orbits, and even increase radiation risks to astronauts. Read more »
  • NASA Highlights Science on Next Northrop Grumman Mission to Space Station
    NASA will host a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 17, to discuss select science investigations and technology demonstrations launching on Northrop Grumman’s 12th commercial resupply mission for the agency to the International Space Station. Read more »
  • NASA Invites Media to Events Highlighting Spacesuits for Moon to Mars
    Media are invited to NASA Headquarters in Washington Tuesday, Oct. 15 to get an up-close look at the next generation spacesuits the first woman and next man to explore the Moon will wear as part of the agency’s Artemis program. Read more »

Space News

Universe Today

European Space Agency Articles

  • Vom Weltall ins Klassenzimmer

    Ein ESA Education In-Flight Call - Am 15. Oktober 2019 findet ab circa 12:00 Uhr ein Live-Call mit Astronaut Luca Parmitano auf der ISS an der Ruhr-Universität Bochum statt. Wer diesem Gespräch mit vier Lehrkräften aus NRW folgen möchte, ist herzlich eingeladen.

    Read more »
  • Triff uns auf einer Karrieremesse!

    Besuchen Sie uns in diesem Herbst bei einer Karrieremesse in Ihrer Nähe. Wir freuen uns darauf, Sie im persönlichen Gespräch über Einstiegsmöglichkeiten bei der ESA zu informieren.

    Read more »
  • Presseinladung: Letzter Blick auf die europäische Sonde Solar Orbiter

    Die neue ESA-Sonde zur Erkundung der Sonne wird Europa demnächst verlassen, denn die letzten Startvorbereitungen beginnen bereits im November in Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA. Gemeinsam mit Airbus Defence and Space laden wir Medienvertreter ein, am 18. Oktober im Raumfahrt-Testzentrum der IABG in Ottobrunn bei München einen letzten Blick auf Solar Orbiter zu werfen, bevor die Raumsonde zur Abschussbasis gebracht wird.

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