How humans can benefit from interacting with the different types of robots involved in factory automation

This is probably the most famous sentence ever spoken by a robot. At the same time, it may not be the best way to market a robot, as the Terminator can do anything but behave like a friendly human. Fortunately, “The Terminator” is just science fiction, and Arnie also saves humanity in the second film. But let’s move from the fun to the topic and see how humans can benefit from interacting with the different types of robots involved in factory automation and still feel safe working with them.

“I will return.”

This is probably the most famous sentence ever spoken by a robot. At the same time, it may not be the best way to market a robot, as the Terminator can do anything but behave like a friendly human. Fortunately, “The Terminator” is just science fiction, and Arnie also saves humanity in the second film. But let’s move from the fun to the topic and see how humans can benefit from interacting with the different types of robots involved in factory automation and still feel safe working with them. After all, according to the International Federation of Robotics, around 1.3 million industrial robots will be introduced into factories around the world by 2018, with the highest percentage in European factories.

The industry considers industrial robots in five areas:

How humans can benefit from interacting with the different types of robots involved in factory automation

Industrial Robot Category

Before introducing examples of human-robot interaction, let’s look at the top three robots used in factory automation today.

Industrial robots handle tasks such as welding, palletizing and lifting. They are fixed to the floor, ceiling or wall. A control unit located inside the control cabinet controls the robot. An example of an industrial robot-human interaction is as follows: After an industrial robot completes a work step on a product, the human starts picking up the item and therefore needs to enter the robot’s work area.

Logistics robots are used in warehouses, where robots pick up goods and bring them to packing stations, or robots transport goods from one building where a company is located to another. These robots move in specific environments and require a large number of sensors for localization and mapping as well as sensors for collision avoidance.

Cobots are designed to interact directly with humans. The difference with industrial robots is that robots and humans work on the same object at the same time. An example is a cobot holding an object above an operator’s workbench, so it can move and turn the object around for visual inspection and, if necessary, to perform fine-tuning tasks. Cobots are usually fixed on a table and controlled by a control unit like an industrial robot.

The challenge of human-computer interaction

Since humans are usually around robots, the big question in human-robot interaction is how to keep this interaction safe for us humans. How can you prevent a collision or accident while working side by side? The challenges of each bot type can be quite different.

Industrial robots are designed to perform tasks quickly and accurately. Motors inside the robot arm receive the signal and execute it. Typically, robotic arms do not have features for sensing their environment. It just executes the command and moves to the programmed position, regardless of whether there is an object on the way. Therefore, to prevent accidents, industrial robots usually operate in a protected environment. A common setup is to place gratings around the robot arm. The output of the light barrier is connected to the control cabinet, which will detect if the light barrier passes through and close the robot arm. Another setup is to place a fence around the robot arm and monitor the locks of the fence doors.

Logistics robots typically operate in environments where humans may be around. Therefore, robots need not only sensors for localization and mapping, but also sensors for detecting people. Sensing technologies such as ultrasonic, infrared or LIDAR can be used. In addition to the sensors for collision prevention, backup sensors are also required. If the robot hits an object, a switch inside the robot opens mechanically, turning the robot off until the operator enters operating mode again. This is necessary to ensure that the robot stops in case there is a malfunction inside the Electronic sensor.

The most complex interactions occur between humans and cobots. It must be ensured that in the event of a collision between the robot arm and a person or any object, the sensors integrated in the robot arm immediately shut down the robot. The robot also shuts down if one sensor or subsequent electronic circuit fails. Therefore, robot manufacturers must implement redundancy in the robot system to quickly detect and prevent any possible collision situations.

Hopefully this blog will put an end to your anxiety about human-robot interaction and support the rise of robots. If you want to learn more about robots in factory automation, just wait because “I’ll be back.

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