Epson provided a big-picture view of the future at the last International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo by demonstrating how robots will automate the manufacturing floor over the next three to five years. Among the most attention-grabbing demonstrations was that featuring autonomous dual-arm robots that Epson aims to have in commercial production by the end of March 2016.
What makes Epson’s autonomous dual-arm robots stand out is their human-like ability to see, sense, think, and react. They are able to recognize objects, modulate the amount of force applied to objects to avoid harming them, and make decisions in the course of executing their assigned tasks. These robots are expected to be able to automate manufacturing tasks that until now have had to rely on manual labor due to task difficulty or cost constraints.
A pair of cameras mounted in the “head” of the robot function as eyes that enable the robot to “see” and recognize object of various shapes and orientations. Both arms are also equipped with cameras. These cameras allow the robot to see the shape of objects in even greater detail and to pinpoint their exact location.
A visual-servo feature enables the robot to perform tasks that require precision, such as passing the bent lead wires of a capacitor into a pair of through holes.
The robots deftly assemble components with end-effectors that have kinesthetic sensors which perceive and modulate force. Each time it performs an assembly task, the robot itself “thinks” how to properly assemble the components, even if the components are arranged in random orientations.
The robot can use the same ordinary tools as those used by humans, so there is no need to purchase specifically designed expensive tools.
Epson’s autonomous dual-arm robot is positioned as a next-generation robot solution within Epson’s long-range product strategy.
Epson established a number of advanced technologies during development of the autonomous dual-arm robot and, over the next few years, plans to use these technologies to provide existing SCARA and six-axis robots with functions that enable them to perform tasks with greater autonomy. This will enable manufacturers to eliminate the expensive peripheral equipment and complicated programs needed to automate operations in the past. It will also allow them to easily repurpose the robots for different processes and objects. At the International Robot Exhibition, Epson set up demonstrations to highlight some unique Epson features that will facilitate automation.
A robot can be endowed with 3-D object recognition at comparatively less expense than in the past through a combination of optional robot cameras and an Epson projector.
The photograph was taken of a robot demonstrating the ability to accurately detect and pick up screws of a specified length from a tray containing randomly placed screws of various lengths.
3-D object recognition promises to increase throughput and reduce costs because parts do not have to be arrayed in an orderly fashion.
This end-effector installed on the end of a robot arm accurately grasps, clamps, and inserts cylindrical objects, as well as objects of various other shapes and sizes. It automatically adjusts the amount of force it applies as it does so. This capability enables the robot to open and close bottles of medicine or cosmetics without crushing or damaging them.
This end-effector is able to safely and consistently pick up soft, delicate objects that are easily damaged. On the laboratory level, the robot has even successfully picked up actual foods such as tofu.
Epson has a full range of market-leading* SCARA robots and high-performance six-axis robots. These fast, accurate, compact, and lightweight robots are helping manufacturers increase productivity and stabilize quality by automating operations in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals and food service to electronic equipment and automobiles. Epson is committed to providing advanced robotic solutions that meet the automation needs of a growing range of customers. So, over the next three years, Epson will leverage its unique technologies to provide features that enhance the autonomy of existing robots and, longer term, commercialize the autonomous dual-arm robot.
*Epson recorded the industry’s highest revenue from shipments of industrial SCARA robots in 2012. (Source: Fuji Keizai “2013 Worldwide Robot Market and Future Outlook”)