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pi4-workerbot – a multi-purpose robot with finger-tip sensitivity

By Damir Beciri
4 December 2010

pi4-workerbot-1Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK, in Berlin, have been working on a human-sized manufacturing robot that could bring greater flexibility to industrial mass production process. Unlike the specialized assembly line robots, the human sized pi4-workerbot is being developed as a multi-purpose robot with a wider range of potential applications.

“We developed the workerbot to be roughly the same size as a human being. Which means it can be employed at any modern standing or sitting workstation in an industrial manufacturing environment”, said Dr.-Ing. Dragoljub Surdilovic, head of the working group at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK in Berlin. Surdilovic’s working group developed the control system for the workerbot.

The robot is equipped with three cameras. A state-of-the-art 3D camera in its forehead captures its general surroundings, while the two others are used for inspection purposes. For an example, the robot can identify whether or not the chromium coating on a workpiece has been perfectly applied by studying how light reflects off the material. Moreover, the workerbot is also capable of inspecting components over continuously throughout the whole day – an important advantage when precision is of the great importance.

Its arms have 7 degrees of freedom which ensure it can manipulate with objects as good as human can. The pi4-workerbot has an additional rotation facility which corresponds to the wrist on a human body, and it allows the robot to transfer an object from one hand to another. The researchers also endowed the robot with finger-tip sensitivity. “If you set the strength of the grip correctly, it will take hold of an egg without cracking it”, said Surdilovic.

The robot is able to interact with its surroundings by changing its facial expressions. If its work is going smoothly, it will smile happily. However, if it’s waiting for work, it changes its facial expression to bored, thus signaling the production manager that the production process could be sped up.

Its current design reminds of robots from the old sci-fi movies. Although I’m aware it is designed for inspection and assembly applications, the folks in charge of the design could have come up with a better design that could improve both aesthetics and the modularity of the robot. The folks from pi4-Robotics claim it is reconfigurable and reusable, and that it has the capability of fast retooling. Another good feature they mentioned is its intuitive and easy setup of new tasks which do not require knowledge of programming.

The robot is brought to market by pi4-Robotics, and their plan is to lease and rent the robot to the needy companies rather than selling it. The advantages of such concept are the smaller price needed to rent the robot instead buying it, as well as the fact you’ll always rent the most advanced version of the robots software and hardware at that time.

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