Technological Advances on a Global Scale
Robotics and its industrial applications
Robotics versus manual construction
The European Commission is providing funding for a collaborative research project called Nomad. The project is aimed at the development of technologies to replace the assembly-line-based approach to welded fabrication. The technology will allow "constraints free" manufacturing in which the welding process is taken to the part (as in manual welding) rather than the part moving along an assembly line from one process to the next (as in dedicated robot welding).
This concept means that fabricators will not only be able to cope with different product designs efficiently, but will also be able to cope with varying demand by using more or fewer robots as appropriate.
The proposed system will result in the removal of human operators from hazardous fabrication environments, also making it easier to contain pollution. Caterpillar Belgium helped to initiate the project, which began in earnest earlier this year.
At the moment, the robotic welding of customised parts is inefficient. There has also been a reduction in the number of skilled and trained welders capable of producing these products manually.
It is envisaged that the resulting system will be an automated fabrication cell capable of efficient and reduced cost production of unique, customised products. Initially, Nomad will concentrate on large-sized steel structures but it is expected that dissemination to other industry sectors will occur before the end of the decade.
Nomad will cut costs by automating the arc welding process, negating the need for expensive jigs, as the sensor systems will identify a part and then the robot will apply the correct welding program even when they are truly customised, unique products.
The technology should also be capable of revitalising traditional fabrication industries in Europe; such as, construction, shipbuilding, off highway vehicles, structural fabrication, military vehicles, and heavy handling equipment.
Definition of a "Robot"
According to the Robot Institute of America (1979) a robot is: "A reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices through various programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks."
According to Webster: a robot is "an automatic device that performs functions normally ascribed to humans or a machine in the form of a human."
Source of word "robotics"
The word 'robotics' was first used in Runaround, a short story published in 1942, by Isaac Asimov (born January 2, 1920, died Apr. 6, 1992). I, Robot, a collection of several of these stories, was published in 1950.
One of the first robots Asimov wrote about was a robotherapist. A modern counterpart to Asimov's fictional character is Eliza. Eliza was born in 1966 by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Joseph Weizenbaum who wrote Eliza: a computer program for the study of natural language communication between man and machine.
She was initially programmed with 240 lines of code to simulate a psychotherapist by answering questions with questions.
Three Laws of Robotics
Asimov also proposed his three "Laws of Robotics", and he later added a "zeroth law".
Modern industrial robots and their use in robotics
The image of the "electronic brain" as the principal part of the robot was pervasive. Computer scientists were put in charge of robot departments of robot customers and of factories of robot makers. Many of these people knew little about machinery or manufacturing but assumed that they did.
There is a common delusion of electrical engineers that mechanical phenomena are simple because they are visible. Variable friction, the effects of burrs, minimum and redundant constraints, nonlinearities, variations in workpieces, accommodation to hostile environments and hostile people, etc. are like the "Purloined Letter" in Poe's story, right in front of the eye, yet unseen. They also had little training in the industrial engineer's realm of material handling, manufacturing processes, manufacturing economics and human behavior in factories.
As a result, many of the experimental tasks in those laboratories were made to fit their robot's capabilities but had little to do with the real tasks of the factory.
Modern industrial arms have increased in capability and performance through controller and language development, improved mechanisms, sensing, and drive systems. In the early to mid 80's the robot industry grew very fast primarily due to large investments by the automotive industry.
The quick leap into the factory of the future turned into a plunge when the integration and economic viability of these efforts proved disastrous. The robot industry has only recently recovered to mid-80s revenue levels.
In the meantime there has been an enormous shakeout in the robot industry. In the US, for example, only one US company, Adept, remains in the production industrial robot arm business. Most of the rest went under, consolidated, or were sold to European and Japanese companies.
In the research community the first automata were probably Grey Walter's machina (1940s) and the John's Hopkins beast. Teleoperated or remote controlled devices had been built even earlier with at least the first radio controlled vehicles built by Nikola Tesla in the 1890s.
Tesla is better known as the inventor of the induction motor, AC power transmission, and numerous other electrical devices. Tesla had also envisioned smart mechanisms that were as capable as humans.
From the '70s, there has been a proliferation of work in autonomous driving machines that cruise at highway speeds and navigate outdoor terrains in commercial applications.
Fully functioning androids (robots that look like human beings) are many years away due to the many problems that must be solved. However, real, working, sophisticated robots are in use today and they are revolutionizing the workplace.
These robots do not resemble the romantic android concept of robots. They are industrial manipulators and are really computer controlled "arms and hands". Industrial robots are so different to the popular image that it would be easy for the average person not to recognize one.
The benefits of robotics
Robots offer specific benefits to workers, industries and countries. If introduced correctly, industrial robots can improve the quality of life by freeing workers from dirty, boring, dangerous and heavy labor. It is true that robots can cause unemployment by replacing human workers, but robots also create jobs for robot technicians, salesmen, engineers, programmers, and supervisors.
The benefits of robots to industry include improved management control and productivity and consistently high quality products. Industrial robots can work tirelessly night and day on an assembly line without any loss in performance. As a result, they can greatly reduce the costs of manufactured goods. Because of these industrial benefits, countries that effectively use robots in their industries will have an economic advantage in global markets.
Why did Honda Create a Humanoid Robot?
The dream sounds simple. Design a robot that can duplicate the complexities of human motion and genuinely help people. An easy task? Not at all.
ASIMO took more than 18 years of persistent study, research, and trial and error before Honda engineers achieved their dream of creating an advanced humanoid robot.
In 1986, Honda engineers set out to create a walking robot. Early models (E1, E2, E3) focused on developing legs that could simulate the walk of a human. The next series of models (E4, E5, E6) were focused on walk stabilization and stair climbing. Next, a head, body and arms were added to the robot to improve balance and add functionality. Honda¹s first humanoid robot, P1 was rather rugged at 6¹ 2² tall, and 386 lbs. P2 improved with a more friendly design, improved walking, stair climbing/descending, and wireless automatic movements. The P3 model was even more compact, standing 5¹ 2² tall and weighing 287 lbs.
ASIMO is the culmination of nearly two decades of humanoid robotics research by Honda scientists and engineers. ASIMO can walk on uneven slopes and surfaces, turn smoothly, climb stairs, reach for and grasp objects, switch lights on and off, and open and close doors. Now, ASIMO can also comprehend and respond to simple voice commands. ASIMO has the ability to recognize the face of a select group of individuals. Using its camera eyes, ASIMO can map its environment and register stationary objects. ASIMO can also yield to pedestrians in its path until they have cleared its path.
Today, ASIMO serves as a tour guide in museums and as a greeter at high-tech companies in Japan. But in the future, ASIMO may serve as another set of eyes, ears, hands and legs for all kinds of people in need. Someday ASIMO might help with important tasks like assisting the elderly or a person confined to a bed or a wheelchair. ASIMO might also perform certain tasks that are dangerous to humans, such as fighting fires or cleaning up toxic spills.
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