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Robot Buddies

Oct. 3, 2011
Beware, Generation R Will Take Your Job
By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

We see evidence, as you likely do, that industrial robot technology just keeps finding more application in industrial machine systems, particularly to connect and manage the ins and outs of multiple-machine arrangements.

There also are a bunch of other clever, though currently non-industrial, developments that I thought might interest you. Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor to Plant Services, recently wrote "Generation R Will Take Your Job" about robots that could replace the tasks done by factory maintenance people. You can read the entire piece and find links to video demos at www.ControlDesign.com/GenR, but here are a few teasers.

The pi4_workerbot, a life-size, flexible robotic system from Germany's pi4_robotics (www.pi4-robotics.com), has two arms with seven degrees of freedom and fingertip sensitivity, and an oddly human appearance. Suited for measurement, inspection and assembly, its "head" has two inspection cameras that resemble ears, and a 3-D camera on the forehead for capturing surroundings. The robot also has, and I love this part, a central display of cartoonish facial expressions, including a smile when running smoothly and a bored look when waiting for work.

Kennedy also reports that, as computer games inspire gesture-driven robotics, the concept shows potential for other industries. Researchers adapted Microsoft's Kinect engine to a prototype robotic scrub nurse, GestoNurse, that uses a camera and special algorithms to recognize hand gestures as commands. "GestoNurse is applied to healthcare, but it can be applied to manufacturing," said Juan Pablo Wachs, assistant professor of industrial engineering at Purdue University. "It masters challenging problems related to dexterity and small parts handling and delivery to additional operators. The point that we make is that the robot can collaborate with a human under extremely challenging and time-sensitive environments."

I have one other emerging technology topic to mention. We've been reporting on the growing tendency of machine builders to include remote machine diagnostics capabilities as a customer requirement and as their own  competitive advantage. Along with that, we hear debate about the viability and wisdom of hosting such a service via the cloud to reduce initial investment.

If you're trying to get up to speed about what's in that cloud, I direct you to two white papers in the ControlDesign.com library. "Five Myths of Cloud Computing" from H-P (www.ControlDesign.com/cloudmyths) and "Is Cloud Computing Right for You?" (www.ControlDesign.com/cloud) are written for the commercial IT infrastructure world, and don't directly address industrial remote monitoring, but they are a useful primer to understand how cloud technology might affect your monitoring future.

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