The potential payoffs of sensor-driven collaboration are huge — from protecting workers during the pandemic to increased profitability and productivity and new revenue streams via innovative breakthroughs. But the automation continuum, which involves many different players and reams of data, comes with challenges. Fortunately, the four principal challenges can be solved using the same technologies that made the automation continuum possible in the first place.
1. Proximity to Humans
The context of vulnerable humans working amid powerful machines is inherently risky. The traditional approach has been to effectively bar humans from working around active robots. Shields, guardrails, and even completely separate rooms or buildings are employed. But in an era of cobots, this will no longer be feasible, as humans increasingly will inhabit close quarters with machines.
The good news is that edge technologies can be harnessed to protect humans. Ryan Braman, director of commercial products at TÜV Rheinland, a global robotics certification consultancy, says, “New types of sensing technologies, such as laser scanners, radars, and other types of electro-sensitive protective equipment, allow robots to sense where safety-related objects such as humans or stairs are and adjust their path or stop movement until the object is removed, enabling robots to work safely alongside humans. As the technology improves, the range of tasks that robots will be able to take on will also greatly improve.”9
Rigorous testing is required before a system can be considered safe. “Manufacturers will tell you they have a safe system right out of the box. But all they’re really giving you is the ability to create a safe cell. You have to consider the application and interact with it and test it rigorously,” says Braman.
Reality dictates that safety needs to be an integral part of design and development from the start. YuMi is a basic but highly programmable service robot from ABB Robotics. According to Nick O’Donnell, ABB global external affairs manager, “YuMi was designed to safely work in the immediate vicinity of human coworkers, even in the event of unintended contact. It has physical and software safety features including lightweight soft-padded arms; motion control software; speed-limited hardware; and no pinch points on each of its dual, seven-axis arms,” says O’Donnell.