Humanoid robots are expected to join the production line at Airbus by June 2015, claims an engineer working on a project to integrate humans and robots into the same workspace.
Dr Urko Esnaola Campos and his team from the department of robotics and automation at Tecnalia in Spain are integrating a HIRO humanoid robot into the production line at Airbus’ manufacturing plant in Puerto Real.
HIRO, which was developed by Japan’s Kawada Industries, is being integrated into the Puerto Real facility as part of a study into automating aeronautical assembly processes.
‘Our future view is a place where robots and humans share [the work space],’ said Dr Esnaola Campos. ‘They share their capabilities also, so there are some tasks that are really easy for a person and really difficult for a robot, and sometimes really tiring and dangerous for a person and really easy for a robot.’
HIRO’s vision systems consist of two cameras in its head and two cameras in each wrist.
Dr Esnaola Campos explained that HIRO’s controller runs the QNX real-time operating system and that cameras in its head provide a view of the environment, alerting the machine to the presence of people.
‘We’re using the other cameras to reference the robot with a part,’ he said. ‘That is the important part when you want to have a flexible system. So we want to put the robot in front of the part that is doing the operation - [for example] inserting some rivets into holes – and what we need is to see the part and see the holes.
‘Right now, what we are doing is at the beginning of the operation - you use the cameras on the arms to get the positions of the holes. After that we go in position, and fast, to insert the rivets.’
To help ensure safety, HIRO is equipped with 80W motors that have been fitted to save power and make the system ‘human safe’.
‘If you have a really powerful robot you must be really careful where you put it [in relation to a] person because any small mistake could be dangerous,’ said Dr Esnaola Campos. ‘This robot, even if it hits someone, is not dangerous.’
Next steps in the project involve software improvements and ensuring the correct lightweight grippers for HIRO’s ‘hands’, depending on the job it is being programmed to do. The Tecnalia team is also investigating the idea of giving HIRO mobility with wheels.
Dr Esnaola Campos added that another challenge will be to automate a deburring operation of specific A380 HTP (Horizontal Tail Plane) parts and have it ready in production in one year.
‘A prototype automation application is expected to be ready beginning of 2015 and the robot in full production operation for this application in June 2015,’ he said. ‘This involves software and gripper development specific for the application.’
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