Smart factory robots with collaborative skills
An EU-funded project is developing a new industrial shop floor concept comprising mobile robots that can perceive their surroundings and collaborate with people. The expected efficiency boost could benefit the EU economy and society in general.
© sveta #176892695, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
Industrial robots save time and money and deliver key benefits in the areas of productivity and workplace safety. However, most industrial robots are quite limited in their capabilities. It is generally acknowledged that the full potential represented by leading-edge robotics technologies is not being exploited in today's European production plants.
The aim of the EU-funded THOMAS project is to create a dynamically reconfigurable shop floor, utilizing autonomous, mobile, two-armed robots. The robots are able to perceive the environment around them and, through reasoning, cooperate with each other and with other production resources including human operators.
Manufacturers know that robot performance is highly accurate and very consistent over time, yet most robots have trouble handling unexpected events. When it comes to introducing new or modified products, the efficiency of the robotic, serial-production model is quickly compromised. Production equipment that cannot support variable operations in dynamic environments needs to be modified to carry out new tasks or replaced altogether.
For the THOMAS project, mobility is a key shop floor feature. Mobile and highly dextrous robots can navigate in the environment autonomously and perform multiple operations. These robots perceive the environment using their own sensors but also through collaborative perception, combining the sensors of multiple robots.
As multiple robots communicate over a common network, they can automatically adjust their behaviour to share or reallocate tasks. New tasks can be programmed and executed quickly and automatically.
Safe human-robot collaboration is also a key feature of the THOMAS concept, where robots possessing true cognitive abilities can detect humans in the work space and understand their intentions.
THOMAS is validating its new concept in the automotive and aeronautics sectors. These are highly profitable and beneficial for the European economy and public, and any improvement in efficiency in these areas, thanks to THOMAS, could have a positive impact on European society as a whole.