Over two-thirds of European workers in manufacturing are employed in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The sector’s primary means of competition is to respond rapidly to changing production needs and to keep product quality at a very high level.
While robots are able to carry out repetitive tasks to a high standard, they do not currently meet the demands of SMEs for high flexibility.
Today´s robots know only their nominal task which limits their ability to deal with frequent changes in the manufacturing process.
An EU-funded project, SMEROBOTICS, aims to address this conundrum by bringing the concept of cognitive robotics from vision to reality.
The three-year initiative, which runs until 31 December 2015, seeks to develop SME-suitable robots that are sufficiently agile to enable companies to change processes and robot assignments without having to call in specialists.
Another core project objective is to enable humans and robots to learn from each other for the overall benefit of industrial manufacturing, which calls for better software components.
SMEROBOTICS has already been drawing much attention.
The SMErobotics team has notably created a homepage that addresses students who are considering which ‘field’ they want to invest their future in, as well as a viral video called ‘Louise’ – which shows a girl who had seemingly programmed a robot to splash her boyfriend with cola.
The widely-viewed video is meant to arouse interest and communicate the opportunities in the field of robot technology. It also sought to illustrate how much research still needs to be done.
Several automation technologies will also be presented at the AUTOMATICA trade fair in June 2014, including a lightweight robot for small production runs, a sensor-controlled welding robot capable of learning from the welder, a cost-effective robot cell for general manipulation tasks such as ‘bin picking’ or machine feeding, as well as innovative software.
A follow-up to the successful predecessor project SMErobot, the FP7-funded initiative brings together leading European robot manufacturing and research institutes and experts. They include Jesper Johansen, of the Danish Technological Institute, who says,
“There is a need for flexible robots that can be used by production workers on their premises. We hear this from all sides. Now it is up to us and the researchers of the future to meet the expectations – there is still a lot of work to be done in this field.”
His comments are echoed by SMErobotics coordinator Martin Hagele, from Fraunhofer, who said, ‘The goal is to augment state-of-the-art industrial robots with cognitive capabilities.
An intelligent robot system doesn’t simply follow a once-given instruction. Rather, it should learn intuitively and efficiently from its human operator – continuously improving its performance in collaboration with the worker.’
By Jarrett Neil Ridlinghafer
CTO of the following –
Synapse Synergy Group
Chief Technology Analyst, Author & Consultant
Compass Solutions, LLC
Cloud Consulting International