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Autonomous two-armed robot can see and feel

05 November, 2013

The Japanese robot-maker Seiko Epson has developed a prototype dual-arm robot that, it says, will expand the range of tasks that can be automated on the production floor. The robot, fitted with vision and force-sensing functions, can execute tasks autonomously by recognising objects, making decisions, and adjusting the amount of force applied, on the fly.

Unlike conventional industrial robots, the new machine is not designed to be fixed in one position or to be integrated with other systems. Instead, it is designed to perform simple tasks – such as assembly and transport – independently, in place of human workers.

The robot can recognise the position and orientation of objects in three-dimensional space, in a similar way to the human eye. Its arms are equipped with newly-developed force sensors said to give it human-like control over the forces that it exerts. This will enable the robot to move and assemble objects without damaging them.

The ability to recognise the position and orientation of objects in 3D will allow the robot to start any task immediately, even after it has been moved to a new location. It can accommodate sudden production changes and perform different tasks in different locations every day, if necessary.

The robotic arms are fitted with multipurpose end-effectors that can grasp, clamp, and insert objects of various shapes and sizes. The robot can be taught about objects and tasks, allowing it to perform a wide range of tasks.

Even users who have little experience of automation will be able to install and use the robot because, once it has been taught objects and tasks, it can make decisions and perform a variety of tasks independently. It avoids collisions automatically and adjusts its grip on objects such as components and tools even without being taught.

Epson's two-arm robot will be able to work autonomously, adapting automatically to new tasks

Unlike conventional production-line robots, which need expensive tools and complicated peripheral equipment, the new robot can use the same low-cost, off-the-shelf tools as human workers, without any modifications.

“Epson has leveraged its unique technologies to continuously drive advances in the performance and usability of its Scara and six-axis robots, all of which are known for their speed, accuracy, compactness and light weight,” says Hideo Hirao, chief operating officer of Epson's Industrial Solutions Operations division. “In the future, a commercial version of this autonomous dual-arm robot will make it possible to easily automate a wide range of tasks that previously had to be performed by hand.”

The prototype robot is being demonstrated at the International Robot Exhibition in Japan this month. Epson, which claims to be the global market-leader for industrial Scara robots, plans to make a commercial version available during the 2015 fiscal year.

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