A new book co-authored by MIT engineers Julie Shah and Laura Major SM '05 explores a future populated with robot helpers. Book co-authored by MIT Associate Professor Julie Shah and Laura Major SM '05 explores a future populated with robot helpers. As Covid-19 has made it necessary for people to keep their distance from each other, robots are stepping in to fill essential roles, such as sanitizing warehouses and hospitals, ferrying test samples to laboratories, and serving as telemedicine avatars. There are signs that people may be increasingly receptive to robotic help, preferring, at least hypothetically, to be picked up by a self-driving taxi or have their food delivered via robot, to reduce their risk of catching the virus. As more intelligent, independent machines make their way into the public sphere, engineers Julie Shah and Laura Major are urging designers to rethink not just how robots fit in with society, but also how society can change to accommodate these new, "working" robots.
Industry has used robots for decades. They were once confined to safety cages in manufacturing facilities, programmed to perform one task perfectly, over and over again. Their purpose was to make high volumes of goods more quickly and cheaply. But advances in a number of technologies are springing robots from their cages, liberating them to work in new roles, in new industries, and with new benefits. Robots are changing far more than manufacturing--in industries ranging from retail to financial services, they are clambering onto the agendas of strategy, marketing, customer experience, and product leaders.
Helpful robots are typically shown as mechanical maids or humanoid teachers in sci-fi films. But now there's a new collaborative robot that can work alongside human factory workers to give them a helping hand. The Fanuc CR-35iA claims to be the first'heavy-lifting industrial collaborative robot' to work with humans without the need for safety fences. The Coventry-based company Fanuc's robot uses integrated vision technology called iRVision to keep an eye on humans and automatically stops if it touches an operator. This removes the need for safety fences - a previous requirement for all industrial robots - and is said to increase efficiency and enable a higher level of automation, the firm claims.
Advancements in robotics continue to reshape packaging automation, with mobile robots becoming a more common choice for tasks such as materials transport and machine loading and unloading. Is it time for you to bring autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) into your packaging operation? Robot systems that feature an industrial robot on top of a mobile platform can help with optimization of material flow and packaging processes. Mobile robots' ability to move around the plant floor also offers production flexibility, as the units can travel among various packaging workstations and perform relevant work at each one. Working collaboratively with humans, mobile robots can reduce repetitive-stress injuries and alleviate fatigue-related human error, which in turn improves product quality and increases worker safety.
Recent years have seen significant technical progress on robot planning, enabling robots to compute actions and motions to accomplish challenging tasks involving driving, flying, walking, or manipulating objects. However, robots that have been commercially deployed in the real world typically have no or minimal planning capability. These robots are often manually programmed, teleoperated, or programmed to follow simple rules. Although these robots are highly successful in their respective niches, a lack of planning capabilities limits the range of tasks for which currently deployed robots can be used. In this article, we highlight key conclusions from a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation in October 2013 that summarize opportunities and key challenges in robot planning and include challenge problems identified in the workshop that can help guide future research toward making robot planning more deployable in the real world.