Queues are forming outside Apple stores in America as everyone awaits the arrival of the new iPhone 6. The much awaited iPhone 6 is Apple’s flagship product and the demand for the iphone is going to surmountable. This is Apple’s 7th generation phone and they will be launching this phone globally at the same time.
Foxconn, the contract manufacturer for Apple, is now manufacturing millions of iPhones, getting ready for the launch. Foxconn decided in 2011 to introduce robots into their assembly line and Apple will be the first to reap the benefits of this new process.
A total of 10,000 robots, costing around USD 20,000, will be installed on the new line. These robots are in the final stages of testing. Assembly is a task that a robot excels in and these robots will be able to improve the rate of production and the quality of the phone produced. One of these robots will be able to produce around 300,000 iPhones per year.
There will definitely be teething issues with the production line but this is a move in the right direction to reduce the dependence on China’s human workforce. This is a right direction given the rising cost of China’s workforce and their recent issues with the way they treat their employees.
Foxconn planned the development of their own robots and it’s final hope is to develop intelligent robots to handle their current assembly work. These robots will be developed for Foxconn only.
WIRED has a recent article about the factory production of the Tesla Model S. The factory is producing around 400 cars a week and the production line is really impressive with the number of robots being used at every stage of production. This is really impressive for a company that started producing cars around 10 years ago. I am really impressed with the amount of automation.
Baxter is new kind of robot that is trying to redefine manufacturing robotics. It’s the first robot built for industry with intelligence and safety of humans in mind. A person is able to work closely with the robot and be able to teach baxter what to do just as he/she would with a human. This is interesting as we have to face the fact that Baxter is still far from human capabilities.
OSRF (Open Source Robotics Foundation), formed to engage the world to push the use of open source robotics software in any form of robotics. It would be great to see how they can make Baxter smarter and more capable in manipulation ,and understanding of both humans and environment.
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is the agency for R&D in Singapore. The Science and Engineering Council (SERC) has a recent grant call for productivity driven robotics application. This is an opportunity for development of robot application to improve manufacturing productivity in Singapore.
This is a huge thrust in increasing productivity in Singapore, some what of a hot topic lately in Singapore. Singapore has many industries that are heavily reliant on human resource. It has been a difficult task for companies and the government to switch to automation. This maybe be the first step and there is hope that more steps will take place soon. Follow the link to find out more.
FRIDA(Friendly Robot for Industrial Dual-arm Assembly) is ABB’s dual arm robot. The robot was developed to work side by side with humans in the manufacturing environment. The aim of FRIDA is much similar to that of Baxtor from Rethink Robotics. It’s lightweight, human-safe with 2 arms, padded, adaptable to different situations, and low cost.
This video is a demostration of FRIDA at Automatica 2012 in Munich. Very interesting to see that the robot is aware of human present and give the lady a nudge when the lady forgot a part in assembly. This gives the human the impression that the robot is “alive”. It did not have to talk or do anything complex. Just a simple nudge.
Foxconn has been in the news lately plagued with the problems with human operators – under-aged workers, working condition and suicides. These will be a problem for any company and this situation will get worst as the cost of living in China is increasing. They decided to solve this problem by introducing robots into their lines. But rather than purchasing the robots from current manufacturers of robot, they have decided to start building robots themselves.
The robot in the picture is called the Foxbot and about 10,000 have been manufactured and deployed since 2011. These robots are pretty low cost priced at around $20k. According to International Federation of Robotics, there was a total sales of 160,000 robots in 2011. Their goal is to deploy 1 million robots by 2014 is 5 times that deployment. That’s an amazing feat by far and certainly good news for all robotists today. There’s going to be a growing demand for robots and all robotics related technologies in the near future.
Industrial robotics has changes the way it looks. Baxter is the much awaited robot developed by Rethink Robotics. It a lower cost robot that will be easier to deploy and more flexible than the robots that are now in the market. This configuration is not new as we have seen this in the past. Foxconn has plans to launch a similar robot in coming years and the Yaskawa Robot, not to mention the ones found in the research labs.
At USD22,000, this is not a large investment for companies if it doesn’t require a drastic change to the existing workflow. It will be interesting to see how intelligence and perception will enable Baxter to work with the people around him. This is how they plan to reduce the accuracy and precision required by industrial robots. Brooks has a lot of experience in dealing with this aspect of robotics – Behavioral robotics. With the revolution on the software side with Willow Garage’s Robot Operating System (ROS) and the other projects at the Open Source Robotics Foundation, it’s going to see how this non-proprietary “robot intelligence” will push robots into our daily lives.
Rethink hopes to target the small-scale manufacturers where flexibility matters, where they are still reliant on their human workforce. With it’s current price tag and ease of implement, the barriers for entry is greatly reduced. The Baxtor is a made in USA robot. Various parts have been optimised to reduce the cost of the robot by looking into novel methods of manufacturing the parts.
Robotics and perception technology is getting cheaper and more robust. It will indeed help bring manufacturing back to 1st world countries. This is an issue in America as well as in Europe. China’s cost of manufacturing is also increasing. With a push and a pull, there’s an incentive now for 1st world countries to rethink manufacturing. China is not the only option now, since the cost of manufacturing now is much higher there. Foxconn is feeling it and they have plans to replace the current workforce with robots (1 million of them) in 3 years.
Are we going to see a shift in manufacturing towards the west? Are we going to see innovation in robotics and manufacturing? The landscape of automation is going to change. We are going to rely on software and cheaper hardware to get things done. Willow Garage, Redwood robotics and Rethink robotics are geared for this shift.
There is a waiting list for the KUKA lightweight arm. You have to wait for a while even if you place your order now. It’s a great arm if you have cash to spare.
You can see many demos showcasing the arm on youtube. It has been used as arm manipulators and as legs as well.This arm was developed by DLR. It has a 1:1 payload to mass ratio with force control at joint level. This arm has been used as legs as well.
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?
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.