For many years robots have been unable to work alongside humans, due to safety issues. However recent developments in motion sensing could translate into massive improvements for various industries.
NASA technicians sent a humanoid robot to the International Space Station last year. The Robonaut 2 (R2) was a torso with sophisicated arms and fingers and also had sensors in its head. This was a joint effort by NASA and General motors to create a robot which could work with people, without being a safety issue. They can handle the grunt work, taking over tiring duties, assisting the human co workers. Until recently, it was too risky to have a hulk of moving metal working alongside people. If something went wrong, serious injuries or even fatalities can easily occur.
Technology review say “Although robots have aided manufacturing for decades, they’ve tended to be bulky systems that require precise setup to do large-scale, repetitious tasks such as welding or painting a car door. But improved technologies for vision processing and gripping are leading to a new wave of robots. In June, President Obama announced a $500 million federal investment in manufacturing technology (including $70 million for robotics), to partners that include Ford, Caterpillar, MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and others. Though the partnership does not include the R2 project, it represents another step in developing robots that can assist with repetitious or physically stressful assembly-line tasks without posing a safety risk.”
The R2 is a fascinating design because it uses elastic actuators in the joints. These have an elastic spring component between the motor and the object the robot would be picking up. These actuators mean that the robot brain can control the movement and force of its own actions.
Rodney Brooks, a cofounder of iRobot and founder of Heartland Robotics said “The use of series elastic actuators changes the whole approach to manufacturing robots. [It] makes the robot able to safely interact with people.”
You can check out a video of this in action over at Technology review.