London: Researchers have developed a new light-weight robot with 3D sensors that can move around without colliding with the people and objects in its way.
This provides new opportunities for more friendly interaction between people and machines, researchers said.
Modern industrial robots commonly weigh in at several tonnes and for this reason are placed inside netting enclosures to prevent them colliding with, and causing damage to, the people and objects around them.
The drawback is that they are static and perform repetitive tasks entirely separated from their fellow human operators on the same production line.
If we could forget having to watch out for robot arms colliding with the people and objects around them, their applications could be expanded - with important implications for industrial production, researchers said.
The new machines are equipped with light-duty arms that can more easily be integrated into existing production systems.
"These robots are a few kilos lighter than previous models. They're safer to work with and shut down gently if they come into contact with a foreign object," said Marianne Bakken, researcher at The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH).
"By installing a sensor on the robot, we create a safe machine that can 'see'. Perhaps this will enable them to work alongside people, instead of being shut away in cages," Bakken told Gemini.
"Our starting point was to try to help the robot 'see' the objects around it," she said.
This evolved into a four-year project called SEAMLESS. The researchers studied the potential of installing a 3D sensor on a robot.
"The sensor detects objects in the space around it, and senses where any given object is located in relation to the robot arm," said Bakken.
A robot relies on being continuously fed with data so that it can decide in which directions it should be moving.
In this case, the sensor generates data that are sent to a personal computer (PC), where the data are processed and information relayed to the robot arm.