Industrial robots have come a long way since their initial introduction into the automotive industry. In the past few years, robots have become smaller, more affordable, and more widely available. Its capabilities have been steadily expanding through improvements in machine vision, EoAT technology, artificial intelligence/machine learning, robustness, and safety, according to the 2022 PMMI Business Intelligence Report”Robots and Cobots – a robotic future.“
Bots have also become simpler to program and operate, reducing the level of technical skill needed for successful deployment. As these robot capabilities advance, robots are steadily expanding into new applications and even completely new industries
Available, affordable, and simple
Robots have become more accessible in recent years, with increased availability and lower cost. In addition, robotics is steadily moving towards simple and intuitive programming that does not require a highly specialized skill set to configure and operate. These developments have enabled SMEs across industries to more easily add robots to their operations.
Robots that adhere to IP69k washing standards are now commonplace, enabling their use in the pharmaceutical, food and beverage industries. These robots are able to withstand the harsh chemicals required for washing and are designed to eliminate any dead spots where liquid can collect. Even the most advanced of these robots can wash their own work cells and themselves, all without the need for human intervention.
Smarter Robots: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Artificial intelligence and machine learning have been major developments in the field of robotics that is constantly expanding the scope of robot applications. Closely intertwined, artificial intelligence and machine learning allow robots to adapt to new scenarios by building on an ever-increasing volume of relevant data. These technologies have opened up a world of complex tasks for robots, from dynamic picking of items the robot has never encountered before to the rapid and meticulous inspection of incoming and outgoing products on the line.
Improvements to safety design and proximity sensing have steadily broken the barrier between robots and human tasks. While the early days of robotics required large encircling safety cells for robots to operate in, the latest class of robots can work safely and efficiently alongside human personnel. These bots are becoming increasingly compact, modular, and mobile, allowing them to be deployed to virtually any part of the manufacturing process.
Advances in EoAT technology have greatly expanded the picking capabilities of robots, allowing their use in a wider variety of markets than ever before. Tactile sensing allows robots to select delicate, individually shaped items such as baked goods and crisp electronic chips without sacrificing speed and accuracy. Modern robots can pack several bags at once, carrying up to thirty items at the same time and neatly placing them in separate bags.
Despite this amazing growth, technological advances still stand to take robotics to whole new heights of possibilities. While the following examples are by no means a certainty what will happen, the robotics industry is awash in visionary speculation about what future robots will be able to achieve.
Seventh Axis: AMRs Everywhere
While seven-axis robots already exist with solutions such as attaching a six-axis robot to a tracked linear crane, the future of seven-axis robotics could be even more dynamic. There are already some rudimentary deployments of robotic arms associated with wheeled mobile platforms. As AMR technology improves in the next decade to the extent that AMR can interactively navigate its environment and then automatically plan and resume a new route in real time, it can be fitted with 6-axis arms to enable fully autonomous redeployment of robotic units to all areas of operation.
The horizon for future AI and machine learning applications is wide open. Tools such as elaborate neural networks and deep learning may soon be available to manufacture standard bots, with the potential to greatly expand the intelligence of bots. It’s not impossible that future robots will be able to assess a new task, evaluate the environment in which the task will take place, and then formulate a process to accomplish that task – all without any human intervention.
Mastering the human senses
Robots can already see and touch levels that are rapidly approaching human capabilities, but this may soon expand to other human senses. Robots that are able to hear – and more importantly – understand automatic verbal commands are a possibility. The robots of the future could even be equipped with olfactory capabilities, enabling them to detect dangerous emissions or pollution long before they are recorded in a human nose.
New materials are being developed that have the ability to repair tears and self-fracture. Powered by futuristic AI networks, these materials can be applied to robots, enabling the robot to detect damage in its “skin” and initiate a repair sequence. Advances in sensor technology could enable robots to proactively repair and replace their own devices, such as independently detecting and tightening a loose screw before damage occurs.
Source: PMMI Business Intelligence, 2022 Robots and Cobots: A Robotic Future.
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