Harrison Manufacturing deploys Sawyer robot to increase throughput

Harrison Manufacturing deploys Sawyer robot to increase throughput

Sawyer robot from Rethink Robotics takes over cutting work from human colleagues at Harrison Manufacturing in Mississippi.

Harrison Manufacturing, a US-based custom plastics injection molding manufacturer, has taken a step forwards in automating its assembly line.

At its Jackson, Mississippi facility, the company recently deployed the Sawyer robot from Rethink Robotics in a bid to boost the efficiency of its production processes, with a knock-on bonus for product quality.

Company founder and president Scott Harrison said that the family-owned business has already seen a range of benefits, including reduced labor costs and increased throughput, and adds that the robot only took a few hours to set up.

Read more: IIoT and the rise of the cobots

Sawyer gets to work

With Sawyer, Harrison Manufacturing has also been able to improve the consistency and quality of its products, mostly plastic components for use in the automotive industry (including parts that go into interior trim, safety belts and car seats) and consumer products.

Sawyer works on ‘degating’ plastic parts, a job that involves removing excess plastic from a finished part once it emerges from injection molding. This cutting work is repetitive, said Harrison, and can lead to human error, wrist strain and even injury in staff.

“We’ve been seeking an automation solution for this task for some time, but traditional methods weren’t affordable or effective for our situation,” he said. The company simply does not have the floor space to accommodate a bulky traditional robot, nor would it want to foot the costs involved.

Sawyer has provided an answer. The one-armed robot with a compact footprint was launched by Rethink Robotics in 2015 at prices starting at around $ 29,000. Its main selling point is the ease with which non-techies can program the robot to perform simple tasks on manufacturing lines without having to first learn in-depth programming skills.

“Sawyer allowed us to use our employees in less strenuous tasks, while increasing throughput with extended shifts, so we can better meet growing customer demands,” said Harrison.

He now has plans to install a second robot. “I have another Sawyer in the box,” he confirmed. “After our experience of quick deployment with the first robot, I expect it to be up and running just as smoothly as before.”

Read more: Could hackers force industrial cobots to go rogue?

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Tiny robot biohybrids could help treat cancer

Tiny robot biohybrids could help treat cancer

Scientists in Hong Kong have developed biological robots, biohybrids, capable of travelling through the body and degrading cancer cells. 

Rather than design complicated nano-robots from scratch, scientists are increasingly looking to build on the elegant infrastructure provided by nature.

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong are looking to harness the benefits of Spirulina, a microalgae commonly powdered and consumed as a health food. It’s being used as the building blocks for ‘biohybrids’ – tiny cells that, in this case, have been engineered with magnetic particles that enable scientists to guide them around the body.

Read more: Engineers unveil robot with flexible sensor ‘skin’

Engineering nature

“Rather than fabricate a functional microrobot from scratch using intricate laboratory techniques and processes, we set out to directly engineer smart materials in nature,” said Professor Li Zhang, from the department of mechanical and automation engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

As a result they were able to make use of the algae’s intrinsic properties. Zhang, who contributed to the study published in Science Robotics, worked alongside an international team to make some vital additions to the algae’s inherent properties. These included coating millions of the tiny algae biohybrids in iron-oxide nanoparticles, which allowed them to be controlled remotely using a targeted magnetic field.

“For instance, because these biohybrid bots have a naturally fluorescent biological interior and magnetic iron-oxide exterior, we can track and actuate a swarm of those agents inside the body quite easily using fluorescence imaging and magnetic resonance imaging,” said Professor Zhang.

Read more: Connected healthcare may violate user privacy, warns Forbrukerradet

Adapting biohybrids to fight cancer

As part of the research, the team from the Chinese University placed the biohybrids in the stomachs of rats to test their effectiveness. They were able to make the biorobots release cancer-fighting compounds over time.

Developing autonomous systems capable of moving through the body and targeting specific diseases is in many ways the ultimate ambition of researchers in this field. And there are plenty of teams around the world working towards that aim.

The next step for the team from the Chinese University is to prove that its Spirulina-based biohybrid can carry cargo – in this case specific drugs – that can be delivered with more ease and effectiveness than conventional methods, such as pills or injections.

“It’s still not ready for a doctor to use,” Wang said, but within the next ten years it might be. “Everyone wants to realize this fantastic voyage.”

The University of Manchester also had a representative on the research team, Professor Kostas Kostarelos. He said that “creating robotic systems which can be propelled and guided in the body has been and still is a holy-grail in the field of delivery system engineering.”

“Our work takes advantage of some elements offered by nature such as fluorescence, degradability, shape. But we add engineered features such as magnetization and biological activity to come up with a proof-of-concept behind our bio-hybrid, magnetically propelled microrobots.”

“The potential of these bots for controlled navigation in hard-to-reach cavities of the human body makes them promising miniaturized robotic tools to diagnose and treat diseases which is minimally invasive,” he said.

Read more: Eligo Bioscience secures funding for precision microbiome engineering

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Underwater Antarctic robot Icefin prepares for Jupiter mission

Underwater Antarctic robot Icefin prepares for Jupiter mission

Scientists from the US and New Zealand are teaming up to test an Antarctic robot, Icefin, that will eventually be sent to search for life on one of Jupiter’s moons. 

A journey across the solar system and under the ice of Jupiter’s Europa moon requires a robot of a certain kind. To say it needs to be rugged would be an understatement. For that reason, researchers from America and New Zealand have gone to the extreme to find suitable conditions in which to test Icefin, a 3.5-metre-long autonomous vehicle designed to dive beneath ice and search for life.

The expedition is being funded by NASA with a view to providing a proof of concept that could one day be used to explore other worlds. The New Zealand research team is drilling through more than 300 metres of the Ross Ice Shelf. The American crew plan to test the Icefin prototype in the water below.

Astrobiologist Britney Schmidt and her colleagues from Georgia Tech in Atlanta have custom-built Icefin, an autonomous robot packed with cameras and sensors.

“It has the capabilities to travel and navigate on its own, but we also can take control of the vehicle with the controller,” Icefin lead engineer Matt Meister said.

Underwater Antarctic robot Icefin prepares for Jupiter mission

(Credit: Georgia Tech)

Read more: SpaceX launches 12th resupply mission to International Space Station

Sending Icefin into space

Autonomous robots are likely candidates for exploration in uninhabitable areas. For that reason, plenty of institutions are developing ways to use machines to investigate the fallout from nuclear disasters and natural catastrophes.

But for the Icefin team and one of its backers, NASA, the aim is even bolder.

“For NASA one of the big questions is, are we alone? Is there life out there?” Assistant Professor Schmidt said. The hope is that Icefin can help to answer that question.

Learning how to operate and study in similar conditions is vital to getting that voyage off the ground. 588 million kilometres away, the question of what lies beneath Europa’s ice is waiting to be answered.

“Europa’s about the size of the Earth’s moon. There’s about 100 kilometres, maybe 80 kilometres or so of ocean, and it’s covered by somewhere between 10 and 30 kilometres of ice.”

The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica is the closest thing on Earth to those conditions.

“We’ll be looking at the ice ocean processes that are there and going down and seeing the sea floor and seeing the organisms living there,” Asst Prof Schmidt said.

“So we’re kind of a pseudo Europa explorer in that way. These are things we would love to be able to do one day.”

Any mission towards Jupiter is still a long way off, however. The research team has suggested it might be twenty to thirty years until the project comes to fruition.

Read more: NASA builds AI platform for firefighters

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ASPIR is a full-size, Arduino-powered humanoid robot

Building robots can be difficult, and if you want to construct something humanoid, designing the mechanics alone can be a significant task. ASPIR, which stands just over four feet tall, looks like a great place to start.

John Choi’s 3D-printed robot can move its arms, legs, and head via 33 servo motors, all controlled by an Arduino Mega, along with a servo shield.

The documentation found here is excellent; however, it comes with a warning that this is a very advanced project, taking several months to build along with $ 2,500 in parts. Even if you’re not willing to make that commitment, it’s worth checking out for inspiration, perhaps parts of the ASPIR could be adapted to your own design!

Arduino Blog

Engineers unveil robot with flexible sensor ‘skin’

Robot with flexible sensor skin developed

In a significant step for robotics, engineers from the University of Washington and UCLA have developed a flexible sensor-filled membrane or ‘skin’ that opens the door to critical advancements in how robots grip and manipulate objects.

For all the apparent precision and dexterity of modern robotics technology, there’s scope for vast improvements when it comes to robots sensing what they are handling and making necessary adjustments.

While we’ve previously reported on how humans are reassured by the fallibility of awkward robots, if one happens to be performing surgery, or even simply handling breakable objects, there’s a strong incentive for a more human level of care.

Read more: Number of service robots to reach 264 million by 2026

Drawing on bio-inspiration

Scientists often turn to the natural world when problem solving – to draw upon solutions that evolution has had millions of years to refine. From camouflage to locomotion, nature offers a rich vein of inspiration. This latest research produced a sensor skin that mimics the way our own fingers experience tension and compression.

“It’s really following the cues of human biology,” said lead author Jianzhu Yin. “Our electronic skin bulges to one side just like the human finger does.”

The flexible sensor layer is formed by embedding serpentine channels, half the width of a human hair, into silicone rubber. These pathways contain conductive liquid metal that can be manipulated in a way that would break solid wires. As the channel geometry changes, so too does the amount of electricity that can flow through them.

robot sensor skin

The bio-inspired sensor skin

Read more: CSAIL team pairs robots with VR for smart manufacturing

Entering uncanny valley

The sensor skin can be stretched over any part of a robot’s body or prosthetic to relay data about shear forces and vibration that is vital to handling objects. The new technology uses what’s known as a ‘multimodal’ approach to enable dexterous manipulation. Unlike past tactile sensor designs, the skin incorporates normal forces, shear forces and vibration.

This wealth of extra data creates new possibilities for machine-learning – ultimately leading to robots that are more aware and therefore more capable. Once robots can sense like we do, they need to be able to similarly react and adapt.

“If a robot is going to dismantle an improvised explosive device, it needs to know whether its hand is sliding along a wire or pulling on it,” says senior author and UW professor Jonathan Posner. “To hold on to a medical instrument, it needs to know if the object is slipping. This all requires the ability to sense shear force, which no other sensor skin has been able to do well.”

We may be some way off the technology seen in science fiction films such as Ex Machina, but as social cognizance advances in robots, alongside physical detection and response, we continue along the path to uncanny valley.

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