Adaptive robots will revolutionize industrial automation

For more than 60 years, our traditional industrial robots have been used to automate everything in production. They were designed and developed to move the object from point A to point B, cut parts of metal, paint vehicles and so on. They were far more capable than humans of speed and accuracy. Industrial robots, however, have several limitations. By design, it is possible to complete only a limited set of tasks. They do not know the potential hazard they pose to the people around them. Robotic engineers are required to program the sequence in a particular language.

In the late 1990s, collaborative robots (cobots) were released to overcome these deficiencies. They are designed to achieve security, simplify deployment and programming, and establish workflows of collaboration with people. With traditional industrial arm companies like KUKA, ABB, and Fanuc launching their cobots and collaborative robot companies like Universal Robots, Rethink, and Franka gaining popularity, cobots are certainly on the trend in recent years. The collaborative robot market is likely to grow from $710 million in 2018 to $12.3 billion by 2025, at an astonishing annual growth rate of 50.31% over the forecast period, according to research from MarketsandMarkets.

Right now, a new generation of robots is on its way, called adaptive robots. They are interconnected, instrumented, and intelligent machines capable of making autonomous decisions. They can learn from other connected devices and improve their actions cyclically. In other words, adaptive robots are autonomous physical machines, which feel and act without direct human intervention for their environment.

Flexiv, the creator of the world’s first adaptive robotic arm combining direct force control with advanced AI, predicts a future where adaptive robots will revolutionize the automation world. In a white paper entitled ‘Adaptive Robots and the Future of Industrial Automation,’ Flexiv defines this adaptive next-generation robot as one with high tolerability of position variance, high disturbance rejection and transferable intelligence across different tasks. Hand-eye coordination skills embodiment as a human enables it to perform complex tasks and accommodate complex environments.

Adaptive robots from Flexiv combine force control, computer vision and AI to enable more complex tasks, and an unprecedented level of adaptability— through multiple tasks and a wide range of workpieces, and in complex environments. Such a high degree of robotic arms adaptability offers significant cost benefits, not only from simplified configuration and robustness, but from performance consistency, increased flexibility, simpler production lines, and redundancy of additional safety, programming upgrades or equipment.

The white paper highlights two important factors that are critical to achieving adaptability–force control technology with high accuracy and rapid response and’ hierarchical intelligence.’ Force control is not a new topic, but the technology has not been widely applied as the current hardware and software is not yet cost-effective or reliable enough to meet industry standards. Hierarchical intelligence refers to the hierarchical structure of a robotic system where different layers of information are relatively free in such a way that a robot can perform tasks like a human being.

As opposed to non-hierarchical intelligence, such as deep end-to-end learning, hierarchical information adapts to more complicated tasks and environments, operates in spite of human interference, external disturbance and can be transferred to new jobs.

The paper highlights an example of a robotic arm polishing a curved object – the arm must adapt quickly to the shape of the object, then adjust its force and motion output smoothly while handling any unforeseen environmental disturbances.

In ongoing proof-of-concept trials with the world’s top manufacturing firms, Flexiv’s robotic arm ‘Rizon’ has been shown to successfully perform complicated tasks while significantly enhancing manufacturing facility flexibility. The company now develops custom solutions that can be applied across many industries including manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, retail, and more. First applications launched by Flexiv will include plugging and assembly, curved-surface processing, and flexible picking and sorting.