Improving touch sensitivity in industrial robots


Friday, 17 December, 2021


Improving touch sensitivity in industrial robots

Eureka Robotics, a tech spin-off from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), has developed a technology that provides industrial robots with touch sensitivity close to that of human hands, meaning they are able to manipulate tiny glass lenses, electronics components and engine gears that are just millimetres in size without damaging them.

Current robots in the market have either high accuracy but low agility (where robots perform the same movements repeatedly such as in a car factory) or low accuracy but high agility (such as robots handling packages of different sizes in logistics). This is because the programming of the force controller is extremely complicated, requiring long hours to perfect the grip just for a specific task.

Seeking to master touch sensitivity and dexterity like in human hands, Eureka Robotics co-founders NTU Associate Professor Pham Quang Cuong and Dr Hung Pham developed a complex artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm called Dynamis. The proprietary force feedback technology was previously demonstrated by a robot which assembled an IKEA chair in just 20 minutes, and has since been upgraded even further.

The new software powered by Dynamis, known as Force Sensor Robust Compliance Control, requires only a single parameter to be set — the stiffness of the contact (either soft, medium or hard). Despite its simple set-up, it has been shown to outperform conventional robotic controllers which required an enormous amount of expertise and time to fine-tune.

By deploying this technology, robotics engineers can now imbue robots with both high accuracy and high agility (HAHA) on a large scale, paving the way for industrial applications that were previously very difficult or impossible to implement, such as handling and assembly of delicate, fragile objects such as optical lenses, electronics components or engine gears.

“Today, Dynamis has made it easy for anyone to program touch-sensitive tasks that are usually done by humans, such as assembly, fine manipulation, polishing or sanding,” said Assoc Prof Pham, who is also the Deputy Director of the Robotics Research Centre at NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

“These tasks all share a common characteristic: the ability to maintain consistent contact with a surface. If our human hands are deprived of our touch sensitivity, such as when wearing a thick glove, we would find it very hard to put tiny Lego blocks together, much less assemble the tiny components of a car engine or of a camera used in our mobile phones.”

The technology has already been deployed in Eureka’s custom-built robots, such as Archimedes, which can now handle fragile optical lenses and mirrors with human-like dexterity. It will soon be made available for a large number of industrial robots worldwide by Denso Wave, part of the Toyota Group; customers will have the option to include the new technology as part of the force controller, which reads the force detected by a sensor on the robot’s wrist and applies force accordingly. Apply too little force and the items may not be assembled correctly, while applying too much force could damage the items.

“The technology, which will be installed in Denso robots, is a technology for force feedback, which is becoming more and more important in the practical use of robotics,” said Hiroyasu Baba, FA/Robotics Business Unit Product Planning Department, Manager of Denso Wave. “Thanks to the development capabilities of Eureka Robotics, the system is advanced yet easy to use and light enough to be integrated into our standard robot controllers.”

To be equipped with the Force Sensor Robust Compliance Control capability, robots already running on Denso Wave’s RC8 controllers will be required to perform a simple software update from December 2021 onwards, while newly shipped RC8 controllers will come packed with the software available for activation.

Image caption: Eureka Robotics co-founders Dr Hung Pham and Associate Professor Pham Quang Cuong with a Denso Wave robot equipped with the Dynamis force feedback technology software. Image credit: Eureka Robotics.

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