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In Robotics Fusion Routine Tasks Blend Into Seamless Co-operation Between Robots and People

Visual inspection camera in the ABB Vaasa factory.

One central goal of the Reboot IoT Factory project’s second phase is to transform routine factory tasks from people to robots. There is a noble societal objective underlying this: to keep factories and industry in Finland. Finland is a country of high labor costs. Automating tasks suitable for robots makes it possible to redirect humans’ activities into cognitively higher-level tasks. This, in turn, helps keeping the Finnish industry competitive. 

Robotics fusion combines several activities

The first phase of Reboot IoT succeeded in automating many activities. Now, during the second phase, the focus is on combining them. The used term is robotics fusion. Robotics fusion means not only connecting the activities of robots, but also advancing the co-operation between robots and people. Robotics fusion presupposes developing both software and hardware. The results are very concrete and demonstrable in real settings. 

Central areas for this work are for example machine vision, mobile robotics, and actions performed by a robot arm. Machine vision can be applied for example in monitoring how cogwheels wear out. This information can act as input for a digital twin. The twin, in turn, can perform estimations on future repair needs. Mobile robot Reetu transports components to appropriate locations in a factory. A robot arm can select proper parts and deliver them forward, in the right position.

People play central role in robotics fusion

Robotics fusion combines above-mentioned areas: a robotics arm can be attached to a mobile robot and machine vision can be applied in selecting the right parts. These days Reetu can even operate an elevator and dock itself with other carts. Furthermore, the fusion is also focused on the collaboration between people and robots. Traditionally, mainly due to security reasons, robots have been operating in separated fenced areas. Now Reboot IoT has started the first pilots where people and robots work together in shared spaces. 

Error anticipation and recovery are specific themes in robotics fusion. If a robot makes a lot of mistakes and always needs help from humans to recover, the whole point of automation goes down the drain. That is why it makes sense to invest in the robot’s fault tolerance and self-recovery capabilities. This is of particular importance in keeping the shared workspaces safe. 

Expert: Markku Hentula, VTT  

Text: Santtu Toivonen

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