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Sighted robots improve industrial productivity

TRONDHEIM, Norway – Humans have often had to intervene in robotic assembly lines because of the technology’s inability to “see” certain objects that are not properly organized. A box of computer chair wheels, for instance, cannot be used by a robot because the items are jumbled and require alignment in rows before the robot can properly grip them.

Now, the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (SINTEF) has made strides in optimizing the industrial production line. Researchers have created robots fitted with a gripper tool, a laser and an advanced camera that can recognize various parts and their positions in 3-D.


Researcher Sigurd Albrektsen calibrates the settings of a robotic arm to pick up individual wheels muddled in a box. Photo courtesy of Thor Nielsen/SINTEF.


“The current pick-and-place robots are very good at picking up parts arranged in specific positions, but not if they are unsorted in a box,” said Svein Peder Berge of SINTEF. “Now we can use a [CAD model] to tell the robot which [item] they must pick up. We teach the robot to recognize the wheel and its position in the box, so that it can grip it accurately and pick it up, regardless of its position in the box.”

This development is not a blockade to job opportunity or creation; instead, it moves human operation to other, better-suited areas. Stein Are Kvikne of Scandinavian Business Seating, a partner of SINTEF in testing this technology, notes the importance of this.

“We will also get further productivity benefits in the form of a better working environment, enabling us to make better use of the operator’s core skills,” he said.

The SINTEF robots also reveal other applications for this technology.

“They demonstrate a generic technology in which many different components can be handled by the same system,” Kvikne said. “The combination of 3-D vision, a flexible robot gripper and a 3-D CAD model of the component means that we can pick the component directly out of the transport packaging without any extra handling. We are now very close to having a system in which we would want to invest, both from a technological and a financial perspective.”


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