Big robots getting ready to work alongside humans
The next generation of robots is about to enter the workplace alongside humans. The KTH-led SYMBIO-TIC project presents a smart industrial robot, unleashing a huge potential for the assembly industry.
Collaboration between humans and robots are facing a real breakthrough. In some industries, workers already have colleagues, robots, or “cobots” working alongside humans. So far, these robots have been light weighted and equipped with soft covers. But what if you could invite a big and strong industrial robot, without any forgiving features and designed for heavy duties, to work next to you?
This is what the big EU project SYMBIO-TIC, led by Prof. Lihui Wang and his team at KTH, aims to do; letting the big robots out of their cages, to work together with assembly operators in an efficient team, where humans communicate through speech, sign language to control their powerful robot colleague.
"What you want is to combine the flexibility and adaptability of a human being with the speed, accuracy, controllability and predictability of a robot. But it takes a lot of modifications of today’s traditional robots to make it work", says KTH’s Vincent Wang who has managed the SYMBIO-TIC project that reached its finish line in March.
15 partners - research centers, universities and companies from all over Europe – has formed the SYMBIO-TIC consortium during four years.
"A worker on a robotic assembly line is not safe today", explains Vincent Wang.
"Many technologies need to be joined together to be able to let the robots out of their cages. The SYMBIO-TIC system is so complex that novel technologies, skills and knowledge is needed from many different sectors. That’s the reason behind all the partners in this project."
To get an efficient – and first of all safe – colleague, the SYMBIO-TIC solution needs to be able to locate and identify its human. This is done with vision-based technology, as a part of a collision avoidance system. The SYMBIO-TIC system is controlled and interacted with by gestures and voice commands. And as its colleague, you don’t need to know everything - on-demand instructions can be projected before your eyes, and the robot will adapt to your skill level.
Programming of machine tools is a bottleneck in production. And when there is a disturbance on the shop floor it must be re-programmed. The SYMBIO-TIC system will adapt quickly to the changing environment and task via an operator-friendly planning cockpit very quickly, in real time.
According to Vincent Wang a robot and a human together is a combination that is greater than just one plus one, and he doesn’t think humans will be abundant.
"From our vision, robots will not replace humans, they will assist us. We’re still far more flexible and intelligent. Humans are needed for quick decisions when something unpredicted occurs, we’re still better to handle errors."
In a near future the industrial partners in the SYMBIO-TIC projects will start testing the robots in their production lines. Another 2-4 years remain until they’re in actual production. The upsides that awaits are shorter production time and faster responding time, something that will increase Europe’s competitiveness.
"The partner companies compete in a global environment where effectiveness is very important. Letting robots work with humans would unleash a huge potential for the whole assembly industry", says Vincent Wang.
Text: Anna Gullers