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Making robots more available

Small, mobile robots will learn to take over the tasks in industries that hitherto have been impossible to automate. This challenge is part of a 47 million DKK EU funded research project aimed at making robots available to small and medium-sized companies without the need of robotics expertise.

(First published March 13, 2014)

The project entitled STAMINA is headed by Volker Krüger, Associate Professor at Aalborg University's Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

Partnering with researchers from Bonn, Freiburg, Edinburgh and Porto, as well as the businesses PSA Peugeot Citroen and BA Systèmes, he aims to overcome the current limitations of industrial robots:

«The major challenge is that currently robots can only work in carefully designed environments with everything in a very specific order. As soon as something is out of the ordinary, things start to fall apart. So robots have only been used where it’s possible to create a precise setup and where a large number of identical components are handled. We want to change this with intelligent robots that can drive to where their help is needed and can react to unforeseen changes and operate in unstructured environments,» Krüger says.

Customized products
The automotive industry is a good training ground, but Volker Krüger emphasizes that this is not an industry specific project. Its results will generally be a benefit for small and medium-sized companies because the need for expensive robotic specialists will be removed.

One of the end results from STAMINA will be a robotic system that is able to drive automatically to where it is needed, has cameras and laser scanners so that it can see, and has a robotic arm so that it can be used for a large variety of handling tasks.

Furthermore, the robot can be programmed and controlled even by persons without any robotic experience.

Easier and safer
According to Krüger, many small and medium-sized companies don’t use robots for three reasons:

  • it's expensive
  • they don’t have the expertise 
  • they’re afraid 

«We aim to make it easier and safer for the inexperienced to use robots. This is possible because the new robots come with some intelligence. For example, when the robot is driving around, it is able to figure out its own position, and you only have to point to an object to tell the robot what it needs to work with,» he explains.

An «Apple approach» to robots
When a manufacturer updates a product, most of the existing robots have to be reprogrammed. This is time consuming and expensive and STAMINA is trying to make things easier.

Volker Krüger compares it to Apple's approach to consumer electronics where parameters are deliberately peeled away allowing non-experts easy and non-confusing use of robot functionalities.

At the same time, the robot brings enough intelligence to figure out many parameters on its own. Simpler programming will hopefully mean more customized products and thus a more competitive edge:

«More intelligent robots will allow companies to update their products more often and thus respond more quickly to changes in consumer demands and offer customized products without having to raise prices. In Denmark, we are known for design and for innovative products that are defined according to user needs and wants,» says Krüger. What is needed is a higher level of automation.

Read the whole story at the Aalborg University website

Robots

Can robots be used in smaller businesses? (Photo: AAU)