Seeing, Sensing, Thinking, Working Autonomous Dual-Arm Robots

Posted on November 2014

Automating the Manufacturing Floor

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At the International Robot Exhibition 2013 Epson announced development work on an autonomous dual-arm robot that performs tasks while making decisions on the fly. The robot recognizes and manipulates objects simultaneously with both arms and is capable of freely adjusting the amount of force applied to objects by the end-effectors (hands).

With the No. 1 share* of the global market for industrial SCARA robots and a strong lineup of high-performance six-axis robots, Epson has long supported the automation efforts of manufacturers in various industries, including the electronics, automobile, food, and medical supplies industries.

In helping others to automate, we frequently saw that manufacturers ended up relying on manual labor due to task difficulty or cost constraints. We concluded that to solve manufacturers' problems, we needed to drive further advances in robotics technology. This led us to develop an autonomous dual-arm robot.

* The market share leader based on 2013 industrial SCARA robot revenue. (Source: Fuji Keizai "2014 Worldwide Robot Market and Future Outlook").

Engineer Interview

"Robots have the potential to support more than just manufacturing. Someday they will support people."

Autonomous dual-arm robot developer, IS Planning & Design Department, Industrial Solutions Operations Division

*The division name is as of November 2014.

Watch the interview

Harnessing the Strengths of the Robot Business

The strength of Epson's industrial robot business, which was established in 1983, lies in the ability draw on a portfolio of unique sensing and other core technologies, and first-hand knowledge and experience in automation to engineer compact, lightweight robots that are capable of stably transporting and assembling heavy objects with tremendous accuracy.

We brought the full force of these strengths to bear in developing our autonomous dual-arm robot.

Seeing... Recognizing Objects in 3D

Supports the construction of flexible production systems

Three-dimensional object recognition and visual servoing allow the robot to "see" much like a human. This robotic vision evolved from image recognition technology that had been used on earlier robots to enable them to determine the location and orientation of parts. Cameras installed on the autonomous dual-arm robot's head, end-effectors, and so forth capture image data. That data is instantaneously processed with an algorithm.
This allows them to perceive objects in 3D and adapt their behavior according to the changing position or orientation of objects, thus lending flexibility to the building of production systems.

Since the robot constantly acquires visual information as it operates, it can even perform tasks that require delicate adjustments, such as threading the bent lead wires of a capacitor into through-holes, as shown in the photo on the right.

Feeling... Regulating the Force Applied to Objects

Epson developed extremely accurate, highly sensitive force sensors that give the robot the capacity to control the force it exerts on objects. This allows the robot to perform tasks in an almost human way, using both arms to pick up an object and assemble it, for example.

In addition to force sensors, Epson is developing multipurpose end-effectors that can unerringly grasp, clamp, and insert objects of various shapes and sizes. The robot can use power drivers and other ordinary off-the-shelf tools, so users will no longer have to buy expensive, specially designed tools or peripheral equipment.

End-effectors will be replaceable, allowing the robot to perform a wider range of tasks, such as opening or closing bottles of medicine or cosmetics without crushing or breaking them.

Thinking and Working... Making Decisions Based on Simple Commands

Easily introduced even by users with little automation experience

Ordinary robots have to be programmed and taught for each process and part when they are introduced to a production line, so manufacturers generally need to have an engineer or technician with automation experience on the payroll. Users of Epson's autonomous dual-arm robot, however, will simply need to teach the robot the objects to be handled and the work scenarios.

For example, when the robot receives a simple command like "assemble parts A and B," it will independently choose the best path of motion and pick up and assemble parts regardless of their orientation. Autonomous dual-arm robots can replace people in processes that formerly had to be performed by hand. Even manufacturers who have little experience in automation will be able to install and manage these robots easily because the robots are capable of flexibly adapting to production changes.

Technology spillover to benefit existing robots

Advanced technologies established during the development of the autonomous dual-arm robot will also be transferred to Epson's existing SCARA and six-axis robots to enable them to work with greater autonomy.
Robots that are more self-sufficient will be a boon to manufacturers. They will no longer need expensive peripheral equipment or complex programs to automate their operations, and they will be able to quickly and easily repurpose the robots for different products and processes.

Epson is accelerating the commercialization process for its autonomous dual-arm robot so as to meet a wide range of customer automation needs at a high level.

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