BEIJING – The Canbot can say its name, respond to voice commands, and "dance" as it plays Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Other robots China is displaying at the World Robot Conference can play badminton, sand cell phone cases and sort computer chips. China is showcasing its burgeoning robot industry at the five-day exhibition in Beijing, part of a national effort to promote use of more advanced technologies in Chinese factories and create high-end products that redefine the meaning of "Made in China." Apart from the cool factor, China's sweeping plans to upgrade its factories and production lines depend on building and better using advanced robots. Automation is crucial for industries facing rising labor costs and slowing growth in the work force thanks to the "one-child" policy era and aging of the population.
The STEM robot wars are heating up. Cubetto is the latest reason why you wish you were still a kid. One kind of robot has endured for the last half-century. Articulated arms aren't sexy, but man oh man have they gotten the job done. The first articulated arm, Unimate, went into service for GM in 1961, and ever since that's been the image of the standard industrial robot--a stationary arm endlessly picking things up, screwing things together, and adjusting things just so.
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays. Industrial robots have come a long way since George Devol invented "Unimate" in 1961. After pitching his idea to Joseph Engelberger at a cocktail party, the two soon saw their new creation become the first mass-produced robotic arm to be used in factory automation. Today, this robot class is raising the bar of global manufacturing to new heights, striking a seamless mix of strength, speed, and precision. As a result, demand for industrial robots keeps growing at a robust 14% per year, setting the stage for 3.1 million industrial robots in operation globally by 2020.
In terms of sheer speed and precision, delta robots are some of the most impressive to watch. They're also some of the most useful, for the same reasons--you can see them doing pick-and-place tasks in factories of all kinds, far faster than humans can. The delta robots that we're familiar with are mostly designed as human-replacement devices, but as it turns out, scaling them down makes them even more impressive. In Robert Wood's Microrobotics Lab at Harvard, researcher Hayley McClintock has designed one of the tiniest delta robots ever. Called milliDelta, it may be small, but it's one of the fastest moving and most precise robots we've ever seen.
Researchers from Harvard's Wyss Institute are building robots that incorporate novel structures capable of transforming from soft to rigid. The materials could solve an important problem: How do you combine the flexibility and durability of soft robots with the precision of traditional rigid engineering? Earlier this week I wrote about the impact soft grippers are likely to have on the adaptability of industrial robots. Once the three million-plus industrial robots that will soon be online can grab and manipulate a wide variety of items, a task made easier via soft, pliable grippers, adoption and penetration are likely to soar. The Harvard researchers have been working with a structure built from several layers of pliable material surrounded by a plastic sleeve.