Robots working in automotive plants are surprising to nobody. However, advancements in the technology and use of these robots may give one manufacturer a competitive advantage. Now Volkswagen is developing a smart robot, which at instance reacts to every gesture of his human colleague.
Currently this robot is being trained and can only perform such basic tasks as grabbing and installing transmission shafts and clutch rings. It is nothing out of the ordinary in an automotive plant. However, this new generation of assembly robots will work with humans without the need of safety barrier, making operations more efficient and ergonomic. But in order to do so, robot will have to show consideration to the actions of people around it. For example, when people approach the working area, this new test robot slows down in order to insure maximum safety for the personnel.
Despite continuous efforts to make robots and humans work hand in hand, so far the principle has been introduced only partially. For example, there are special robots that help people with some physical tasks, such as lifting heavy parts. But all the heavier work is being carried out by robots and humans separately – there is always a safety barrier between them. Engineers say that while this barrier is there, one cannot say that robots and humans are co-workers. This new robots has a special software and sensors, making it considerate for people around it. It means that robot and its colleague can share a workspace without safety concerns. And even interact.
User just needs to wave and robot will stop operating. A second wave will be understood as a signal to continue working. The brain of this operation is situated below the table, but it takes no time to respond, is very accurate and safe. But why is Volkswagen pursuing this idea of close robot-human cooperation? The idea is that in the next generation automotive plant people will only be doing work that requires creativity and high levels of specialist expertise. Plants will still be full of people, organizing and supervising work. Robots at the meantime will take ergonomically difficult, physically strenuous work, making it easier for humans around them.
Automotive plants are changing. But for the next big step, more autonomous robots are needed. Volkswagen demonstrates how they, being much more considerate of their surroundings, will be able to cooperate with real employees.