Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A helping hand with the dirty work

A helping hand with the dirty work

CATHERINE ARMITAGE 

Shaukat Asidi, PR2 and Mary Anne Williams
SAHLAN HAYES
ASCENSION: PhD student Shaukat Asidi, Mary Anne Williams and PR2.
"Think of your most tedious household cleaning task. Now think about never having to do it again," exhorts the US robotics company iRobot on its website.
For US$500 (NZ$631) you can buy the Roomba 770 vacuum cleaning robot made by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off company. But why would you do that when you can buy much the same thing from Robomaid Australia for A$400 (NZ$511)?
The robotic future is here.
Online you can order household robots to wash your floors and scoop your gutters and clean your swimming pool. This week, an Israeli company claimed a world first in performing robot-guided brain surgery. Around the world, robots are integrated into factories. In the West Angelas iron mine in the Pilbara, Rio Tinto is running robotic drill rigs remotely from Perth, hauling ore with driverless trucks and soon, with driverless trains. The Port of Brisbane is operated largely by robots, monitored from Sydney.
"Ten years ago, robots were knocking on our doorstep. Now they have invaded," says Professor Mary-Anne Williams, director of the innovation and enterprise research laboratory at the University of Technology, Sydney.
UTS's Magic Lab is the proud owner of a PR2 from Willow Garage in the US. It is using the robot for research into co-robotics, jargon for human-robot interactions, which is the next big thing in robot development. Most industrial robots are not safe to be around, Williams says. Because they have difficulty recognising and responding to the presence of humans, they have to be confined to work cells off limits to people.
But leaps in sensing and vision technologies are making robots sensitive to co-workers.
"The new vision, the next generation, is for people working side by side with robots," Williams says. The PR2, one of about 50 of its kind in the world, can stop and back off if it runs into someone. It can high-five. It can hug.
Melbourne industrial cutting equipment maker Sutton Tools has been using Japanese-made FANUC robots to move components on and off processing lines around its factories in Australia and New Zealand for the past five years.
The chief engineering executive, Phillip Xuereb, says a machine integrated with the robot system achieves a 40 per cent efficiency gain compared with one without.
Obvious advantages they have over humans is that they don't get tired, bored or sick.
"They are very well accepted by the employees because it makes their job more efficient and takes away the dull and boring part of the operations," Xuereb says.
The 95-year-old company employing 450 people and about 40 robots has not retrenched anyone as a result of taking on robots, but "we have been able to add more equipment without having to add more people to the operation as we grow".
Manufacturing equipment supplier John Hart Pty Ltd has been the Australian distributor for FANUC for 25 years. The Japanese company has just built a second factory to keep up with the demand, says John Hart's operations manager of automation and robotics, Simon Hales. Because they are made in large volumes, and because they can be adapted for different purposes, robots are "quite attractive" in price compared with customised machinery, he says.
soucre:http://www.stuff.co.nz

Post a Comment