Giving humans a helping hand: Heavy-lifting robot works alongside factory workers by tracking their movements

  • The robot Fanuc CR-35iA was engineered by a company in Coventry
  • It is designed to be used alongside humans without safety fences
  • Uses vision technology to look for humans and stops if it touches them
  • Could be used in warehouses to lift heavy items up to 77 lbs (35kg)

By SARAH GRIFFITHS FOR MAILONLINE

Helpful robots are typically shown as mechanical maids or humanoid teachers in sci-fi films.

But now there’s a new collaborative robot that can work alongside human factory workers to give them a helping hand.

The Fanuc CR-35iA claims to be the first ‘heavy-lifting industrial collaborative robot’ to work with humans without the need for safety fences.

The Coventry-based company Fanuc’s robot uses integrated vision technology called iRVision to keep an eye on humans and automatically stops if it touches an operator.

This removes the need for safety fences – a previous requirement for all industrial robots – and is said to increase efficiency and enable a higher level of automation, the firm claims.

The robot can lift objects weighing up to 77 lbs (35kg) and could be used in a number of industries, from warehouses to production lines.

For example, it could move heavy objects or assemble parts within a shared workspace without safety fences.

‘Collaborative robot technology opens up a new era for manufacturing in which humans and robots will work even more closely on tasks; increasing productivity and efficiencies across the plant floor,’ said Chris Sumner, vice president of Fanuc.

The machine is covered in a green soft plastic cover, which is designed to protect humans and stop them being ‘pinched’ in the event they are touched by the robotic arm.

Of course, robots have been used on production lines for decades. 

In the car industry for instance, many are automated so robots perform the bulk of dangerous tasks, such as welding, away from humans.

Amazon has already introduced robots to it vast warehouses to work along human employees.

The Fanuc CR-35iA claims to be the first 'heavy-lifting industrial collaborative robot' to work with human employees without the need for safety fences. Images of plans are shown above+6

The Fanuc CR-35iA claims to be the first ‘heavy-lifting industrial collaborative robot’ to work with human employees without the need for safety fences. Images of plans are shown above

Robots have been used on production lines for decades. In the car industry for instance, many are automated so that robots perform the bulk of dangerous tasks, such as welding (pictured), away from humans+6

Robots have been used on production lines for decades. In the car industry for instance, many are automated so that robots perform the bulk of dangerous tasks, such as welding (pictured), away from humans

Some 15,000 robots pick up items ordered by customers in warehouses to save humans walking miles.

FANUC CR-35IA FEATURES 

The robot can lift up to 77 lbs (35kg).

It’s designed to work alongside humans without the need for safety fences.

The robot stops what it’s doing if it touches a human.

This is down to integrated vision which lets it ‘see’ human employees.

It has a protective green covering so it doesn’t ‘pinch’ workers.

It’s designed to be as reliable as other robots on production lines and could be used in warehouses to lift heavy objects, for example. 

‘We pick two to three times faster than we used to,’ 34-year-old Amazon worker Rejinaldo Rosales said during a short break from sorting merchandise into bins at Amazon’s massive distribution centre in Tracy, California, about 60 miles east of San Francisco.

‘It’s made the job a lot easier.’

The squat orange robots use technology acquired when the company bought robot-maker Kiva Systems in 2012, according to Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president for operations.

The Tracy centre has 1.2 million square feet of space – the equivalent of 28 football fields – which are tended by 1,500 full-time employees and 3,000 Kiva robots, gliding swiftly and quietly around the warehouse.

The robots navigate by scanning coded stickers on the floor, following digital commands that are beamed wirelessly from a central computer.

Fanuc's robot can lift objects weighing up to 77 lbs (35kg) and could be used in a number of industries, from warehouses to production lines. This illustration shows it lifting a wheel into a car (left) and it moving a piece to a machine (pictured right)+6

Fanuc’s robot can lift objects weighing up to 77 lbs (35kg) and could be used in a number of industries, from warehouses to production lines. This illustration shows it lifting a wheel into a car (left) and it moving a piece to a machine (pictured right)

Each of the orange machines can slide under and then lift a stack of shelves that’s four feet (1.2 metres) wide and holds up to 750 lbs (340kg) of merchandise.

The system uses bar codes to track which items are on each shelf, so a robot can fetch the right shelves for each worker as orders come in.

Workers are needed for more complex tasks such as shelving, packing and checking for damaged items and the robots adjust to their speed.

Amazon has already introduced robots to it vast warehouses to work along human employees+6A Kiva robot is shown moving goods  and another robot unloading them, which is placed in a safety cage+6

Amazon has already introduced robots to it vast warehouses to work along human employees. A Kiva robot is shown moving goods (left) and another robot unloading them (right), which is placed in a safety cage

AMAZON’S ROBOT COMPETITION 

Amazon has launched a competition encouraging engineers to create its next generation of shelf-picking robots.

Bots will battle it out at the ICRA conference in Seattle in May.

‘The challenge combines object recognition, pose recognition, grasp planning, compliant manipulation, motion planning, task planning, task execution, and error detection and recovery,’ Amazon said.

Participating robots will earn points by locating products on shelves, retrieving them and putting them into cardboard boxes ready to be sent to customers.

Points will be deducted for dropped or damaged good and the team that creates the winning robot will win $26,000 (£17,463).

Amazon currently uses robots by Kiva Systems to fetch items so its human workforces doesn’t have to walk as far in its vast warehouses.

But its machines can’t pick and pack products yet. 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3037347/Giving-humans-helping-hand-Heavy-lifting-robot-works-alongside-factory-workers-tracking-movements.html#ixzz3XE9Jam00 
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