Production plants and distribution centers spend much of their time moving goods, but many of the solutions currently in use are problematic. The forklift yields high labor costs, bringing with it risk of injury to people close by; it is often also inefficient. The conveyor belt requires major infrastructure, human handling and ongoing maintenance. And, although some production weaknesses have been addressed with the advent of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) - transportation that uses either magnetic strips, bar codes or lasers to help unmanned vehicles follow a defined path - shortcomings remain in flexibility and performance.
Industry is ready for an evolution and today’s advancing technology will surely lead to flexible, robust, and collaborative equipment to yield higher throughput and better accuracy - the mobile cobot is coming.
Starting with the mobile robot
The Mars Rover is a mobile robot, designed to terrain across planet Mars to collect data. Photo credit: mars.jpl.nasa.gov
Mobile collaborative robots are automated machines capable of moving within a set environment or terrain. Stepping outside of the manufacturing industry, mobile robots have previously been used for research and exploration in dangerous terrain. Today, however, mobile robots have expanded into the industrial market. Furthermore, the robotics industry has been able to capitalize on technology that has been in development for the last decade in order to produce an evolution of these mobile robots: the self-driving vehicle (SDV).
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SDVs do in essence fall into the category of a mobile robot, but their capabilities are much more advanced than traditional technology. When used in indoor, industrial environments, SDVs can provide flexibility, increased safety, reduced operating costs and increased throughput.
So what do SDVs have to do with mobile cobots? Because of their flexibility, robust design and intelligence, industrial manipulators can be integrated with them to make the once stationary cobot mobile. This convergence enables one integrated machine that promises new capabilities for the manufacturing workforce and their bottom line.
The mobile cobot
YASKAWA and OTTO Motors are developing a solution for mobile machine tending on shop floors using the Motoman MH12 manipulator and the OTTO 1500 self-driving vehicle.
A mobile cobot (mobile collaborative robot) is an intelligent, transportable robot that will assist humans in a shared workspace. Cutting-edge self-driving vehicle technology will be combined with established industrial robotic systems to create agile, dependable machines. Mobile cobots are an emerging technology; none are in production yet, but several exciting designs are currently under development, such as the Yaskawa Motoman and OTTO Motors project. This new mobile cobot will provide natural feature navigation, so there’s no need to add fiducials or reflectors to the operating environment. Its modular, scalable design can be expanded as businesses grow and needs change.