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  • What's New In Robotics? 31.01.2020

    Good morning. In this week's news mix: researchers reveal mobile pharma cobot, Cobots.ie launches its 'CoMig' cobot welding system and Miso Robotics unveils prototype cobot cooking setup. We meet a pair of bots battling 2019-nCoV, cheer on a prototype stair-climbing bot from Japan, get the chills with a deep sea submersible and much more!

    Cobots & manufacturing

    European researchers have unveiled an autonomous mobile cobot for use in the pharma sector. Video released on Wednesday shows the cobot in action. The team designed the system for pick and place sampling and for air and environmental surface sampling... (H/T Cleanroom Technology, which published a fascinating feature on the project this week.) 

     

    Meet CoMig, a new welding system for Universal Robots' cobots, which launched at Ireland's National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Exhibition this week. 

    Comig-Welder-1536x899CoMig offers 4 Step weld control as standard.  Credit: Cobots.ie

    Via Cobots.ie:

    This allows, with ease, Stringer(straight) welds, in addition to Cursive “E” and Cursive “V” welds. It will also have the ability to produce Vertical Up using the Christmas tree weave pattern [and the] Ability to control manipulators such as dynamic rotators, as well as extra linear axis to enable dual bench use.

    Miso Robotics revealed a prototype restaurant concept ('Miso Robot on A Rail') this week that could see humans and robots working in close proximity on shared cooking tasks.

    image-9Credit: Miso Robotics

    Forbes reports:

    ROAR is intended to be installed under a standard kitchen hood and out of the path of kitchen workers [...] The second goal is a work in progress. Jordan said Miso Robotics plans to have ROAR commercially available by the end of the year and has launched a new crowdfunding round on SeedInvest to bring that goal to fruition.

    Elsewhere...

    With global concern about novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) on the rise, robots have stepped in this week to help some hotels and medical facilities maintain quarantine conditions.  For example, one infected patient in the United States received medical attention via Vici, a teleoperated, robotic medical assistant.

    vici-robot-coronavirus-768x513Credit: InTouch Health

    Via Digital Trends:

    “Telehealth devices like the ‘robot’ assist caregivers in performing basic diagnostic functions and allow them to communicate easily with the patient,” [said] Rebecca Bartles, the executive director of system infection prevention at Providence St. Joseph Health [...] “This helps reduce the number of up-close interactions, which in turn minimizes the risk of exposure to caregivers.”

    And staff at a hotel in China have reportedly been relying on a fleet of 16 service robots to bring food and other supplies to quarantined hotel guests. 

    23994726-7939513-More_than_200_tourists_were_housed_in_the_isolation_point-a-57_1580251939652An image showing the service robot in action. Credit: Via Daily Mail

    The Daily Mail reported:

    New footage shows robots delivering food to people trapped in a quarantined hotel in China in efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus. The robots were programmed to stop by the room doors to deliver meals and sing to entertain the guests while they were in the quarantined zone to contain the deadly disease.

    The New York Power Authority has successfully piloted a submersible robot that can navigate inside power transformers and perform routine inspections that pose health to risks human workers.  Developed by ABB, the TXplore transformer inspection bot eliminates the need for a confined space rescue team. 

    NYPA robotCredit: New York Power Authority|ABB

    Vis Water Power & Dam Construction

    “Submersible robotic technology provides an unprecedented and time-saving opportunity to evaluate a transformer’s ability to operate reliably and make an educated decision about whether a system needs repair,” said Alan Ettlinger, NYPA’s senior director of Research, Technology Development and Innovation. “This is a good example of responsible asset management that will increase efficiency and reduce costs by identifying any potential issues before they become a problem.”

    On Friday, Nippon.com reported on a prototype stair-climbing robot from Ameoba Energy that's currently being tested as an aid to Japanese seniors, many of whom live in apartment blocks without elevators. The bot was initially designed to assist seniors with garbage removal, but during recent tests seniors suggested that the bot could also be used for delivering vegetables from a nearby vegetable patch --a possibility the company is set to explore in future prototypes. 

    Capture-8Credit: Ameoba Energy 

    Via Nippon.com:

    The robot is 77 centimeters tall and can carry a maximum load of 6 kilograms at a maximum speed of 1 kilometer per hour. It is equipped with a pair of soft crawlers that give it the versatility to move up and down just about any conventional set of stairs, up to a maximum grade of 35 degrees, and a battery pack giving it around three hours of operation before recharging.

    • Iron nanorobots show their true mettle (AlphaGalileo)
    • Robot will ‘transform fish vaccination’ (Fish Farmer)
    • Robot "spy" gorilla faces its most deadly mission (AV Club)
    • Dundee robotics platform hunts male contraceptive (The Engineer)
    • AI helps warehouse robots pick up new tricks (Wired)

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

    Five vids for Friday

    1.  Brrr. Despite ocean temperatures below -30C (-22F), the hardy Icefin submersible robot recently made its way more than one kilometer (0.62 miles) along the base of Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier.  Its mission: to find the exact location where the ginormous ice cube meets land. Kudos to the scientific team who helped Icefin on its way --over the course of 2 months they drilled a 700 meter (2,296.58 feet) deep hole through which the bot was lowered to begin its trek.  (H/T Science)

     

    2.  On Monday, February 3, 2020, Maryland, U.S.A.'s newest bomb disposal robot --a brand new Telerob Telemax Pro, costing a cool USD400,000-- will begin service.  New video shows the nippy bot in action... (H/T NottinghamMD)

     

    3. With several companies developing satellite repair and refueling robots, The Verge explored some of the contenders, technologies and challenges involved.  

     

    4.  Researchers at Cornell have created a robot hand with hydrogel-filled fingers that can regulate its temperature by releasing small quantities of the 50% water-based gel, akin to the way humans and other mammals sweat. The team hopes to use the technique to improve sliding robot designs and, more generally, to provide a temperature regulation strategy for bots operating in hot environments. (The Guardian has more | Paper)

     

    5.  Andra Keay is the charismatic managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics and a thought leader in the realm of socially responsible robotics. In a TedX talk released Thursday, Keay calls on the public to "embrace the possibility of leveraging Robots and AI in an upside down world to benefit all."  

    Read more »
  • 5 Research Projects from 2019 That Improve Human-Robot Collaboration

    With cobots on the rise, 2019 was a year for new research projects about human-robot collaboration. Here's what the future holds for human-robot teams.

    According to a report published in September 2019, demand for collaborative robots continues to rise, with a 23% increase of cobot installations compared to 2018.

    Despite this, true human-robot collaboration is still in the future. Human-robot collaboration refers to the situation where the human and robot are working together on a common task.

    With more and more cobots being used in businesses, it seems likely that true human-robot collaboration is just on the horizon. Carnegie Mellon's Changliu Liu talked about this when we interviewed her back in July. She said, "I've been fascinated by the idea of robots with human-like intelligence that can function as true colleagues."

    But, more research needs to be done before we can treat robots as "true colleagues" in the sense that we work together on the same task. 2019 saw several new research projects and publications which investigated how humans and robots can collaborate more effectively together on shared tasks.

    Here are 5 interesting projects.

    1. The future of robots in the workplace

    A significant funding grant was won by Worcester Polytechnic Institute into human-robot teams. The project, announced in the Robot Report in October 2019, will aim to train 120 Masters and Ph.D. students in interdisciplinary research into the wider implications of human-robot interaction in the workplace.

    As Cagdas Onal, the principal investigator of the project, explained “In our discussions, we talked about the impact [of robots in the workplace] and what this means for the future of how we work. For example, if the worker isn’t there physically, are they actually responsible for the actions of this robot? Could they still find meaning in their job? There are so many different aspects to consider.”

    Many robotic research projects focus entirely on the robotic technology but pay little attention to the wider sociological factors. By comparison, this new project seeks to incorporate social factors, decision making, ethics, and economics into the research. If the project manages to achieve this, the research outputs could become a valuable resource for information about human-robot teams.

    2. The safety of collaborative robots in industry 4.0

    Safety is at the heart of collaborative robotics. It's a topic that often comes up here on the Robotiq blog. One research study, published in February 2019, looks at the use of collaborative robots in Industry 4.0, particularly concerning safety and the human role.

    The research, published in the book Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health, comes from researchers in the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Chile. It was carried out by a diverse group of researchers with backgrounds in posture and ergonomics, computer science, and robotics.

    Ergonomics is an often ignored safety aspect of collaborative robots —as we have discussed before — so including the expertise of academics working in the ergonomics field is a great way to ensure the research is coming from a solid theoretical foundation.

    3. Creating human-robot collaborative workspaces

    The layout of your workspace can have a huge effect on the quality of your work. This is also true when you have a robot and human working together on a team. A well organized, efficient robot workspace can improve productivity and reduce error.

    Researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology and the Tecnológico de Monterrey published a paper in September 2019 which looked at strategies for implementing better workspaces for human-robot interaction.

    The researchers looked at workspaces by using 5 "design criteria":

    1. Operational efficiency
    2. Safety
    3. Ergonomics
    4. Development of work content and work organization
    5. Acceptance or trust of automation

    With these criteria they then proposed using a visual brainstorming approach called the "Lotus Blossom Technique" to compare different strategies for workspace layout. The final stage of their proposed process is to identify good KPIs for measuring the quality of the designed layout, which we at Robotiq certainly agree is a good strategy.

    4. Evaluating fluency in human-robot collaboration

    Even with a workspace that has been specifically designed for human-robot collaboration, there is still a question of whether or not the task is suitable for collaboration. This is where the concept of "fluency" comes in.

    Imagine you are carrying out a shared task with a (human) colleague — e.g. an assembly task where both of you have to add separate parts to the assembly. If the task is going well, you and your colleague will both work seamlessly around each other. Neither of you will be waiting for the other to finish their current assembly step. You will work consistently without feeling rushed. This is "fluency."

    A research study from IEEE member Guy Hoffman, published in April 2019, explained fluency as "the coordinated meshing of joint activities between members of a well-synchronized team"

    The research proposed a method to ensure that fluency is achieved in human-robot teams. This involved minimizing "turn taking" by managing the following factors:

    • Robot idle time
    • Human idle time
    • Concurrent activity
    • Delay after an activity

    Another research study on the same topic, from September 2019, came from a team at Cornell University which presented the MAD-TN tool for measuring fluency.

    5. How to manage workload in a collaborative team

    A final concern for human-robot teams was addressed in a publication from May 2019. Researchers from the Universities of Vanderbilt, Kansas, and Oregon State looked at how we can manage human workload in collaborative teams.

    Robots can work 24 hours a day with no breaks. Humans cannot. Even for short shared tasks, it is possible that the human worker could become overloaded if their robot partner is working too hard.

    The researchers used 7 physical metrics to monitor the workload of human workers, which were:

    1. Heart rate variability
    2. Heart rate
    3. Respiration rate
    4. Skin temperature
    5. Noise level
    6. Postural magnitude
    7. Posture sway.

    With these, they were able to monitor the effect on human workers when their workload was increased. This can allow us to design optimal human-robot tasks.

    Clearly, there are a lot of factors to consider when we start to introduce true human-robot collaboration into our workflow!

    Until human-robot collaboration arrives, however, collaborative robots remain a great tool for improving productivity, even if they are performing the tasks on their own.

     

    What thoughts have you about any of these research studies? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community.

    Read more »
  • 5 Issues to Solve Before Monitoring Robot Performance

    There are some problems that software just can't solve. Insights can help to improve any collaborative robot application, you first need to solve 5 common issues. 

    I don't know about you, but I suffer from a common modern delusion. I've met various people who also suffer from this delusion. For people like me, it causes us endless years of stress and struggle. For other people, they live in blissful ignorance that the delusion even exists.

    I call this problem the "This Software Will Change My Life" delusion.

    Over the years, I have road-tested probably hundreds of different programs, apps, add-ons and plug-ins. Every time I waste hours, days or weeks becoming familiar with the software. Every time I think the software will improve my personal productivity. Almost every time, I have eventually dropped the software, effectively wasting months of my life in the long term. I can count on the fingers of one hand the software packages that I have actually stuck with over many years.

    There are some problems that software just can't solve.

    If you have been reading about our Insights software — a monitoring package for collaborative robots — you might be wondering if it really will solve your problems.

    At Robotiq, we are confident that Insights can help to improve any collaborative robot application. However, we do acknowledge that there are some problems which it won't solve. 

    2F85-Wrist-Camera-Assembly-Beyerdynamics-12.png

     Robot data can help solve many problems, but not all!

    1. Your process is a mess and nobody understands it

    Imagine a business in which nobody has any idea how orders progress through its processes. Orders come in from customers, then eventually some of these orders are fulfilled — most likely delivered late. However, nobody knows how to improve the company's productivity because the whole process is a mess.

    In such a situation, adding a robot is unlikely to make much of a difference. Until the process is properly understood, adding any new technology is like trying to put a band-aid on a broken leg. As a result, it also wouldn't make any difference to add monitoring software to the robot. The problems are far more fundamental.

    Both robots and Insights can only help you to overcome problems when your overall process is properly understood. 

     

    2. Nobody understands the robot

    In the past, robot integration was often completed by an external integrator. This was necessary because industrial robots were complex and companies didn't always have the resources to employ a full time robotics engineer.

    With collaborative robots, it is possible for practically anyone to program the robot. However, even with collaborative robots you might decide to use an external integrator. If you choose this option, it's a good idea to train your team to use the robot.

    Insights is less useful if your team do not understand the robot, as they will not know how to improve its performance themselves.

    You will get the most from Insights when members of your team really understand the robot and have the ability to program it themselves. The reports which Insights generates will then help the team to debug issues and improve the robot's productivity.

     

    3. Reporting and analysis is missing or ineffective

    One of the many software packages I tried in my past, in an attempt to squeeze more productivity out of my life, was a program which automatically tracked my activities on the computer. I downloaded it, then spent hours setting it up and creating new categories for all my different tasks. I then told the program to launch whenever I started the computer, and completely forgot about it.

    Months later, I rediscovered the program, couldn't remember why I had installed it and deleted it, having never used all the information that it collected for me. What a waste of time!

    What did I do wrong? I did not set up a good reporting and analysis habit.

    Insights is a wonderful tool for collecting data about your robot. However, if you don't regularly analyze the data that it collects, it will do nothing for you.

    One way you could use the data is make it a regular feature in your weekly or monthly reports. This way, you will ensure that the robot's performance is being regularly checked and analyzed. You can also set up Insights to send you automatic email reports, which is useful for reminding you to review the robot's performance.

     

    4. Your bottlenecks are misunderstood

    There are several reasons that you might choose to put a robot on a particular task, such as to reduce worker's physical strain or to move workers to more value-added-tasks. One common application of robots is to help tackle a bottleneck in a process. However, if your bottlenecks are misunderstood (e.g. you have wrongly identified the bottleneck) then a robot might not improve the situation.

    It is unlikely that Insights alone will solve this problem. You will need to take a step back and reassess your process. Question your assumptions and try to find out why you misunderstood your business' bottlenecks in the first place.

    Having said that, the data provided by Insights might, potentially, help you to realize that you have misunderstood your bottlenecks. For example, you might see in Insights that the robot is running at low utilization and wonder why — after all, bottlenecks, by definition, are due to a lack of capacity so the robot should be running almost continuously. You could use this insight as a starting point to investigate the problem further.

     

    5. Everyone has the firefighting mentality

    The firefighting mentality is what happens when everyone is running around trying to solve problems, but nobody is really thinking straight. In this situation, monitoring software like Insights is unlikely to be very effective. People are so caught up in their need to get things "fixed" that they are unlikely to take the time necessary to properly analyze the data. They are more likely to panic (e.g. if they see that the robot has a low efficiency value) and immediately try to solve the problem before they have really understood it.

    Insights is most effective when you review it regularly and take a little bit of time to consider what the data actually means. Your team shouldn't use it as a trigger to send everybody into the next spiral of panicked firefighting.

     

    Try Insights for yourself

    You can try out Insights for yourself within a matter of minutes by going to the Insights Demo at insights.robotiq.com.

    As you explore the demo, ask yourself how you could apply it to your robot. Consider whether it will help you to solve your problems, or whether your problems require more fundamental troubleshooting.

    Read more »

NASA Breaking News

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    Am 18. Januar 2020 um 17.44 Uhr Ortszeit haben zwei Feuerkugel-Kameras des FRIPON-Kameranetzwerks der ESA einen Lichtstreifen am Himmel über Nordwestdeutschland gesichtet. Die Flugbahn der Feuerkugel lässt vermuten, dass ein kleiner Meteorit in der Nähe von Oldenburg gelandet sein könnte.

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  • Einladung an die Medien: Solar Orbiter startet ins All, um die Sonne zu untersuchen (neues Datum 10. Februar)

    Press Release N° 27–2020

    Die neue ESA-Raumsonde zur Sonnenbeobachtung wird am Montag 10. Februar 2020 von Cape Canaveral aus starten. Medienvertreter sind herzlich ins Europäische Raumflugkontrollzentrum ESOC in Darmstadt, Deutschland, eingeladen, um von dort aus den Start sowie den Empfang des ersten Signals mitzuverfolgen.

    **Anmerkung: Dieser Artikel wurde am 31. Januar aktualisiert. Die NASA, die ESA, Airbus und die United Launch Alliance streben nun Sonntag, den 9. Februar, um 23:03 EST (04:03 GMT / 05:03 CET Montag, den 10. Februar) den Start der Mission Solar Orbiter auf einer Atlas V-Rakete vom Space Launch Complex 41 auf der Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida an. Der Start hat ein zweistündiges Zeitfenster.**

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    Die 44. Ausgabe der Sommerschule Alpbach findet vom 14. bis 23. Juli 2020 statt. Das Thema lautet dieses Jahr: "Vergleichende Plasmaphysik im Universum". Studierende und junge Absolventen können sich bis zum 31. März 2020 bewerben. 

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