The Director of the MIT Interactive Robotics Group and the leading researcher in the world of robotics, Julie Shah, and her team is exploring the adaptive nature of smarter, smaller, and safer robots in the manufacturing industry. It is simple to imagine huge robots akin to the Iron Man ensemble cast running heavy factories, wielding a firm hand with a minimum scope of error – it was in the past!
What Shah’s team is exploring could lead to the creation of an army of small robots that are flexible to learn new tasks from the human counterparts. The intensity of efficiency and productivity is amplified by a huge growth rate.
The new generation of robots signifies a shift for the manufacturing industry where people move from working alongside with hugely intimidating robots to working with alongside smaller and nifty robots. They are already changing the perception of manufacturing industries by being more collaborative, engaging, and building on job satisfaction. The fenced wall around the robotic industry is coming down, slowly.
The robot predecessors were not as agile or understanding as the new generation ones. They could not understand when a human was nearby or when a swing of the robotic arm can potentially harm or kill a human. As such, legal recourse was taken to guide the interaction between a robot and a human.
However, the inclusion of technologies such as a collision detection systems and sensor technology is creating an efficient new army of smaller sized robots that will not encounter the problems faced by the predecessors. The fencing mandates are being removed.
The adaptive robots are not stoic with their approach. The preceding robot generation did not have access to sophisticated software like actuators and optics, object recognition algorithm, advanced arms and hands, and other bottlenecks that complicated the work of the robots.
The new generation comes with all these technologies which make their functionality smooth and lends fluidity to their activities. In her research, Shah is actively studying adaptive robots deployed by manufacturing industries and her studies highlight the following main advantages.
#1 Speeding Non-Valued Tasks
Tasks which do not directly add value to the assembly line production but is necessary to perform for creating the final product are carried out firmly with the adaptive robots. A study at MIT shows that such tasks are accomplished 25% faster than when the assembly line production was associated with the fixed asset robot.
#2 Reduced Idle Time
Another study by MIT shows that when manufacturing industries switched from standard robots to adaptive ones, tasks were accomplished 6% faster, leading to 17% less idle robot time and 3% less idle human time. The adaptive robots have anticipatory sensors allowing humans to reduce idle time to an average of 6.5 seconds in a 15-minute task which is way better than 44 seconds idle time spent otherwise.
#3 Happier Interaction & Eagerness to Work
Shah’s research team did a survey and found that humans are happier interacting with an adaptive robot than a standard robot. Humans considered the adaptive ones as a “teammate”, which is wonderful because we do not want humans to feel threatened by the presence of the robots, leading to a condition where the human workers want to work with the new line of robots. In an experiment, it was seen that when humans have to allocate tasks to robots, it is likely to negatively influence the teamwork, but when adaptive robots assign tasks, the outcomes are positive.
Since the adaptive robots are smaller in size, it is reducing the need for huge manufacturing spaces. The cost of acquisition, even for small companies, is reduced and affordable. As these robots take on the non-value added work, the less mobile or older employees can keep themselves engaged on the factory floor.
An amazing aspect of the adaptive robots is their ability to learn from people. When machines are paired with high-performing humans, the business can steeply scale their profitability. Quoting Shah, “often times in factories, there are key players who are good at certain things, and if something goes wrong, they are the ones who can reconfigure and fix the problem quickly. When we start porting knowledge from ‘high po’ talent to an AI engine, that is huge”.
Adaptive robots and Universal Robots have the potential to change the manufacturing industry. Same with robotic arms they are easily programmable comes with high efficiency and flexibility.