Today’s manufacturing robots are big and stiff, unsafe for people to be around, engineered to be precise and repeatable, not adaptable. Normal workers can’t touch them… What if ordinary people could touch robots? What if ordinary people got to interact with them and use them?
– Rod Brooks, Remaking Manufacturing with Robots
Placing the human in proximity to a robot might slow down a robot while it performs its task. I am curious to find out how this can be achieved in reality. Are these robots inherently safe, where even safety is considered from a hardware perspective.
Robots are typical position controlled but there is a move to force control or impedence control where forces with the human, the environment and the object are consider. This means the robot is becoming more like us as it’s possible for a human to work blindfolded feeling our way and figuring out the objects and the environment around us just by touch. There are a few companies that are working and selling these types of robots.
Meka Robotics is one company that has developed a human safe force controlled robot that can be used for such applications. Barrett Technology’s WAM arm is another such arm is highly dexterous, naturally backdrivable. It’s being used in the DARPA’s ARM Challenge. The other arm is the KUKA’s LWR arm has a 1:1 Mass-Payload ratio with a 7kg payload. This ensures that the robot is safe as compared to a typical industrial robot. The LWR is on sale but there is a great interest in the arm from the industry. These technologies don’t come cheap but it’s the way robotics should go. It would be good to see more adopter of the technologies in the real world outside of the laboratories.